A place never been seen is not a place, by Doris Wong Wai Yin at Nexus Arts as part of Ozasia Festival

By Olivia Kubiak

Walking into the dark room hidden behind the black curtain was like stepping into an imaginary world. The curious space evoked a strange feeling as you entered it, however, it was quiet and reflective at the same time. As I explored, I was reminded of being alone in a dark and quiet city somewhere; but there was a twist! The first things I noticed were the pavers and the pillar in the middle of the room. Small, silver plants grew from between the cracks of the pavers and next to the litter bin, adding to the feeling of being outside. Before I continue any further, I must point out that Wong’s highly conceptual installation draws on occultism (belief in the existence of secret, mysterious, or supernatural agencies), as its theoretical underpinning. She plays with the idea of reality versus imagination, which is really at the forefront of the whole experience. The exhibition is linked together by five sentences: “A place never been seen is not a place;” “You have already heard the most important story in your life;” “What lies inside you is not a person, but personality;” “Since you were born, I have realised the universe is full of kindness,” and “You choose the safer side”. These sentences and their true meanings become clear as you walk through the space.

 

A place never been seen is not a place.

The most obvious object in front of me was a large lamppost which was hanging upside-down; its shade close to the ground. Inside the lamp sat a full moon. The inversion of this object made me feel uneasy – part of me felt like it was going to drop. However, there was something comforting about the shining of the moon that emanated from within and from the shadow of the lamppost, you could see its beautiful silhouette outlined on the bricks. In the exhibition booklet available at Nexus, Wong referred to a book titled: - ‘Biocentrism: How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the True Nature of the Universe’. An idea shared within this text suggests that space and time do not actually exist, but are tools to understand ‘reality’.[1] Wong responds to this notion by writing, “I am shocked by this statement. If the reality is created from my imagination, every matter should be of my responsibility.”[2]

 

What lies inside you is not a person, but personality.

There are many curious objects within the room. One of them is a litter bin with a hologram of a glowing light bulb. You would stare at it, all the while asking yourself, ‘why is there a light bulb in the litter-bin?’ The light gets brighter and brighter and then, all of a sudden, it disappears. After reading the booklet and coming back to re-visit the space, I understood this work as a metaphor that we, as humans, are complex and there is no set way of being. Our personalities can change depending on circumstances and situations; nothing is fixed. However, we do have a choice. I enjoyed the fact that Wong used an object commonly found within an urban landscape and cleverly used it as a metaphor for human and personality.

 Doris Wong Wai Yin,  You have already heard the most important story in your life

Doris Wong Wai Yin, You have already heard the most important story in your life

You have already heard the most important story in your life.

The next thing you see is a telephone booth near the corner.  Inside, a real telephone can be heard ringing. The first time I answered it, I heard a man’s voice on the other end telling me all sorts of different things. The second time I heard a woman’s voice (perhaps the artist’s) speaking to me in a confiding way. She told me, ‘you can speak to me as though you were speaking to your best friend.’ During Wong’s talk at the exhibition opening night, the artist articulated that the inspiration for this installation was an incident, which occurred during her trip to New York. She was exhausted after her flight and fell asleep in her hotel. In the middle of that night, she received a phone call. Upon answering, a man’s voice on the other line was talking at her and offering her an assortment of random information. Wong writes:

The thought of this incident came back to me from time to time. I felt like I had missed the most important phone conversation in my life, or as if my sub-consciousness, inner self, or even God had tried to seek my attention through that phone call. To me, art creation seems to be a similar thing: the consciousness seeks a clearer expression through a material outlet.[3]

This reminded me of some of my own personal experiences involving being given meaningful advice from strangers or people I don’t know very well. It seems there are certain points in life where you get given advice, words of wisdom, or inspiration from somebody who enters your life for nothing but a brief moment. I don’t know why these people cross our paths, whether there is a reason for it or not. However, I feel a link to the occult in these situations, as these encounters provide our souls with a purpose and with the words we need to hear. It is almost as if some kind of higher power comes to see us when we are about to get off-track, and we get pointed back in the right direction. Is it God, it is the universe, is it our own conscience, or is it coincidence?

