Ng Hui Hsien – Myth
WORDS BY NG HUI HSIEN
“As imagination is an act of extraordinary seeing, enchantment might be a representative moment for reconsidering photography’s relationship to the world. Could heaven and earth, secular and spiritual, ritual and routine, ordinary and miraculous be mirror images of each other?”
– Robert Hariman and John Louis Lucaites, The Public Image
Like many others, I am drawn to the mysteries of the night sky, the quiet confidence of mountains and the vastness of seas. Enchanting, dangerous, and sometimes unpredictable, these natural phenomena hint at a world beyond the visible, while telling stories of their own. They can be arresting, enticing and inspire both wonder and fear. Constellations hold particular allure. Their brilliance go hand in hand with intense turmoil within, a reminder of the inextricable relationship between beauty, strength and adversity.
Myth is a series of unique photographic prints of various sizes, made using found organic matter and improvisational darkroom techniques. Coming from Singapore but having lived in the United Kingdom for the past year, I have been intrigued by the shifts that nature undergoes as seasons change. Peeling strips of tree bark, blooming flowers and falling leaves. These little things speak of transience as well as the cycle of life, cliché as that may sound.
Curious about their characteristics, I began to collect organic matter during my walks in woods, parks and nature reserves. I experimented with these bits of nature in the darkroom, in order to better understand their physical properties and forge a connection of sorts to this new environment in which I now live. Some images in Myth were imprints of objects in direct contact with light-sensitive papers. Others were more evidently manipulated, with objects used as negatives in the enlarger. For a few, only light, paper and darkroom chemistry were used. At the heart of the different images and processes however, is an effort to establish resonance between inner and external worlds.
Referencing cosmological events and geological phenomena, Myth endeavours to suggest the presence of larger forces beyond our individual lives, such as the otherworldly or the spiritual. In this way, the work explores interconnectivity – particularly how the visual properties of one object or process can be used to suggest another – and is a meditation on the mysterious phenomena that have formed the foundations of life and the very fabric of our existence. Photography here, is used as a medium to point to the intangible beyond the material or the visible. I hope for moments where a viewer’s imagination can have free reign, and where my images may be understood as signs of things unseen.
While the images may evoke associations of things other than what they are actually of, it is an inescapable fact that they are constructed entirely in the darkroom, and mostly made using found bits of organic matter. Grounded in the mundane, the photographic work strives therefore not only to invite a suspension of disbelief, but also prompt a questioning of our perception and reveal the fragility of relying on what we see to establish what we know.
What am I looking at? How is this made? Does reality comprise more than what we see? These are questions that I like a viewer to ask as he or she looks at Myth. After all, by conjuring and evoking a world that seems to fuse reality and imagination, Myth is fundamentally an invitation to wonder about and contemplate on the very strangeness of this universe we live in, and our place in it.