Memory and Matter, 1999-2002

Mee Ping Leung
Memory and Matter, 1999-2002
installation view


Art has no other object than to set aside the symbols of practical utility, the generalities that are conventionally and socially accepted, everything in fact which masks reality from us, in order to set us face to face with reality itself. Henri Bergson

The art of Mee Ping Leung explores the relations between matter, space and memory that shines through various thresholds beginning with the discarded objects that hold memory traces. According to Henri Bergson, matter as it relates to the philosophy of perception proves memory to be virtual, with no specific location what he suggests as "an aggregate of images", time is presented to consciousness as duration - an endlessly flowing process, the existence placed half-way between the thing and the representation.

The attention given by Mee Ping Leung to ordinary every-day objects and their relationship to memories is like that of an archaeologist, discovering some lost or hidden artifacts, whether they are existing images or found or purpose-made objects. The creative instinct emerges whether they are the delicately hand made child-sized shoes made out of hair cuttings, old Chinese letterboxes, broken and discarded clocks or torn snapshots people have strewn on the floor of a local photo store, they all become collectibles. They contain elements and traces of "many lives" each one are brought together in an almost excessive repetition or appropriation of ordinary things that the artist's takes back in her studio/apartment. Here, she begins the process of transformation to make something extraordinary emerge from the familiar - the studio becomes the site for her own discovery of the many layers concerned with subjectivity, with loss or separation and the retrieval of memory.

Mee Ping Leung almost always creates her large installations from home or other confined spaces - so in a sense her studio/domestic space represents another threshold, the displacement between private and public, inside and outside. The site also forms part of the performative process _ as in her most dramatic installation - Memorize the Future - 10,000 pieces of hand-made child-sized shoes from hundreds of human hair types. All created over thousands of hours seated on a toilet; gathering, braiding and breathing in the masses of hair types and glue used to form the delicate shoe or vessel-like objects. When placed around the floor of the gallery, all facing the same direction, their exquisite sculptural presence require the viewer to navigate a passage wandering through the multiple small spaces between objects, rather than simply moving across it.

In The Poetics of Space (1958) French philosopher Gaston Bachelard links memory much as an intimate space that we create or as memory as the experience of a child's first 'universe' like that of the womb, that helps shape our spacial experiences. He describes this as a "topoanalysis" of being between memory, dreams and place or psychoanalysis of space. The house allows one to dream in peace ... the values that belong to daydreaming mark humanity to its depths.

Born in Hong Kong in 1961, Mee Ping Leung later left to study in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux Arts, before moving on to the United States and returning Hong Kong in 2000. Yet she's still an inveterate traveller, whether returning with a variety of historical and cultural data from abroad or roaming the streets around her home in the bustling, community orientated Mong Kok district of the city. Reading between the lines of her many conversations about her sense of place, she also experiences the idea of "floating" - of feeling both at home yet estrange from freely moving between China, Hong Kong and the West. Yet she is nevertheless drawn towards the 'never fixed', fluctuating and blurred sense of memory and reality that emerges in her works.

Water Tone (2003) is a video piece that literally portrays this sense of floating consists of a mirrored covered fishing boat reflected in the sea and against the sky. A figure inside the boat appears as if miraculously standing or gliding on surface of the water - the dazzling vessel a refection of the sea and sky, remaining invisible to the eye.

Her collection of over 100 letterboxes has been transformed into a work called So near Yet So Far (2001). When displayed on the white walls of a gallery these old, rusty and yet very personally marked containers hold a speaker, each one contains the voices of numerous conversation happening between places and people, as if the letters are being read by some invisible receiver. As she states "I am interested in simultaneously constructing and deconstructing. I think it is another way of thinking about a space or the feeling of a space that is no longer there but is still in our consciousness. This notion of voyages of memory, absent and present space implies a kind of double space separated by an imaginary line. Another way of saying this, is that space may disappear physically, yet it remains enormously present conceptually or virtually."

Mee Ping Leung proposes a different artistic practice to traditional components of installation that play on inside and outside, but more a display or spectacle in the realm of images. They could be described as spaces of heterotopia - as Michel Foucault calls the counter-spaces to utopia "that function in oppositions that we regard as simple givens: for example between private space and public space, between family space and social space, between cultural space and useful space, between the space of leisure and that of work. A relation to all spaces that exist outside of them. At the same time that they mark a culturally definable space that is unlike any other space, they also act as microcosms reflecting larger cultural spaces."

What is at the core of Leung's artistic intention, writes Jasper Lau in his text, For the Future Memgry - Greyish Human Testaments of Truth (0512002) is "a face to face real encounter with what she calls the 'paradoxical double.' It is a point where two separate entities, that of the truth and reality are confusingly mixed up. And by pinpointing this mismatch between the truth which appears unde a certain cultural context with the materialistic reality, Leung finds a gap possible for her to produce artwork which smashes our taken-for-granted conception of the reality, while at the same time blowing off the cultural world of meaning". Lau suggests Mee Ping Leung's 'paradoxical double is "put to real practice through three main aspects: her pick of materials, her handling or transformation and finally her contextual presentation."

In her latest work, Water Tone, the small fishing vessel acts as a floating metaphor for this heterotopia or counter space of existence. For Foucault, the boat has been simultaneously the greatest reserve of the imagination. The boat is the heterotopia par excellence, He, suggests that in civilizations without boats, 'dreams dry up'.

Often the titles Mee Ping Leung gives to her installations acknowledges
these real possibilities of articulating that which lies outside of thought, instilling a sense of metaphysical distance, yet links our understanding of everyday "things" that form part of it bringing to life the very metaphors lying hidden in her work.

Pamela Kimber

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