So basically my coursework is about communication between grandparent and grandchild (or rather the lack there of). Here, “communication” does not refer to the everyday talking and conversing with another. It is the understanding between two parties through the exchange of information and ideas.
My coursework was triggered by an event that happened at home. Well, not exactly an event but something I saw. My grandfather is an outgoing man, and now that he is retired, he often likes to go on frequent cruises with his friends, or trips to Malaysia. When I say frequent, it means as frequent as once a week for a couple of days each time! Meanwhile, my grandmother is the exact opposite. She is an introverted person, and does not like to go out as much, so she doesn’t go with my grandpa on his frequent cruise trips. During his trips, she would often spend the night at our house.
There was one day when grandma was here, and I was going down the stairs when I saw her watching TV. The thing was, her favourite show (one of those long million-episode Taiwanese dramas) was on, yet she was sitting on the sofa, staring into space. Yeah, just stoning. There wasn’t anyone else in the living room either. At that moment I felt really… stunned. It made me feel sad and pity for her. There are other people in the house and yet no one is talking to her and I felt really guilty. She looked so very lonely. I do not think that I spend enough quality time with my grandmother (or grandparents for that matter). Sure yes I do talk to her sometimes, help her with the cooking, but I never do TALK and understand her. After that incident, I also realised that when I talked to her, I felt bored and lost interest easily. She kept repeating things that she had said previously. Replies would come in various forms of nodding, “Uh”s and “Mm”s, accompanied by too-bright grins that falter.
It wasn’t because that I felt really uninterested in conversing with her that saddened me. It was that I could no longer talk to her. In the past when I was younger I never did feel this way. But now I feel reeaaaallly bored talking to her. Always the same topics, always the same things. I panic, cause I am reminded of my mom’s own story with her own grandpa. Great Grandfather passed away before my mom could see him for the last time when she was studying abroad. I don’t want to regret not spending enough time or doing enough things for them when they pass on. We have to be realistic: our grandparents are old. They will pass on one day.
I decided that for my coursework, I wanted to do something more personal, more close to my heart. I believe that in this way, the work would hold much more meaning to me, and in turn, it would be easier to convey and translate to the message to the audience. I also think that familial ties are important, cause whether you like it or not, they’re always gonna be there. And when that particular incident struck a chord in my heart, I decided on this.
An artist that inspired me to use the ideas of head busts is Janine Antoni, a contemporary artist whose works focus on process. The particular work that I saw was Lick and Lather, 1993.
Lick and Lather, 1993
An interview with her about the work can be read here.
It is really interesting to use a replica of a self, and forming a kind of “love-hate” relationship with it (the physical appearance). And how through the “loving” way to licking (the chocolate busts) or gently washing (the soap busts), the details of heads are slowly being erased. It’s a symbolic way of removing, or perhaps even destroying oneself. I think that it’s a beautiful process, in the sense of getting to know the replica of herself, the representation of her physical self.
I also liked the idea of using the head bust. The castings represent my granddad. I also thought of the idea of not seeing the bust as a representation, but seeing it as the Cast of my Gong Gong’s (as I call my grandfather) Head itself. Because these casts are not my grandfather. They stand as their own. They are Products of the process of casting my grandfather’s head. Otherwise, these casts be seen as representing of how I spent time with Ah Gong and Ah Ma.
I also liked Antoni’s concept of using the process to understand something.
I guess this coursework is my way of dealing with the problem of the lack of communication with my grandparents. I use the process of the coursework to find out and interact more with them. Especially when I make the head busts. My grandparents live alone in a small flat, so sometimes when I go over to cast Grandpa’s head, it’ll just be the 3 of us- him, her and I. I get a lot more time with them this way, so I try to use this to talk more and understand to them.
This project definitely got me to understand and know my grandparents better. I wont’ say that I know them as well as the back of my hand now- I don’t. But I have learnt a lot more about them and that’s a start.
“The process is what transforms it.” – Janine Antoni