Time. This abstractly defined human metric: the perception that time passes faster or slower, that it is spent well or poorly. Time marks the ephemeral, the provisional. As Saint Augustine (354-430) wrote in Confessions, Book XI, it is possible to establish that temporality belongs to humankind and does not have attributes of eternity. Time can’t measure eternity, since the latter is above temporality.
But what if we could make the question of temporality more evident to our eyes? What if we could make the temporary visible? Into Air (2018-present) is an ongoing body of work focused on translating and developing an alternative understanding of time.
Visual artist Dawn Ng started to wonder how could she hold time on an ephemeral object like ice. As this question became more frequent in her mind, she started creating and documenting the disintegration of large sculptural blocks of frozen pigment. ‘Ice is a perfect material because it cannot last. Its metamorphoses from solid, liquid to air, reflects both the arresting presence and passage of cyclical time,’ says the artist.
To make the exploration of time a complete cycle, Dawn Ng decides to embrace a large body of work that encompasses 3 different and complementary parts: a series of photographs, Clocks; the series of films, Time Lost Falling in Love; and a series of residue paintings, Ash. The three parts document all traces and residues of each block’s existence, from solid to liquid, and eventually to air. ‘This passage from monumentality to nothingness is a work of remembrance and an ode to the truth that the most beautiful things in this world are the ones we cannot hold on to no matter how we try,’ she adds.
Into Air is a work of residue and memory. It’s about holding on to the ultimate thing that won’t stay – that is time. We all know beauty and destruction, love and loss. I think that is what this body of work is about.Dawn Ng
Into Air presents a vibrant and emotional approach to time through its strong use of color. In clocks, each image captures the changing ice blocks slowly melting and highlighting beautiful color pigments.
Time Lost Falling In Love records the process in motion. Each block of ice took up to 20 hours to melt, resulting in a 20-minute video where time is shown in a poetic and hypnotic way.
Ash is the final stage of Into Air, where the cycle ends and the liquid remains of each melted block cover the sheets of paper. Once the liquid evaporates, the color remains vivid with intriguing pigment stains.
Time as a feeling
Most of Dawn Ng’s work deals with time and the ephemeral: ‘I am obsessed with materials that embody that quality or state of change and passing. Time is a feeling. For some people, the most visceral feelings are found in music. So time is music or perhaps a song for them. For me, time can be that too, but it also could be a color, a sentence, or a memory.’ Through this series, she sought to capture time in a re-imagined form: ‘I have always felt that the way in which we process or measure time, via a cold series of numbers — years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds — is antithetical to the true nature of time, which is emotional and elastic.’
Words by Rita Trindade and Dawn Ng | Photography Dawn Ng