[Non-review] Goddess of Mercy
Local artist Alecia Neo’s Goddess of Mercy is being presented at the Substation Gallery as part of the M1 Fringe Fest. this year.
The artist has recreated two living spaces from real-life referents, belonging to a pair of mother-son couples: the Neos (any relation?), a devoutly Buddhist, cancer-stricken woman living with her hairstylist son, who professes faith in a personal mash-up of various Buddhist and Taoist cults, as well popular Asian folk religion. In the other section, culled from the lives of the Tans, the younger Tan considers himself agnostic, while his mother, a pious Catholic, now suffers from a debilitating case of Alzheimer’s.
Re-imagined domesticity as narrative is nothing new. (Simon Fujiwara’s censored contribution to the local Biennale last year, Welcome to the Hotel Munber, is a case in point.) What was striking about Neo’s piece is her embrace of the olfactory dimension: a small coil of incense was kept burning in one section of the work (the Neos’), and some essence of rosemary in the other. Engaging the sensorium is a big deal in contemporary art these days, but the tactile and the aural senses are the next most common modes of appeal after the visual – and only rarely the olfactory and/or gustatory after that.
Props to Neo, and the Substation as well for being open-minded about their space. It may seem like a trifling touch, but not for nothing is smell considered the most powerfully evocative of the senses – the incense, in particular, activated the display for me in very immediate, visceral ways, evoking the numberless shrines and temples I’ve encountered over the course of my life, the thick, woody scent of joss sticks coating the air almost always an inescapable element …
Goddess of Mercy runs till Feb 26.