Ting Ying Han: Motion in Art
Written by Lara Salmon
Ting Ying Han’s studio is a cross-section of installations which swing, rotate, and wait for hands to re-arrange them. The space sits somehow in anticipation, one sculpture swaying from the ceiling as another sweeps the ground in a circular mechanical motion. Yet even with this respite of potential energy, the atmosphere is stoic. As she sits down to talk, Ting wants to discuss Arte Povera and Marxist ideas of play and production. Her most recent work is an interactive piece titled “KEEP MOVE AROUND, YOU MOVE IT UP, I MOVE IT DOWN.” It consists of three dimensional cardboard objects whose inter-locking property is reminiscent of pieces from the digital puzzle game “Tetris.” The installation shown in June at ACRE Projects in Chicago, Illinois as part of the four-person show Act I – Play as Production. There, the sculptures stood with black gloves next to them with the invitation for visitors to reconfigure their arrangement. Ensuing interactions between guests were meant to recall childhood negotiations on the playground. Participants were brought back to basic communications of sharing and building together – an antithesis to digital, solitary forms of contact they likely have with friends and colleagues.
In the center of Ting’s studio is “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Are We Going?” It is a large mechanized structure with five metal poles extending from a black, spinning base. The poles are not cylindrical, but square, welded into angular arches. On the tip of these arches are sharp hooks, from which hang long canvas cushions, reminiscent of arms. When the motor is on the sculpture spins like a turntable, perpetuating the poles to rotate and the fleshy globs to move in circles, their stubby ends pushing through sand on the floor. The piece is minimal, monotonous, and cleanly sinister. Its functionality is reminiscent of a pony ride at the county fair, but the angular sharpness and lifeless hanging sacks are a closer reference to death. Or perhaps to boredom – hours of repetitious motion with no productive output. Power continually emanates from the middle point of the machine and disseminates in the sand. Could it speed up if it wasn’t dragging, could it be rendered to fulfill a task?
Beyond this centrifugal sculpture are several more of Ting’s works: glazed and hardened pillows hang by white ropes, moving back and forth like swings in the breeze from her fan. A diagonally cross-sectioned chair rests in front of a gray two-dimensional staircase. The colors are drab, everything is close to abstract, aesthetic choices are clean and deliberate. Ting is not interested in the stories behind her materials. The past lives of her objects are anonymous, with no proper nouns in her narratives. Ting will tell you that the work is her response to the existence she has related to this country, and that she wants to make work people can feel.
During the studio visit, Ting had more words for projects she did years ago. Perhaps because older bodies of work were more specific, more performative, and therefore lend themselves best to spoken recollection. In 2008 Ting created a series of storage unit performances. She lived in a storage unit for 72 hours, video-taped an illicit auction at the facility, and held a performance in a U-Haul truck outside of the U.S. Immigration Office in Atlanta. These pieces were about the definition of an individual through what they own, or what they deem valuable enough to store. It was a way to delve into how possessions project class status, and what this means for the immigrant breaching two societies. Ting Ying Han was born in Taipei, Taiwan, where her parents and most of her family still live. She came to the U.S. to study art, and proceeded to create home here. Having an outside perspective on American culture defines the starting point for her practice.