Rimbun Dahan
Kuang, Malaysia
19 Dec 2022 — 21 Jan 2023

︎︎︎Arts Residency for SEA Artists

Aside from making work about the work allowed by simultaneous childcare, as well as immersing oneself in the expansive garden (forest, really) that is Rimbun Dahan, a detailed plan for my residency was not in place. Looking back, this may have been a purposeful action (or non-action) in that I let the needs of my infant daughter shape my productivity — a conscious attempt at welcoming slowness. As it would always turn out for me, the exercise became an embodied reflection on labour, particularly the invisible labour of care that is too often assumed by women. This reflection would also provide me with a loop of a concept about the time in which we live: in profit being contingent on productivity, capitalism and care cannot be farther apart*.
In the kitchen (not the studio), the tension would be momentarily resolved. There, the work took care of itself while I took care of Laia. I found myself trying my hand at making natural inks, leaving pot after pot of plant material foraged from the grounds to cook for hours at a time, only stirring occasionally. Out of the ten different plants I cooked, seven gave me sufficient and effective yield**. To my surprise, I learned that natural green pigment is hard to come by, and that colour changes not only across time but also physical states (one magenta ink from a small, red, fleshy, pitless fruit dries blue-green). Dazzling as the aliveness of the inks were, I still caught myself describing them as unstable in my notes. I quickly realised how the language of commodification, wherein consistency is king, is a kind of default. There might be more unlearning to do than learning.

Meanwhile, in the studio, my partner mounted sheets of manila paper on a wall, for Laia to draw on and entertain herself with while I worked. Before long, I noticed that there were accidental closed shapes in her doodles. As I filled them in using her crayons, it occurred to me that closed shapes are formed by two ends meeting or touching, and, more crucially, how touching is very mammalian. I have been thinking a lot about touch lately, ever since coming across the counterintuitive and anti-touch regimens of sleep training infants. Going through the motions of my internal conflict, I decided to catalogue Laia’s closed shapes. No sooner had the inks finished curing than I figured, with some creativity, that I could write ‘mammal’ with her shapes, and test the inks at the same time by doing so. In the end, what I had to show for my time at Rimbun Dahan were works (or non-works (or fun-works)) that represent a range of productivity without having to compromise one’s ability to parent***. Although very outwardly different from the controlled and monochromatic image- and object-making I am used to, the mammal series, from the ink drawings to the existential colour chart, may just be the most meaningful project I have started so far. My paradigm is shifting and collapsing unto itself: the personal is professional, and they should not be far apart.

*I first heard about capitalism being the antithesis of care from Georgina Johnson, editor of The Slow Grind, via Atmos Magazine — incidentally, on the day of my open studio.
**This is to flag another example of how the language of commodification slips into my vocabulary.
***Acknowledgment and gratitude are due the institutions and individuals that create spaces wherein artistic practice is not sacrificed at the altar of maternal joy: for this time, Rimbun Dahan and Costantino Zicarelli.