Amphetamine, in white and pink 2012 Rope, resin, Krylon, rubber
14h x 36w x 24d in. (approx)
Ouroboros #2, unpainted 2012 Rope, resin, cardboard
56h x 12w x 2d in. (approx)
Of the Deep, in progross 2012 Rope
A Chinese proverb says that there is an invisible red thread that connects those destined to meet; things can get tightened or tangled but never broken. The ties that bind us to one another are also the bonds that exist deeper, within ourselves. They are, in many ways, like the path of life that we must walk, as we go along the way. That path, though linear, is almost never straight. But we hold to it firmly, even when we go astray, even when we are tied up in knots, and have lost the way. For it is in the resolution of conflict that we discover our truest selves.
Serpent on the Mount is the latest work by conceptual artist Ellen Jong. As Jong explains, “I have yet to meet the God that moves me. Until then, am I just a vessel –a sculpture, the creator being life? Composed by family, history, class and technology, my build, status and imprint are defined. My breath and flesh are a mold resisting and swaying to the elements. But I am not just a vessel. I am not just a mold. There is a trench where my silhouette sails. It whispers and echoes me awake, from what feels like a deep and roaring desolate sea. And, I am moved.
“Serpent on the Mount is a play on Sermon on the Mount, the longest piece of moral teaching from Jesus in the New Testament. Both are drawn by love, spirituality and compassion, yet my urges are not displayed from conforming to the words of Jesus.
The serpent, one of the oldest mythological symbols with dual expressions of good and evil, is used here to challenge the codes of ethics delivered to provide guidance, answers and commandments for what Jesus enlightened as ‘a good life.’ There is life, and all the complicated and mysterious shit that comes with it. Conflict is inevitable, the most valuable conflicts perhaps being the ones that exist within your self. Conflict moves me.”
Jong's artistic practice is rooted in conceptual interventions and autobiographical themes that are shaped by questions about self-awareness and relationships in a world of dualities, desire, isolation, crime, survival and love. Using photography, text, artist books, sculpture and methods/tools/objects of the vernacular, she has developed a syntax that is driven by a deeply personal narrative.
Jong was born in Queens, NY, to Taiwanese/Indonesian Chinese parents whose medical careers exposed Jong to the asylum which is the body at a young age. Photography became a (gateway) tool to document her life happenings and establish her visual language and sense of self. More recent years have been transformative for Jong's work as themes manifest in mixed media, including a return to the practice of sculpture with Serpent on the Mount.
She observes, “Art saves me. Shooting, writing, concepting, thinking deeply, wagering, challenging to make art saves me. I don’t know what I’d do or be without it. It seems the older I get the earlier I go back to think about when things started. I think about my earliest memory looking through the bars of my crib. I can see the wallpaper, carpet and the hallway through the open door.
“I think I became an artist the day I remembered this memory because so much of my work is about seeking the other side of things—body, social paradigms, God, and mortality—and it is a purpose that always makes me want to see past what I think I might already know. This sticks with me.
“My father is a medical doctor who has a passion for Chinese calligraphy and art. He started out as a collector and taught himself how to do calligraphy and paint. I had a paintbrush in my hand by the time I was three. My father had painter friends at the house constantly, talking and painting in his den. The activities were ambiguous because they would speak in Chinese, many times referring to proverbs and scholars of the past. My younger interpretations are inexplicit. With all the culture and exposure he offered me when I was a child, I still had to find my own artist language and my own path.
“Now that we are both adults and in our own art practice, we kind of just respect one another. I see parallels and aspects of my work that he has influenced but they are things I am still trying to understand and difficult to discuss with him. There is definitely a culture and language barrier there.
“My first camera was my dad’s. Because he didn’t agree with art school, I had to study medicine or business first. Picking up his camera was an outlet I had access to easily. I took photographs before drawing. It was a way to see the world through my own eyes—through the camera’s lens. I shot so many rolls of everything. Now that I work in mixed media, I see my early shooting as a kind of exercising of my eyes and my vision. Now, it’s a lot easier to see and envision what I want to see, how I want to see it. I see chic in someone or something highly individual with grace, intent and beauty exuding from the inside out.”
Jong entered Parsons School of Art with her sculpture work. As she recalls, “Too bad the foundation program kicked my ass before I could get to a sculpture degree. I continued photography because I had the equipment and I knew it well. Just over ten years later, 2009, I cast a droplet-spiked toilet in silicone and explored text art in neon and other forms of street signage.
“The knots came in 2012. The knots are not meant to be figurative though some might see figurative references in it. They represent the act of knotting, being in the state of knots and embody the thread, hair and fiber I see intrinsic to living bodies. I work with materials that are accessible to me. I use industrial grade rope and rubber together because it is common in usage but provocative given the shapes and treatments of the rope. It is kind of a play on the everyday.
“I started to work with rope to portray a nodule in space. The history of knots came in handy. As I knot the rope I release the conflicts from inside me. In doing so, I tangle and manipulate the rope. Then, I comb and braid the rope. The tension created is recreated into new rope and is pulled back into a knot, and conflict resides, again. This idea of cyclicality is best illustrated by Ouroboros, the image of a serpent eating its own tale. I interpret Ouroboros in rope to articulate the coexistence of light and darkness, and the continuous harmony and conflict the relationship demands.”
For Jong, a return to sculpture is a homecoming of sorts, for she returns to the form of art that has been a part of her identity since her earliest years. She recalls, “I fantasized about being a sculptor since my first visit to the sculpture garden at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. I must’ve been seven or eight years old; I nearly cried I was so moved. I will never forget that.”