Back in April, Singapore-based gallery Supernormal hosted Technology in Art – an exhibition in collaboration with SAND Magazine to explore the role of technology in art making. Works selected ranged from device, new media, video art and hybrid practices.
One such example would be Hannah Tan's showcase of her research-based work. In her research for her MAFA programme, she collaborated with a medical professional to observe the insides of plants using ultrasound imaging which revealed a complex inner world visible to the artist. For this open call exhibition, the ultrasound videos are archived beneath previous and new drawings, producing screens filtered and partially obscured by the drawing surfaces. Different presentations of this otherwise invisible information overlap each other, creating an ambiguous space where natural, digital and material meet.
We caught up with Hannah Tan to find out more about her work, along with her perspectives towards our increasing dependence on technology.
What prompted you to submit for the open call?
The open call’s theme is Technology in Art. As a practising visual artist, I am also interested in how physical objects are constantly being transformed into images by technology. The theme resonated with me. Moreover, Supernormal is an experimental art space and I find such platform an appropriate one for me to test out my ideas for this set of new works that I am showing and to elicit viewers’ response about my works too.
Can you tell us more about your work, Sieving Sound and Light (2018)?
Sieving Sound and Light (2018) is a set of two works expanded from a research that I initiated during my MAFA programme at Lasalle College of the Arts. The research is based on making drawing traces from referencing videos of plant ultrasound imaging. The drawings I did eventually evolved into a study of form, space, boundaries and changing perception.
I have always thought about how I could bring my reference materials (ultrasound videos) back into my works as they are often archived away after my works are completed. So for this work, I decided to hide the ultrasound videos behind my art and make them visible through the drawing surfaces. One of the drawing surfaces is also a photograph of my previous work, and I create more drawing marks on it to allow the photographic and drawing traces to overlap each other.
Through this set of works, I hope to look at the notion of perception as an unstable form of information experience that is constantly being mediated.
I also hope to create a dialogue between the various fields of information such as material, digital and audio (ultrasound) and engage different fields of information to build an extension of one another.
Why did you choose to adopt ultrasound technology for the work?
I am interested in any technology or instrument that extends our ability to see what we can’t see with our naked eyes, and ultrasound technology is one of them. I am intrigued by how images of plants transfigure as ultrasound passes through them, ending up as a reflection on the screen of the imaging machine as traces of light and shadows. These traces take on lives of their own, and become something that is very different from the scanned plants. They offer a different perspective of the plants that is not any less real than what we can see with our naked eyes. This is what excites me and keeps me going in my practice.
Knowing that there is so much more out there to be perceived pushes me to keep looking at image making through various perceptual apparatuses.
What else are you personally invested in when it comes to opening your works up to the public eye?
My works are often very subtle and require viewers to spend time looking at them contemplatively. In Sieving Sound and Light (2018), the works changed throughout the day in the space they were exhibited.
In the early afternoon, you could barely make out the moving images but by the evening when the sun was setting, the videos seemed to come alive and became very apparent whereas the drawing marks faded away. Yet there were also observations of the works that required just a fleeting moment to catch. Hence, time becomes an ambiguous unit of measurement in the process of looking here. Looking at works made of only subtle traces also pushes the limits of seeing. I am keen to explore the response of the viewers when they look at such works.
When confronted with less to see, do people see more, or do they get a sense of disquiet from the lack of information and meaning?
Living in this age, we are constantly overloaded with lots of information coming from all directions. I hope my works provide a quiet space for some contemplation, and for viewers to see more with less.
What do your ink drawings portray — were they created as a direct response to the ultrasound scans?
The ink drawings don't just represent the traces of the ultrasound scans but also my thought processes. In my process, I adopted ultrasound imaging as reference materials and these images are often departure points for my drawings to explore notions of perception, issues of visibility and invisibility, and my thinking and drawing processes.
These traces aren’t merely blots of ink to depict boundaries and forms (or the lack of) in the ultrasound scans. Instead, they allowed viewers in the space to make sense of what can be perceived, or otherwise. Thus my ink drawings are also traces of my materials, body, thoughts, and my image-making processes. In that sense, my drawings are much larger than my reference materials. This explains the reduction in size of ultrasound videos in my works.
Do you think technology can ever be misused in art?
Technology is neutral in itself. It is often humans who misuse technology to create systems and intentions that result in objectionable practices like power and control, intrusion of privacy, exclusion and alienation and so on. Artists who use technology are sensitive people who often reveal human’s complex relationship with technology through their works. To answer your question if there exists any form of misuse of technology in art, my answer is no.
Do you think technology helps artists like yourself pursue and create art better?
Technology, like any artist’s medium, does not help artists to pursue and create better art. Artists create works with the medium that could best make their thoughts visible, and to reveal the complex nature of our relationships with our world and its systems.
Technology has become part of our civilisation, and it has altered the way we perceive the world, how we live, think behave and speak. Technology in art merely reflects that.