Catalogue Essay for Modern Fuel

  • Claire 


Published in Syphon (2013), for Modern Fuel Artist-Run-Centre

In Jacques Lacan’s seminal essay, “The Mirror Stage”, there is reference to an experimental biological practice in which researchers, to incite a female pigeon to develop the gonad necessary for procreation, will introduce one to its own image in a mirrored surface. Pigeons, and locusts, cannot recognize another of their own species until this gonad has reached maturation, and placing a specimen within view of her own self produces a psychological jolt that results in an inner sexual flourishing. This imago, or the process by which we form our personality by identifying with the collective unconscious, is at play in Variations on Symmetry.

Ying-Yueh Chuang and Eliza Au have created an environment in which nature is produced, mirrored and reproduced until the divide between natural and supernatural is eliminated. Chuang was born in Taiwan and came to Canada in the early nineties. She holds a BFA from Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and a Masters in Ceramics from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. She has taught ceramics at NSCAD, the Ontario College of Art and Design, University of Regina and Sheridan College and is currently teaching at Capilano University. Her work focuses on vegetables, fruits and objects typically deemed to be ”undesirable”, such as the seeds of a red pepper or animal bones. These she collects in order to study “how individual elements, while independent, can also be used like building blocks to create larger units of pattern, which in turn can create even larger patterns exponentially.”

Eliza Au received her BFA from NSCAD (2005) and her MFA from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University (2009). Her slipcast ceramic work explores “how sacred space is transformed by the use of pattern and geometry in Gothic and Islamic architecture.”

In “Cross Series”, the central piece in Variations on Symmetry, Chuang brings elements of a kaleidoscope into the third dimension. Working collaboratively, the artists mount individual ceramic pieces on a plastic plinth, and insert each totem into four-inch foam on the gallery floor. The sacred space that is here represented could either be a macro or microcosm, and this ambiguity is the work’s strength. By following the pattern orally dictated by Chuang, members of the installation team gradually build up the kaleidoscope of ceramic pieces. Each individual element of the design is a miniature Chicago-esque ceramic sculpture that could easily stand alone as an objet d’art. Instead they co-relate to form a pattern around a central and local axis, like a model of a perfectly synchronized galaxy.

Other works in this exhibition adhere more closely to the concept of repetition than symmetry. Eliza Au’s snake-like “Brocade” piece, a ceramic gridiron work that begs to be fondled, looks like a repeated pattern of vines from the far end of the gallery. Au’s interest in ecclesiastic interlocking visual systems is evident in this patterned meditation. Mathematical predictability is again present here, but despite its materiality this work has more in common with textile patterning than it does to Chuang’s kaleidoscope work.

Dissymmetry is also present in this exhibition. Not to be confused with asymmetry, dissymmetrical compositions slightly disrupt expectations by being almost, but not completely, symmetrical. In the world of design, dissymmetry strengthens an otherwise monotonous composition, as it does with Chuang’s “Flower Series”. In this work, bulbous, grey ceramic flowers rise like tumors from colourful skeins of cloth which are mounted to the gallery walls. Both a part of and apart from the textile pattern, these “blossoms” are off-set from each other in the design. Seeming more like a plague than a posy, these sculptural appliqués are a challenging addition to the visual garden.

In its predictability, symmetry is as haunting as the Tyger eyes in William Blake’s famous poem. In their perversification of nature, then, these works become supernaturally fearful, like metronomes in the jungle.

But patterns should be comforting. We recognized them in nature, in the form of plant pistons, flower petals, or mineral crystals. In our cathedrals, mosques and shrines we allow the comfort of elaborate decoration to crowd our consciousness and contribute to our spiritual experience. In Variations on Symmetry, however, the individual elements which have been raised to this level of monumentality strike us as more earthy than Heavenly; more erotic than ecstatic. Rather than toying with the simple concept of mathematical symmetry, Chuang and Au have invited us to participate in a much more complicated sensory game.