Remembering. I. is a practice-as- research project and a part of the As Flower, As Mother, As Water program.
Comprehensively, the program examines the social and cultural context by interviewing one hundred local mothers of different generations and socioeconomic statuses. The draw-and-tell interview/ storytelling approach appropriates into a philosophical discussion on listening, linguistic, interpretation, understanding, and the true meaning of communication. Furthermore, artists study creative practice and processes, develop artistic languages and aptitude, and a specific self-selected topic.
Remembering. I. explores two self-selected research questions. They are: “How do our five senses experience help us to scrutinize the motherhood practice of different generations?” and “Is a woman’s identity defined by the role of motherhood?”
This excerpt is for reporting purposes, and an extensive version of the research, including the creative process and results analysis, will be developed into a formal paper.
Multifold research methodology
The draw-and-tell process interviewed one hundred mothers, and every two artists as a group were assigned to examine twenty of them intensively, where the rest of the eighty interviews were video recorded as complementary resources.
Thenceforth, a series of workshops from six different disciplines were facilitated for the artists. Artists inquired and acquired ideas, skills, beliefs, and practices to develop their research.
My group initiated a mini practice project to explore the research topics. Each of us picks a flower each day for a month and study its “identity”. The project grew into studying the flowers and photographing their aging process.
Corresponding to the selected research topics, the group applied the above resources and created Remembering. I. employing collaborative techniques, phenomenology, and ontology. After the showcase, selected audience members were interviewed for analysis.
Artistic concept – the Objects (as part of practice based research)
Remembering. I. depicts one’s encounters, choices, and reflection in a journey. Hence, the formation of one’s identity. The audience members’ particular childhood memories, family stories, and current state of mind manifested through participating in the five-senses activities built in the immersive installation.
The installation is structured as a tunnel waved by red yarns with four activity stations in between.
The audience experiences this work by entering the tunnel one at a time, and therefore the shared experience provides a personal aspect. The general “rules” for the participants include: the tunnel is a one-way path, the participants can co-construct the tunnel by weaving in the white yarns, and the duration of a station is suggested by the length of the music.
The first station, titled “The Source” is a pink tent layered with different fabrics, a big red cushion on the floor with a woven ornament on top. The 10 mins water sound is composed as a stimulus for ASMR (Autonomous sensory meridian response). The water soundtrack was inspired by the flow-form water fountain, the water sound at the farm, and the aquatic therapy experience (two of the six artists’ workshops).
The second station, titled ” Growth” sets nine objects in a desk size apothecary cabinet. The participants choose to open the drawers to smell or taste the (edible) objects. While the 6 minutes music intends to imply a mesmerizing atmosphere, the smell and taste of the objects also connote the old-time, childhood, or older family members.
The third station, titled ” Years” contains a mystery box with different daily articles, together with the 3 minutes poly-meter and tempo-varying music insinuating the proceeding life stages in the blink of an eye.
The last station, titled. “Mirror” is a wall of upside down dry flowers, with a soil patch and fresh flowers on the floor. The 10 mins melodic music aims to instill a self-reflection moment.
The practice-led research examines the recipients’ experience based on phenomenology and ontology as if the audience members were performing in a set for the observer. Besides observing and analyzing the behaviors that appeared in the installation, the majority of audience members shared their reflections and memories aroused by the objects; some explained their choices in the process, and a few described their aesthetic experiences.
The following are some selected examples:
• I usually hate being alone, and staying in the tent alone for that long was painful. However, we all have to face our life alone, isn’t it?
• I like the quietness inside the tent, finally quiet albeit the sound, the sound is giving me quietness.
• The smell of the mint balm reminded me of how my parents used to look after me. As a father now, I finally understood what it took to look after a chronically sick child.
• The smell of the stinky fish reminded me how lucky I have been. My parents never let me eat any overnight food. They were less fortunate as children though, and I believe so as many other people.
• Growing up I had a similar cloth and it was sewed by my grandmother.
• The candies are too sweet, I don’t think I deserve that in my life.
• The things there are ancient, who still cares?
• I ate everything I could from the cabinet, why not, I had only one chance.
• The chain of keys in the mystery box speak my current state. I used to see each key as an improvement. As I got a job promotion I got a new set of keys, and when I got married I got a new set of keys. What I didn’t realize was that the physical weight of the keys also implies the weight of responsibility.
• The work pass challenged me to think about whether I put too much time at work.
• I was frustrated finding the kitchen sponge in the mystery box. My mom and I always argue about the best way to clean, and she hates it when I clean her kitchen, although all I want is to lighten her workload.
• What a mother must sacrifice was her waistline (measuring tape in the mystery box).
• I look at the flower wall and think about my lifespan, if I can die with beauty and goodness, maybe it is okay.
• I gave some personal meaning to the white yarn, and specific ways to incorporate them, yet that led me to miss out on a station. I chose to follow the rule to not turn back in the path, I am still asking myself if I regret that decision.
• The tunnel is a fantasy, and there was an open window for me to peek through the real world, which reminds me that this journey is part of reality.
• The sound set the space and the colors set the mood
• You can’t omit the music because that would change the experience entirely. At the same time, the music is not the protagonist.
• Like a child, I curiously open the drawers and learn about the items. I closed the ones that I recognized and left the unknown open, and I left that station as is. I cheated when I second guest the items in the mystery box. As we grow up, we want things to be assured, cannot bear the ambiguity. Why have we changed?
• I haven’t seen my mom for a while, I should go home soon.
There were substantial learning, practicing, and reflecting opportunities during the program, which was the essence of a practice-as-research project. The artists were encouraged to reexamine our beliefs, practice, life skills, mentality, habits, expressions, and connections to the world. Amongst the topics, there are a few that I have been intensely pondering on.
Artists need to develop crafts, skills, worldview, aesthetics, and even character and personality. The program brought the dynamics of everyday living (and others’ way of living), and disciplines outside of the usual artistic practice into the realm. There was an epiphany on “practicing” as Aristotle said, ” You are what you repeatedly do.” absorbing views, knowledge, wisdom from a spectrum of life experience, seizing observation moments, collecting experimental opportunities, and weaving the mindset into everyday life is a way to nurture the creative spirit in an artist. Doing is the only way to come across and gain experience.
Another insight was how artists identity our works, the subjective and objective distance, and the attitude to cultivate a continual and evolving journey.
There was also conscious inquiry on converting a conceptual idea into an experience or knowledge and transcending that into an artistic expression (despite form).
The social and cultural background often affect how we perceive, understand, and interpret humanities, and there was a reminder to be attentive to the impact of traditions.
As I was inquiring into a mother’s identity, the same question applies to me: What does it mean to be an art practitioner; why do I want to do it, do I indeed want to do it; what do I do repeatedly to construct myself, and what is art to me. The quest is, as mentioned, a continual exploration. The depth and breadth of the program have given me a multilayers platform to recall some core values, reflect and contemplate the current practice, and aspire to investigate some new possibilities.
As mothers, inherit generations of skills, knowledge, wisdom, assumptions, problems, bad habits. Yet, a pillar of a family, often with the best intentions at heart.
As water, protean, flowing, “intelligent”, comprehensive yet simple, daily, you cannot survive without.
As flowers, poise, savvy, the seeds are planted and waiting to be nurtured in good soil to bloom.
There are many people and happenings involved in these eighteen months, the collective learning has been amazing, and I am grateful for all these encounters.