Like a heavy wheel predestined to roll along a given trajectory, 2019
It was a long, long time ago, back when I was too small to be described as having any kind of “height” – a time, in other words, when I was simply weak and dependent. The “me” who appears in the work of Suah Im, often seems quite perplexed at the limits she cannot escape, and the fact that “me’s” mind must live with “me’s body.” That consternation continues into the times when her method of relating to the body is seen as having changed because of the incompleteness of “me.” It is a puzzlement that encompasses everything from objects that require assistance to human relationships. As she repeats this process, Suah Im is saying, “So it is that I become something small.”
The areas of vulnerability and dependence that Suah Im has perceived come through most starkly when she is dealing with media. Objects with flexibility – things like stockings and fabric – undergo repeated stretching and bending in her hands, transforming with epoxy into items of rigid materiality. With this process of deliberate stiffening, Im is willfully preserving objects that generally tend to change their form due to outside forces. The relative proportions of her will and the autonomy of the object within the hardened form are of lesser importance. What matters is her commitment to stiffening them – the “post-dependence” state she has first created with her mind. The question then arises: is flexibility vulnerable or firm? What sort of relationship can dependency form with a rigid state? The issue amounts to what questions become possible.
Tofu – a material that is always ready to be crushed, one that spoils easily and is in a sense of a component of “me” – is both substitute for and proof of Suah Im’s “me.” In her early work, she seemed to devote herself to some extent to the material properties of tofu, which she would mash to make hands or faces. She made the tofu for consumption by some unspecified others – describing herself as “drawing energy from the tofu.” The perspective of a frail and vulnerable “me” and the energy obtained from it becomes a mechanism, however feeble, for countering that dependency. The weight of the tofu does not represent Suah Im’s body, but an expression of her will.
The act of repeatedly inscribing words on latex like a tattoo – or writing out words such as jaak, jangak, jagak, jawi, jahae, jagwi, jakga, jaak, and saak – appears for Im to serve as a way of accepting a kind of state of living, and of becoming aware in the process of some guidelines for life. Repeatedly inscribed until the white page is black, or until the rubber plate the artist refers to as her “runway” has lost its original color, the words change with the artist’s own condition. For Runway (2019), which appears in this exhibition, the words chosen were “quickly,” “meditation,” “listlessness,” and “just doing.” Is it possible for us to agree upon a fixed shape for “quickly”? Even if you could present “listlessness” in some specific form, it could never be fixed. It is entirely through the artist’s execution, then, that these words without form become visualized.
In the video work Mopping (2018), the artist places a wig on a mannequin to mop the floor. The phrases that flow past evince the rejection of a situation that is read as appearing either masculine or feminine, but that did not actually happen. What is apparent, however, is a sense of suffering under the entirely unpredictable gaze of others – an attitude, in other words, that is relative yet also relational.
At times, Suah Im senses “displeasure” while establishing connections and relationships with her surroundings, which results from the artist's own perception of herself (in relation to others) always being "pliable" and “dependent”.
But it is clear as well that the “me” the artist is exploring will change from year to year, just as Im herself fears or adamantly resists being read in terms of any one category. Suah Im’s “me” thus becomes all the more unsharable. It never was something that could be shared in the first place. But the sequence and depth of the stage where the artist expresses her will to post-dependency both narrow and widen the distance between “Suah Im” and “me.” The body is ultimately created – just as the unfixed “me” is constantly being transformed and composed.
Like a heavy wheel bound to roll along the course determined by Suah Im.
Suzy Soma Park (Curator/AGENCY RARY)