Curatorial Notes by Kimberly Shen for across the way, starch, 11 - 26 November 2023.
across the way gathers the constellations of Salty Xi Jie Ng’s interdimensional practice and
presents her long-term body of work as Baibai Research Group (BBRG), a transdisciplinary
lab that encompasses spirit studies embedded in the everyday vernacular. In these lush and
mystical landscapes conjured by Salty, we are guided towards rest and remedy, as we ruminate over our relationships between the living and the dearly departed. Foregrounded by her research experiments with the Ancestor Dream Visitation Repository (ADVR) and her ongoing relationship with historic religious goods merchant Ban Kah Hiang (BKH), the exhibition unfolds as portals between realms, embodied by creative manifestations in a reimagining of our ancestral ties and practices.
Developed during her recent residency at Treasure Hill Artist Village in Taipei, the ADVR collects and translates dream visitations (托梦; tuomeng). If 托 is to entrust with a message or request, then 梦, our dreams, embodies the murky, watery realms we traverse in the darkest of nights – a gateway to the other side. Gifted a bottle of dream-inspired millet wine by Taiwanese artist Huang Po-Chih – who received the wine from an Indigenous elder and collaborator, made from her ancestor dream visitation – Salty ingested this wine nightly, with the intention of connecting with her great grandmother. The ingredients of chives, sugared peanuts, ginger, and garlic were revealed by her great grandmother one night, forming the basis of 托梦糖 (dream visitation candy). She has since experimented with many versions of the candy, in a frustrating, perhaps necessarily futile process that mirrors the impossibility of grasping the slippery and elusive nature of our dreams.
Amongst the portals conceived during her residency, dream visitation 托梦 #48 emerges from the ground (with soil and vegetation from the nearby forest), as a phone line to 土地公 (God of the Land), while the Dream Visitation Temple 托梦殿 manifests as a sacred space for people to dream together, drawing upon the dream visitation repository to begin realising a shared cosmology of symbols, forms, and associations. ‘由爱开启的梦’ (a dream that sparked love) observes a ritual cleansing of Grandfather Banyan (榕树爷爷), an aged tree behind Tadpole Point, a cafe in Treasure Hill – in a quiet acknowledgment of our spiritual kinships.
By reframing the ways we remember our deceased loved ones, Salty’s collaboration with BKH establishes the business as an invaluable educational resource to preserve and document Chinese religious practices and traditions. Through decades of diligent attention and care, BKH served as unofficial aides, granting assurance as they bridge their customers’ earthly aspirations in connection to the spiritual afterlife. An unexpected collaboration with Jaria Ramakisoon from Trinidad and Tobago has emerged from Salty’s engagement with BKH. A keen practitioner of Chinese ancestor veneration, Jaria produced a series of videos explaining the practice, in response to the Chinese Religious Goods poster created by Salty in consultation with BKH.
To unpack our personal relationship with ancestor worship, Salty attempts to reinvent ways we use prayer goods, in a renewed adherence to these inherited rituals. Departing from traditional burnt offerings, she creates gatherings to compose joss paper sculptures, prompting a rethinking of the inherent capitalist afterlife these practices point towards, instead, refocusing on intention and the individual’s hand in gifting.
Through engaging in personal and collective acts of remembrance, Salty proposes intuitive models of grieving and healing that are intentional and meaningful. Activated as performances, rituals and intimate encounters, across the way transforms into a multiverse that resituates and enables spiritual knowledges and practices. In creating a community of dreamers, the exhibition ultimately speaks of an innate desire for divine affirmation and intervention, a profound longing to communicate and reconcile with loved ones and beings in distant realms and around us.