This catalogue essay was written for the exhibition ‘Cellular to Stellar’ by Linda Oy Ho at St Heliers Street Gallery, Abbotsford Convent, 4 August – 3 September 2017.
It has been widely regarded that we are currently living in the heights of the Anthropocene, a period of time in Earth’s history that has been significantly shaped by human activity. Although not currently formally designated as a geological epoch, the term has caught on as a buzzword outside of scientific communities to describe the ways that humans have profoundly changed the Earth’s geology, atmosphere and biosphere – including the recent phenomenon of climate change and global warming. It is clear to us today that there is a correlation between human actions and changes in the natural world, and the speed of our current generation’s actions in addressing this fact will no doubt be paramount to the Earth’s future.
Linda Oy Ho’s artistic practice is invested in these human connections to the environment, and imagined through a particular narrative of spirituality and personal reflection. Ho has only been working as an artist since 2014, yet in this time she has quickly established her unique artistic style and methods. Her most recent series in this exhibition continues the artist’s ongoing interests in the intersections between philosophy, spirituality, ecology and nature. The title of the show Cellular to Stellar suggests the interconnectedness between all things – from the very microscopic to the macrocosmic – that forms the basis for this approach.
What is immediately striking about Ho’s works are their suggestive potential, their ability to evoke a range of readings. The sculptures on display are visually appealing in their luminosity and ethereal beauty, but their power also stems from their ability to suggest something larger than the sum of their parts. Titles such as Infinite Universe Within and River in Our Veins prompt the viewer to re-imagine their potential correlation to their experiences in the world, leaving an open-ended interpretation to their representation.
Ho cites the writings of Canadian scientist and environmentalist David Suzuki as a major influence on her artistic practice. In the seminal text The Sacred Balance, Suzuki charts not only the human impact on nature but also demonstrates how dependent humans are on the Earth’s ecology including its water systems, soil and vegetation. This co-dependency and interconnection between things is expressed in Ho’s work through a visual focus on the circle, which also doubles as the shapes on which she paints. Ho arranges round stainless steel vessels together in a variety of configurations; suggesting rising landscapes, elements of nature, human biological structures, interstellar constellations and moons. There is a clear regard for sacred geometry, order and balance expressed in these forms.
The significance of the circle as a basis for all structures of life, from biological cells to planetary forms, is harnessed by Ho as a means to draw on the correlations between nature and human systems. As Above, As Below, as Within can be read visually as either tree branches and root systems, or perhaps the internal structure of the human lungs. In either case, lungs and branches have the same function delivering essential components of life through a guided channel. By conflating the two and demonstrating the similarities, Ho is prompting us to reconsider our human position in the natural world, a relationship that is not wholly single-sided but much rather co-operative.
The spherical form of the stainless steel vessels is emphasised through Ho’s physical application of paint to their surfaces. The artist uses pointilistic painting techniques to create highly detailed and patterned works that are a unique blend of abstraction and representational motifs. For Ho, the use of dots is a physical representation of ‘energy’ in its simplest and purest forms. Their application to surface is almost three-dimensional, as the convergence of dots suggests a sense of rhythm and movement. Working with a muted colour palette of gold and silver tones, the resulting surfaces suggest potential links to alchemy. Ho’s earlier works used hand-beading and textile techniques, and this meticulous attention to detail and process is evident in this body of work through Ho’s painterly application. Against the darkened base layer of the bowls as containers, the paint appears to radiate from its depths creating a sense of depth, time and space.
There are evident links in these works to Eastern philosophy and spirituality, as well as visual connections to traditions in Chinese landscape painting. Landscape painting in Chinese history has a revered tradition, and it typically presented an imagined, idealised version of a landscape, one that emphasised a harmonic relationship with the natural world. This format is similarly retained in Ho’s works, which arise from the artist’s impression and imagination. Ideas of opposites, of ‘yin and yang’, darkness and light, are also expressed clearly in thematic approaches and depictions taken by Ho. All is One, for instance, expresses the cyclical nature of this by charting an infinite loop from brightness to darkness to brightness again. The use of white and black in this work can be interpreted as phases of a moon cycle, or suggestions of life and death or growth and decay.
This exhibition prompts us to appreciate our very own limited capacity to see and understand the natural world. Ho’s works stem from her deep appreciation for nature, but they are also suggestive of abstracted ideals that highlight metaphorical and symbolic interconnections between all forms of life. Her sculptural paintings are like looking glasses that not only reflect back on us, but also invite us to look deeper beyond the surface.