An explosion is, at the same time, material and change; a combustion of the flash of light and energy of the union. Shocking and exciting, explosions stay in our memories and mark our holidays with color and awe, leaving smoke and shreds. This momentary beauty only results from transitions of material on a chemical level, leaving fragments and memories of the experience behind.
Ming Ying Hong is one of the newest faculty in the ODU Art Department. Ming has a M.F.A. in Visual Art from Washington University in St. Louis (2015) and recently moved here to work at Old Dominion University as a Lecturer in Art (teaching foundation courses).
I visited Ming’s studio at the end of the semester. She had been completing a larger-than-life-size drawing of Will, her boyfriend, a model and local public school teacher.
It is truly a stunning drawing. Measuring at least 8 ft. tall, Ming has to move up and down a ladder to complete the mural-like charcoal and pencil drawing . As I stood closer to the drawing and looked at the mark-making, a little furry friend entered the studio and rolled on the floor.
AltDaily: From the series “Formless Forms,” looking at Wholes or Transitory States, capture a moment of the blossoming of an explosion. They are both beautiful and terrifying. How did the act of the explosion enter your art making? What do you see when you look into an explosion that we don’t?
Ming Ying Hong: I’m interested in contradictions. The explosions in my drawings are both violent and calm, formed and formless. Despite its destructive implications, the image of an explosion is ephemeral and delicate, teetering on the razor-thin edge of either being a static whole or a dissolved body.
These flowering plumes of smoke appear solid and tangible, but are in fact neither of those things. Explosions integrate and evaporate into air, without a clear delineation of a beginning or end, ultimately disrupting between figure and ground.
In Keeping Things Whole No. 3, the boundaries between figure and ground are confused. The white ground of the paper not only surrounds the explosion but is displayed prominently in the center of it. Traces of white can be found throughout the explosion as an integral part of the form, while simultaneously representing blankness. This cataclysm of contradictions disrupts our systems of meaning, challenging the black and white way of seeing things. Instead, the work favors the uncertainty of newly emerging and un-namable meanings.
The drawings The Head Not the Face and Mirror Twins, like the explosion drawings, capture moments of transition or time changes. In this series human forms are present. What do you see has changed these forms and why are they transitioning?
Like the explosions, the transitioning forms are caught in an in-between moment. I’m less concerned with an outside force causing the transition and more concerned with depicting a state of being. The subjects of the drawings are always in a state of unconsciousness, unaware of their surroundings, existing in a liminal state between death and ecstasy. Their faces are both peaceful and disturbingly inanimate. A sweeping sense of calm is emphasized in the handling of their depictions, in which the soft smudges of graphite carefully mold to the contours of their face. In Mirror Twins, this sense of calm is counterbalanced by a tear that dismantles and bridges the two portraits. The Head Not the Face, the fragments of portraits are caught in the middle of frantic rearrangement. Both pieces, in their transition, explore conditions of uncertainty.
In addition to your drawings, in your previous work, STAIRWELL OUT OF USE and Keeping Things Whole, involved designed rooms and installations. What was your intent for the audience in experiencing these artworks?
Both these pieces create an immersive environment. STAIRWELL OUT OF USE consisted of thousands of empty boxes that lined the walls of the floors, walls, and ceilings of an abandoned stairwell. Navigating the space requires people to contort themselves to fit into irregular crevices, abnormal holes, and small doorways. The participants enter the installation, walk down the steps to a cardboard stair case. The staircase leads to a white room. When the participants leave the room, they can choose to walk down the steps again and re-enter the white space. The layout is of a figure-eight loop, allowing someone to explore the space an infinite number of times.
In Keeping Things Whole No. 8, the floors, ceilings, and walls of the space disappear as a dense mist of fog transforms the small room into an expansive space. The confines of the body, engulfed in haze, disappear. The participants float bodiless in a space, occupying a sense of “otherness.” These site-specific works challenge people to rethink how their bodies (or lack of body) can interact in an environment.
You talked about applying braille-like messages across the surface of the fragile charcoal drawing in your new work. How do intend for the audience to interact with this work?
The piece explores the sensuous overlap of language, intimacy, and the fragility of desire. Repeated throughout the drawing of Will, will be a sentence written in braille detailing his own secret desires and ambitions regarding his body. The braille is made of a soft, skin-safe silicone that has the suppleness of flesh. Participants can caress the piece, which may potentially smear and erase the drawing underneath.
How do you see your work transitioning in the future?
I’ve never seen myself tied to a specific medium. It will be interesting to delve further into the same conceptual territory while working in, say, sculpture or video.
For more on this artist, here is her website.