Laughter: Works by Chong Siew Ying
Rimbun Dahan Residency. 1999-2000
Essay by Gary Proctor (edited by Angela Hijjas)
Rimbun-Dahan, Selangor, Malaysia, 2000

Siew Ying's paintings of laughing people uncover the ephemeral nature of these subjects, and hold them. This is not easy, as the ephemeral is always in motion, representations of it risk becoming sentimental or simply nostalgic. This spontaneous moment of expressive joy highlights a common reaction when one wants neither to compromise, nor to jeopardize a possible outcome. Siew Ying chooses to freeze this moment at the point where she connot compromise, and in this way her paintings produce a unique space, and indeed life.

We make a choice here, in the way we embrace the phenomenon of such openness. This is life fully lived across all its oppositions, pain and joy, life and death, validating and acknowledging all as essential being. The works accentuate a realisation and resolution about where the important moments in life can be found. As well as being an expression of joy and happiness, it is also an act of opening to forgiveness. Not least is the fact that these paintings express laughter as a continuous event, active and sustained rather than passive and momentary.

These paintings are often dominated by enormous laughing faces. Most of them appear in monochromatic colours with the softness and the transparency of shadow, as if emerging from a dream. Progressively, these faces are surrounded by colourful images, as the laughter bursts beyond its own world, into one of light and colour.

Some of the work profoundly contrasts different forms of lived, human space, against how that space is felt or thought about. The first is a routine social space which is the background to daily life, a domain of agreed and fixed points where discourse and narrative occur. The other is a more radical, charged space, almost where the personal elements of social narrative first take form. Always immanent, able to press upon us at any moment, it is where the world fuses to us in spontaneous, expanding moments of awareness. These are instance when the connection between self and other is intrinsic and impulsive, drawing the world and ourselves together.

Such transitory and involuntary expressions of life recall a crucial simultaneous condition of self/other; and this primary space of radical openness is often present in Siew Ying's paintings. Ecstatic and illuminated, her work are able to emancipate a world of routine, because here life may be re-imagine, and new situation uncovered, offering new reasons to create. Narrative outcomes are side-lined in this play of spatial subjectivities, emphasising resistance to all closure.

Here is a choice about how such openness is conceived and attracted in life. To invite such experience is often a point of compromise, the point at which routine should properly be put aside. It suggests terrain between centres and margins, velocities as we transverse space between the personal/peripheral and the social/centre, and the way these collide and turn on an instant. It allows for a construction of empathies and common commitment, and is a nice reminder of how large the history of the human body can become.

A fascination for the moment when one laughs is itself a highly nomadic subject: in our own lives the re-entry of the charged 'allspace' within us is profoundly irreversible, an emanation of magic by which life is awakened.