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Massy Interviews / Nicholas Tay + Alisha Sian + Dennis Humphrey

May 10 – June 09, Massy Arts will host The Hybrid Machine, a group show celebrating works by artists Nicholas Tay, Alisha Sian, Pippa Cherniavksy, and Dennis Humphrey.

This selection of figurative experiments on photography, drawing, and painting invites viewers to address and discuss the human bodily experience as both an instrument of social reality and a product of multiple narratives.

The Massy Arts Gallery is located at 23 East Pender Street in Chinatown, Vancouver.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 12pm to 5pm.
Entrance is free, and masks are mandatory.

Click here to know more about the exhibition

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To celebrate the group show, Rafael Zen interviews the artists for Massy Arts, discussing the human bodily experience as both an instrument of social reality and a product of multiple narratives – and questioning how the body figure translates to each particular research.

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Nicholas Tay + Alisha Sian + Dennis Humphrey / The Hybrid Machine

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Rafael Zen – The Hybrid Machine presents a selection of figurative experiments on photography, drawing, and painting inviting viewers to address and discuss the human bodily experience as both an instrument of social reality and a product of multiple narratives. What does the body mean in the works you are bringing to this upcoming show? How does the body figure translate to this particular research?

Nicholas Tay – In the selected works, the body acts as an undeniable document to the life journey of the subjects. Their lived experience has forged their flesh, carved their anatomy, and shaped the vessel of their offering. The works to be shown at Massy capture the initial starting point of my research journey, and focus on the understated contributions of the professional artist’s model, while exploring the idea that the body is a container for offering – with the nature of the offering casting the shape of the container. The physical hardship a figure model endures is often overlooked, and their contribution is often neglected or minimized, but for many artists the offering of the muse through the physical toll born on the body is essential to the success of the work and the practice of the artist. For me, it is a sad social reality that physical contributions offered by the vast majority of our population are deemed lesser than commercial contributions more easily accounted for in corporate annual reports. With the work shown here, I wanted to process and document the nature of this precious physical contribution as written on the body in at least one specific area – that of the professional artist’s model. The marks made in capturing the body through both representation and abstraction are my attempts to craft a personal, honest, visual language for the body with the goal of building a bridge to empathy for the subject, and their invaluable offering.

Alisha Sian – I try to use the body and face as ways to narrate what is happening internally. The works I am sharing in “The Hybrid Machine” demonstrate how both internal conflict and self-actualization can influence our presentation to ourselves and the world. The piece, “Waned to Nothing”, is a reminder of the facelessness and discouragement that accompanies self-doubt. The viewer will follow the area of “nothing” to the body, the disappearing arm, and back to “nothing” where the mind desperately wants to picture a face. This cycle is similar to the negativity bias loop we engage in with ourselves. It is a pattern we feel caught in despite receiving no outcome or results. In contrast, “Make Space for Her” attracts the viewer’s eyes with intricate line work, playful additions to the face to mimic growth, and a strong feminine presence. While an obvious tribute to feminine energy, this piece showcases the face and body as ever-changing with the evolution of the soul. The last two pieces, “This Life Is Endless Until It’s Not” and “Stay”, use specific parts of the body, the hands and the feet. There is a gripping and letting-go nature in both of these works to demonstrate the process we go through in life as we watch objects and people, including who we once were, become a part of the past. The shapes our bodies can make, down to our fingers and toes, are too familiar to the emotions we feel. Together, each of these works represent how a face and body can carry more meaning than what our eyes see – there is movement, contrast, emptiness and wholeness.

Dennis Humphrey – In my spaces in between series, the body is container and contained. It envelops who we are (inside) and how we are perceived by others (outside). It is a mere external container made of skin and folds, yet it has forever pre-determined who we are through the perception and assessment of others. Our body’s shape, size, colour, gender, sexual preference, integrity and adornment also informs how we feel about ourselves. For centuries, our bodies have represented who we are; they still remain very visible markers of our “sameness” and “otherness”—how we are perceived by, and fit in to, society. Imposed social homogenization of the body often results in traumatization. This series offers a fictional narrative that describes such a situation and how beings living with those differences try to cope, seeking a safe and accepting space between the extremities. In order to fulfill their quest, they must leave their aggressors and search for an alternative, more open-minded society.

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RZ – In the show’s synopsis, there is a quote by feminist and postmodern theorist Donna Haraway that says: “our time creates more than humans: chimeras fabricated between the fictional (cultural) and the real (biological) world” (A Cyborg Manifesto, 1985). What do you think is the influence of your cultural background when portraying these biological figures? What, in these images, defy or provoke the narratives that our society places over our bodies?

