Gathering Form: Zhu Ohmu's A Long-Term Longing
We are no strangers to the rhythms of longing. The last few years have seen us become intimate with the absence of a friend we could not reach, a family member we could no longer embrace, or a lover whose warmth was rendered inaccessible to us. Connections, no longer tangible, became subject to the fluctuations in longing that punctuated our isolated existence. Love or longing, whilst never linear to begin with, took on a new algorithm; one that was mediated through screens and separation. New technological and corporal rhythms emerged, irrevocably altering the dance of intimacy; leaving us present to the ebbs and flows in desire that have been captured by both body and machine.
Zhu Ohmu’s debut solo exhibition, A long-term longing, gives physicality to these experiences. Consisting of nine ceramic vessels and a text work that exist as part of an installation, this body of work addresses the artist’s personal experience of longing over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The work marks a conceptual departure from previous bodies of work, as the Ohmu moves to focus on subjective accounts of a collective experience. The highly intimate nature of this show engages with the critical practice of auto-theory1 to address autobiographical and subjective experiences of separation. A critical engagement with this theory has led to the development of a body of work that both reflects and archives the experience of personal longing and its undulations.
The show, treated as a musical composition, is one that is composed of notes of coloured clay, words and technology. The collapsing nature and tonalities of the vessels respond to the emotional sounds of absence in times of isolation. In Prélude, a love letter serving as this exhibition’s stave, Ohmu invites us into vulnerability through a text that rawly navigates the crescendos and decrescendos of yearning.
A long-term longing sees the introduction of colour to Ohmu’s previously monochromatic practice. Vertically fading tonal gradients of pink lie visible upon the faceure of the swollen vessels, moving in two directions. Within the sub-series Crescendo, the warmth of the pink gradient rises from the bottom of the vessel, whilst in works titled Decrescendo, the gradient falls from the top of the vessel. Both sub-series of work express the rhythmic building and subsequent dissolving of intensities that were witnessed by the artist through imposed separation to other. The use of pink grounds us firmly in our bodies; both as the unifying hue that lives inside of us, but also in its association to love.
The bulging forms of Crescendo and Decrescendo are coiled by hand, with the layering of the coils suggesting a repetition of desire. As the work is layered, the desire changes form. It’s unstable, but persists on building upon itself. It changes form, but persists on layering upon itself. It is only through the heat of the kiln, that these vessels, so emblematic of longing and desire for other, are rendered solid. What once was the malleable softness of the earth, becomes hard, unwavering and undisputed. In this way, the solidification of the forms makes reference to the way in which our longing, whilst ever-evolving, is made static through the digital archive.
Reflecting on the effects of separation in the digital era, Prélude takes the form of an unpurchasable NFT. Rather than its monetary function, what is of the artist’s interest is the traceability of blockchain technology. Ohmu utilises this format to emphasise the idea of the footprint. Just as our interpersonal exchanges impact our history, algorithms create unchangeable lasting records of our digital interactions. The text work engages with the fluctuations of longing in the form of a letter from the artist to a lover. The artist's words grapple with the attempt to gain control over and accept our yearning in the face of separation. The artist writes ‘The fantasy of being with you, I have disciplined myself to let it be just that, a fantasy - it is the blue of the remote mountain ranges that can only be witnessed from afar’2. Through navigating every wave of denial, suppression or bid for love, Ohmu examines her attempts to eradicate the unease that desire can create; eventually coming to hold affection for each sensation on its own terms.
Whilst this body of work responds to the autobiographical, the concepts explored are universal. These works engage our curiosity not only through their forms and the embedded lyrical associations, but because they are able to speak to our collective experience. As we consider the nature of longing in relation to A long-term longing, we are offered an opportunity to reflect upon the fluctuations in which our own experiences of love, desire and connection have been subjected to over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. In this way, the works ask that we become co-composers; mediating our own experience through Zhu Ohmu’s orchestra of longing.
1. Autotheory, informed by feminist writing and activism, is a mode of critical artistic practice that represents the commingling of theory and philosophy with the autobiographical. Fournier, L. (2021). Autotheory as feminist practice in art, writing, and criticism. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Mit Press.
2. Ohmu, Z. (2021-2022). Prélude. [NFT]
Text by: Annalise Bosnjak