 Doris Wong Wai Yin,  Since you were born, I have realised the world is full of kindness

Doris Wong Wai Yin, Since you were born, I have realised the world is full of kindness

Since you were born, I have realized the universe is full of kindness.

My eyes were then drawn to a television screen. The looped video displayed our rotating world. Our world as we know and understand it. I found myself just standing, mesmerised as I watched the Earth spinning. I started thinking about our world and all its chaos – the wars, famines, natural disasters, child slavery, animal cruelty, de-forestation, and the displacement of people.

Then, all of a sudden, a child’s hand grabs this terrible, spinning world of ours, and runs off with it. Wong’s writes about her inspiration for this concept:

Throughout all these years, the day when my son was born was the only day I was certain that the universe was kind. For the rest of the days, I dare not to think about this question.[4]

This made me think of a couple of things. The beautiful naivety and optimism that comes with childhood. I don’t have children myself, but I can see how for many people they bring complete joy and a revival of spirit. I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my childhood years were, and always will be, some of the best times of my life. It also made me think of people close to me and how, no matter how ugly the world may seem at any given point in time, certain people are able to raise you up. A human can become our world.

 Doris Wong Wai Yin,  You choose the safer side

Doris Wong Wai Yin, You choose the safer side

You choose the safer side.

The last object in the space situated adjacent to the black curtain through which you enter/exit was another television screen playing a video of plane spinning around. As the plane quickly spins, we can see one side looks like a regular commercial carrier with ‘Trans World’ written on the side of it and is lit up brightly. The other side of the plane is nothing, pure darkness. The plane constantly spun, like the arrow of a compass, never stopping. This video resonated as the light side of the plane could be understood as the safer side, the one most of us would consciously choose. However we may have more choice beyond what our consciousness can control. As Wong illustrates:

Dr. Michael Newton, the first American hypnotherapist studying reincarnation and the spiritual world in between lives, highlights in his book ‘Destiny of Souls’ that a soul elevates its understanding of life through choosing different adverse conditions such as sickness, disability, poverty or war. I can never imagine that free will can be so boundless. I was blown away by this idea, as my soul could choose to grow peacefully, gracefully or prosperously in a rapid way.[5]

Doris Wong offers her audience a different way of seeing the world. In the little handbook provided to visitors, there is an essay written by Anthony Yung titled, ‘Occultism as ethics’. He discusses society’s growing interest in occultism and questions whether occultism is a substitute way of understanding the world or whether it’s a ‘retrogressive consciousness’, a suggestion proposed by Theodor Adorno.[6] There is a clear link between the idea of occultism and Wong’s alternative world wherein she creates a parallel universe of sorts. After spending some time at the exhibition I was intrigued by occultism and the idea of having a deeper spiritual reality, which ruled over any reason and science. Wong explores the fine line between the real and the unreal by questioning how much of our on consciousness contributes to determining these truths. By using material objects as metaphors to express these ideas, the definition of art itself is being challenged. Doris Wong’s captivating exhibition is an experience and it left me thinking for days on end.

Doris Wong Wai Yin's exhibition, A place never been seen is not a place, is being shown at Nexus Arts from the 7th of September until the 8th of October as part of the OzAsia Festival. 


[1] Lanza, Robert et al. Biocentrism. Dallas, Tex, Benbella, 2009,.

[2] Wong Wai Yin, Doris, A place never been seen in not a place. Oi! Hong Kong & Nexus Arts, Adelaide, 2017, p. 27

[3] Wong Wai Yin, Doris, A place never been seen in not a place. Oi! Hong Kong & Nexus Arts, Adelaide, 2017, p. 21

[4] Wong Wai Yin, Doris, A place never been seen in not a place. Oi! Hong Kong & Nexus Arts, Adelaide, 2017, p. 33

[5] Ibid, p. 39

[6] Adorno, Theodor, Theses Against Occultism, in the stars down to Earth and Other Essays on the Irrational Culture, London, New York: Routledge, 1994