Christine Ay Tjoe: Blackening Our Name

Christine Ay Tjoe , Always Floating In A Constant Distance 14, 2018. Lithographic crayon on aluminium, 17 1/2 x 23 1/8 x 0 1/8 in. (44.4 x 58.7 x .3 cm)
Portrait of Christine Ay Tjoe.
Christine Ay Tjoe, ‘Black, kcalB, Black, kcalB’, White Cube Bermondsey. 28 November 2018 – 20 January 2019 © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick). Courtesy of White Cube.
Christine Ay Tjoe, Barabas Lights #05, 2008. Acrylic on canvas, 170 x 135 cm. (66 7/8 x 53 1/8 in.)
Christine Ay Tjoe , Always Floating In A Constant Distance 14, 2018. Lithographic crayon on aluminium, 17 1/2 x 23 1/8 x 0 1/8 in. (44.4 x 58.7 x .3 cm)
Christine Ay Tjoe, Docile Black 3, 2018. Oil on canvas, 35 7/16 x 45 1/4 in. (90 x 115 cm) © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)
View of Darren Almond’s show Time Will Tell.
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Video Art Asia by COBOSocial.com

Already highly renowned in Asia, Indonesian artist Christine Ay Tjoe is exploding onto the international scene, with soaring auction prices and an exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey in London.  On the occasion of the opening of this exhibition, she speaks with us revealing the fundamental themes of human nature and spirituality immersed in her practice.

TEXT: Nicholas Stephens
IMAGES: Courtesy of  White Cube and the artist

Portrait of Christine Ay Tjoe.

 

“How do we build a relationship with the dark potential which we have which is permanent and which we cannot escape?”

– Christine Ay Tjoe

 

Entitled Black, kcalB, Black, kcalB, Tjoe’s exhibition at White Cube renders a subtle collision of the figurative and the abstract, these close to monochromatic dissections disject limbs and pour forth blackness. The artist tenderly rejects blocks of colour in favour of tangled lines, a nod to her origins in intaglio and woodcut. In the heart of London’s revitalized Bermondsey district (a stone’s throw from the Shard and Duddell’s), Christine Ay Tjoe lays the human bare. Is this exploration or introspection? It  is certainly more existential than physical.   In unpacking this, she ponders notions of humanity, her roots in southeast Asia, and roots of the tree variety.

 

Christine Ay Tjoe, ‘Black, kcalB, Black, kcalB’, White Cube Bermondsey. 28 November 2018 – 20 January 2019 © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick). Courtesy of White Cube.

 

Christine, what is it about the colour black which makes it the ideal title and metaphor for your latest exhibition?

Black is the dark potential which all people have, that makes us human. We have to acknowledge and embrace its existence for us to be able to have faith in God.

 

Many of your past works, such as Barabbas and Lama Sabakhtani draw on Christian, Biblical stories. You have also explored the parable of the prodigal son. Does your new series stem from a Christian viewpoint or relate to any Biblical parables?

This series of work is not related to a Bible story. It simply narrates and discusses the idea of having a relationship with the dark side of being human, by accepting it in peace, recognizing its maximum limit and keeping guard over it. We thus hope to limit its growth so it will never grow as large as the good side of the human condition.

 

Christine Ay Tjoe, Barabas Lights #05, 2008. Acrylic on canvas, 170 x 135 cm. (66 7/8 x 53 1/8 in.)

 

You have been described as an artist who explores human imperfections. How should humans respond to the imperfections of the world around us?

Mostly I talk about the quality of humans. Although we are a part of one big community, I think it is still important for a person or small groups to keep on exploring his or their potential. In a bad environment, the challenge is to keep on the right track, to not become like them. We must aim to be free from their bad influence, and always be an independent, good individual.

 

Your London show calls to mind some familiar European authors: E.T.A. Hoffmann presented the figure of a Doppelgänger, a real physical division of the self. Later, Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde) and Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Grey) developed the theme of the divided self. Are there any authors or films which provide inspiration to you?

I found a specific exploration of the dark side in an essay written by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, about Faust. The story of Faust introduces the portrait of humans in their universal tendency, acknowledged as a whole, body and soul, the good and bad.

 

Christine Ay Tjoe , Always Floating In A Constant Distance 14, 2018. Lithographic crayon on aluminium, 17 1/2 x 23 1/8 x 0 1/8 in. (44.4 x 58.7 x .3 cm)
Christine Ay Tjoe, Docile Black 3, 2018. Oil on canvas, 35 7/16 x 45 1/4 in. (90 x 115 cm) © the artist. Photo © White Cube (Ollie Hammick)

 

Turning to your background, in what way has your home region of southeast Asia, with its multi-ethnic, multi-faith environment, played a role in inspiring you as an artist?

It has such a big role in my work. I know from the diversity in my surroundings, that there will always be an element of conflict, and so I am brought to the search for human quality; that we don’t hurt each other, instead that we become individuals with full initiative, continually progressing.

 

White Cube Bermondsey is simultaneously showing Time Will Tell by Darren Almond, an exploration of numbers. You spent time as a tutor of arithmetic. Is there a mathematical dimension to your work?

Mathematics always excites me as a discipline that can simultaneously be visualized and which also sets boundaries for my random spontaneous outbursts.

 

View of Darren Almond’s show Time Will Tell.

 

It seems that when you were studying art, you were fascinated by lines, and portraying tree roots. What role did tree roots play as a starting point for your art?

What I learned and understand about the roots of trees is that they do not have to always be exposed on the surface. They are silent but alive; becoming a support that holds up the entire tree, roots have both hard and subtle parts, and they hold an important role in determining how far/big the tree could grow. The quality of the root of the tree is a very important factor and symbolizes the basis for the description of human quality that I’m trying to create. Roots have thus become one amongst other inspirations in my works.

 

2018 has been a strong year, including your first Japanese museum show (21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa). What plans do you have for the future?

My plan for my future works is always to make them better than my previous ones. I find that every time I set out to create something new, I am always given new knowledge and a fresh spirit.

 

 

Christine Ay Tjoe- Black, kcalB, Black, kcalB
28 November 2018 – 20 January 2019
White Cube Bermondsey

 

 

About the artist

Christine Ay Tjoe was born in 1973 in Bandung, Indonesia, where she studied and continues to live and work . Her work has been exhibited across Asia, including a major retrospective at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Ar t , Kanazawa (2018). Ay Tjoe has also been featured in international group exhibitions, including shows at Royal Academy, London (2017); National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts, Taichung (2012); Singapore Ar t Museum (2012); Fondazione Claudio Buziol, Venice (2011); Saatchi Gallery, London (2011); Shanghai Contemporary (2010); National Gallery, Jakar ta (2009); Johnson Museum of Art , Cornell University, Ithaca, New York (2005); and the 1st Beijing International Ar t Biennale, China National Museum of Fine Art (2003).

 

 


 

Nicholas Stephens is from London and has lived in Hong Kong for the last nine years, where he works for a leading Hong Kong gallery, specializing in contemporary ink. His articles on diverse aspects of the Hong Kong arts scene have been published in “Art Hong Kong”. A graduate in Modern Languages (European ones unfortunately!), Nicholas has authored translations of novels and plays by writers including Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

 

 

 
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