by Joy Wong
There is the illusion/elusion of progress. Last week I touched on progress, how progress often comes with the symptoms of dread, self-doubt, and frustration, how progress is made when you actually really start to hate what you’ve created.
Before I began my current examination of the human body and its fallacies, I was exploring the architectural breakdown of urban centres. Often the line between construction and destruction (and then, deconstruction) is eradicated, and the crumbling, hap hazardous buildings looming over the city become the constant background of a society enamoured with progress. Build it bigger, build it better, and we would really appreciate it if you could build it quicker with a smaller budget.
At the time I was making these mixed media paintings on full 4′ X 8′ sheets of drywall, and the hassle of hauling 6 of these sheets into the studio could be seen as a reflection of frustration in facing the constant construction in my environment. I was living at home in a sprawling suburb with a booming housing market, commuting on poorly-planned highways to York University, where they had just started the TTC subway expansion. Dirt, piles of concrete, machinery, and the beep beep beep of cement trucks backing up invaded my senses and all I knew was that the cities I lived and worked in were not magnificent feats of engineering and design for the betterment of human kind. They were the literal pieces used to construct buildings and only just the potential of something great and huge.
These large paintings were erratic, messy and while they were on what should be a strong substrate, the images themselves were unstable and looked like they were on the brink of collapse. Just like how it is inevitable a construction project will run over budget, the production of these drywall paintings were not without problems. working vertically, I knew the paintings had to have the same effect of a crane or skyscraper being erected. They had to emulate city skylines. They had to be both sublime and kind of ugly, both there and not quite complete, both evoking hope and also pointing towards displacement and the politics of gentrification. It was easy for me to continue painting forever, like someone continually renovating their home. If it were possible to ramble in paint, that is what I did. Eventually the layers of paint would be thick and blend into a bumpy, murky and illegible mass. Fate would have it that one of the panels I had been dotting over would be structurally unsound and crumple into itself. Literally in the construction of the artworks, I was faced with destruction. The drywall panel folded overnight like a futon and I was greeted by a pile of rubble in the studio.
What does progress mean? Progress is not always a forward movement; at times progress comes packaged with destruction. This isn’t just true of old buildings that are torn down to make way for new condominiums. It is true of social change– what is a protest without disruption? It is true of art– creation comes from deconstruction and being messy. It comes with reconciliation and the recognition of the sloppy and uncontrollable. Progress shouldn’t be romanticized either. It isn’t always great physical and social structures making positive changes to the landscape, it comes with sacrifices.