NT – My body of work and specifically in the works shown here, always are perceived through the lens of my culture – the diverse collage that is Asian diaspora in the west. With these pieces, I really wanted to extract the filter of the male gaze, and in particular the white male gaze that frequently dehumanizes the bodies of Asian women into clichéd, fetishized ideas, that then neuters the worth of Asian men through ideals of toxic masculinity, and that further leaves no room to parse the humanity of the myriad of Asians that compose the range between the two stereotyped gender poles. In these works, and all my work, the intent was and is always to show the Asian nude figure in a way that is honest to the humanity and unique journey of each of the subjects. Working with Asian figure models as subjects, I wanted to capture poses that were reflective of the subject’s inner life at that moment, and use mark making that documented the dynamic energy of the person. For me this would defy the cultural stereotypes frequently imposed on Asian bodies throughout western societal media, and document an honest image of Asian bodies often ignored in the canon of contemporary figurative art.

AS – My cultural background is a loving, sikh household. It is heavily influenced by family, community, traditions, and the utmost loyalty to one another. Can there be heaviness with love? Absolutely. It is hard to blend in. Although I am inside a brown body and speak with the same tongue, I have struggled with finding who I am as an artist outside of all of these things I share with my family. With individuality comes a lot of exploration which is what my art has enabled me to do. In creating these pieces I have realized that my sense of self is scattered and I am using every page to make this life feel less confusing. Having a cultural background is a privilege but it is not your whole identity. We use our body and face as ways of identifying who we are on the outside. I use my cultural background as an enforcer to explore myself beyond just that. When I am drawing using a human body or face reference, I work with the image as loosely as possible. Oftentimes I do not even use a reference photo because I am not trying to conform to normal body proportions, features or movements. Society seems to like perfection and I have evolved as an artist in a way that doesn’t see the value in working with criteria.

DH – The figures depicted in this series are those of a non-binary construct in some alien world somewhat similar to our own. The bodies in question are a blend of fictional entities from another world who are trapped inside bodies that appear not to conform with the social-cultural construct of normality. Though they perceive their own bodies positively, others different from them, do not. This narrative evokes our own historical prejudicial treatment of diverse populations and how our inside is most often reflected and affected by our outside. their story provokes a re-examination of our own current situation. Hopefully, these are not mere fabricated chimeras, but attainable social, biological and cultural goals if humans are to survive and co-exist. That is the narrative I myself have lived most of my life: a gay man who has spent more than 70 years living within a society that often judges others according to their body’s shape, size, colour, gender, sexual preference, integrity and adornment. The images and story presented are an attempt to show the bodies of Andros and Hermis. Physically, they look neither male nor female since each “kin’s” gender identity is fluid, sliding at will between the typical gender extremities. They are able to self-reproduce if they wish and often form lifelong bonds with another kin, for companionship or to raise their families together. Faced with increasing reprisal and rejection by the “non-kin” Terrans, the kins have decided to leave Terra Verde and explore other planets and galaxies, in search of a space that would allow them to live as they are, in greater peace and harmony.

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RZ – What do you think these works represent in your body of work? How do they address your themes as an artist?

NT – The body and its vocabulary of symbolism and metaphor is always at the center of my artistic process. It is one of the core visual pillars of my work. I feel the language of the body is universal and affecting to all cultures and backgrounds. The intent in my work is to always collaborate with the body to connect with the viewer in a way that is deeper than the logical criteria of the conscious mind. These works further depict a visual dialogue between representation and abstraction that is thematically consistent with the overall body of my work where they represent the interaction of disparate ideas. The way abstraction and representation clash, destroy and rebuild to a new beauty speaks to the passionate negotiation of old and new ideas to form concepts that take parts of both. This is a thread that runs throughout my practice. Where the works shown at Massy truly depart from the body of my work is in the eschewing of photography, and the return to drawing. With drawing, there is a deliberateness with the making of each mark to consciously capture what is observed. This is essential to these pieces. My core intent with these works and the research they speak to, is to capture an honesty of the lived experience that shaped the form, and to further use the tools of drawing to capture the energy flowing through the form.

AS – The works I am presenting in “Break and Bloom” are some of my newest pieces I have created. Looking back at them I can see they explore the same elements I’ve used heavily in my practice, such as line, contrast and texture. The themes I usually address in my art originate from content that is more emotionally intense, like familial isolation, anxiety, and self-doubt – just to name a few. For as long as I can remember I have always tried to use my expressive line work, heavy contrast, and soft textures to share what needed its own space. Originally I did not intend to make something that scares or upsets others, however, this has been a theme that I am always exploring as I make art. These pieces are nothing short of this. If anything, I have given myself more liberty to explore my difficult feelings openly and with subjects that almost take human form. As far as I can remember I have tried to marry chaos with beauty in my art. Using the human body and face has always been a recurring theme of mine because of the possibilities you can have with manipulating any part of the physical into a different reality. As my breadth of work expanded, and looking at these works, I could still see the inspiration from where it began.

DH – My work, both visual and written, is often about difference, change and metamorphosis. This is a story of spaces, differences, barriers, equity, inclusion, diversity, tolerance and change—spaces between living beings and people, cultures, beliefs and ideas, spaces between acceptance and denial. It is an attempt to promote diversity and acceptance of and by others, and a willingness to be free, to let others be free to be who they are, and for us all to be able to live together.

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