The way they look

Bees and The Unbearable – Chen Zhe

Someone shared this book with me earlier this week and I was immediately drawn to the handcraft of the book and the powerful image of the arm. The work can be seen as two separate work.

THE BEARABLE is about how the artist photographs her self injuries. And this collection of “trash” she calls it came to become a body of work after she had to present her self-portraits at a class in University. While this work is about herself, THE BEES is about finding others who are going through similar experiences and her relationship and exchanges with them. These two woven together to become this book with tender, sensual and powerful book.

She said in an interview, “I had a hard time with all the attention, good and bad. Some suggested that I spoke for the people who cannot speak for themselves. That was not my intention. Other media said presented self-harm as a brave thing, which simply made me angry.”

In her point of view, art helps us ask difficult questions about ourselves. And in this work, Chen is glad that she had the opportunity to share these questions with others e.g. How does a fascination come to be? What does it feel like? And how bad is it if the fascination is a dark one? She said, “Why would a poet publish a poem after he wrote it? He can just be satisfied with having written it and then put it in a drawer. But what often happens is that he would read it out. He wants it to resonate with people, even though he must be embarrassed to admit it.”

And then there, her work has a deeper impact on me. Not just the book (which I am awaiting for its arrival), but these questions she imposed. Can what artists want to portray through their work always be understood by readers? And is it important to be able to read what the artist wants to say through their work? Or can art be about having our own interpretation? How does an art become an art? Do artists always want to publish art because they want their work to be resonated?

What is my fascination? How does it come to my attention? Is it bad to have evil thoughts? And is it bad to make these thoughts into art and publish them?

On some level, I do resonate with Chen’s work. And maybe that’s why I like her work.