Ali Van on Energy Circulation, Micro-Transformation, and Developing A Language Toward Love

BY ZHAI QIUTONG

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Creative Conversations
Issue: On Re/Discovery

Ali Van feels motility. In motions of love she finds absolute through living architecture, gastronomic ancestry, silent geography and manner song. With complexion and constancy she archives homonyms of a visual field to incubate cognitive time, purposing tactile exegesis for essential variance and open interaction. In wilderness she heeds one.




Filed under: performance, sculpture, text



¹ All-Night Vigil (Vespers), Sergei Rachmaninoff 1915

The rhythm of body plays a big role in your works: in your performances and explorations of objects. In what way does Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Vespers influence the flow of your practice? Does it channel a focused and meditative energy, or perhaps the body becomes the main actor in your creative process instead of your conscious mind?


Glass, in particular the exploration of glass toward The Mandarins, has given breath supreme ignition for possibility. Being able to encapsulate a sense of objective time with shapes of breath offers discourse to an infinite connection. All particles count, from beginning to end, for a process as well and simple as giving sand form. The delicate and enduring aspects of glassmaking share similarities with the way we carry breath through our bodies and through this world too: An oscillation of operations, like day propelling into night as a rite for the day. A generative movement between conscious and unconscious proclivities. Honing to flourish, fingering to affirm touch, gauging language through crossing states as if to surrender causal time.Breath like glow, a casket paralysis, convulsive and cellular, and ever fascinating. I long and like how we can give to each other by enabling our believing selves through an attendance to air we share.

Vespers’ call to love, to chancing upon a collective resonant clarity subsumed through a welkin gift of proximation, and this process, this opening up to—as in work with organic matter—encourages listening more closely to soul being. I am drawn to the exceptional and extravagant arc holding security for breath and the journey of settling to moon its major part in our light whole. Therein memory structure tapping into other sides, tapping into present contradiction, anguishing new into being with awareness toward subliminal perspectives and habitations. A potential place for stillness too, out of flow.
²  The Mandarins, Ali Van
2021, Installation View at LASALLE Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore

Credit: The artist and Tropical Lab


³ The Mandarins, Ali Van
2021, Installation View at LASALLE Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore

Credit: The artist and Tropical Lab

Continuing the topic of space, I am fascinated by your frequent change of locations, your relation to spaces, and how the architecture of the space seems to be generative for you. You describe Katsura Villa to be both detached and close, understated, and magnanimous. How does a space activate your creative energy and what do you take away with you when you move to inhabit a different space?


For years I have traveled with a blue Muji carry-on whose wheels have begun to slow down. It has come with me on many a journey, along with a typewriter, usually my mother’s collegiate Olympia. The two make up the most portable and forgiving home I have held thus far. The carry-on has two compartments; left with zip and a hilly right. One side is filled with things that seem like everyday necessities, and the other side stores snacks—raw ginger, dried figs, goji berries, spice and tea caddies—a selection of books, as well as Ziplocs, beeswax, and linen sheaths which are eventually filled along the way. I have traveled like this for a decade and am only now thinking more about what it means to belong somewhere, to adopt life, to relieve symbiosis toward another axiom of tenderness.

Something begins to happen now in a forest in Minnesota. Will it stay, will I stay with it and in this way? Katsura Villa admires belonging with great gusts of silence and air. It is a construction that unveils a beginning, middle, and end; the old, the middle, and the new. It is one of transparent nature too, devoid of walls and devoted to stepping up and stepping into, to figuring a voice waiting to fill one’s thoughts with eternalizing questions. A gift it was to visit Katsura Villa once before. In cherishing a magnitude of the invisible, I try to codify my values through a similar layered reflexivity. Mirrors within calling angles path one psychic space to another, a pattern of angles coursing extreme deviations. Then, with toiling acceleration, a generation of something spiritually inclined, creatively inclined. Movement comes best when there is stillness, where too I find a clearer sense of one's innate circulation. Whether it is the infinite breath or the creation of home, a hearth, a psychic infrastructure, there is a kind transference for minding energy values.

In cherishing a magnitude of the invisible, I try to codify my values through a similar layered reflexivity. Mirrors within calling angles path one psychic space to another, a pattern of angles coursing extreme deviations.

On the theme of circulation and energy, you seem to give nutrition and body circulation a spiritual quality, especially defecate digestion, a body process that we tend to become heedless of. How did you come to be interested in this action and how has it influenced your practice or philosophy of life?


My family carries an unconditional openness around bodily matter. More often, this would be in relation to how we feed our bodies to be with one another and to energize what may come later, which includes our final depletion for healthy plumbing. Now I’m recalling many memorable conversations I've had with my father in the bathroom, with my brothers as well—and this usually involves one in seated activation. We incline toward inviting debate through our apertures, with unfinished conversations fast storming our private arcades. This gesticulation of bioethics has gifted time with retrograde and roguish focus, time stamping a sublimation of energy through psychophysiological mount before embellishing all in a flush.

Like glasswork, sand stretches to its temperamental gravity as bodies might stretch in unison before a gateway, with all prominent parts eyeing time. Soon there is a forming of something new to encapsulate something else. Like defecation, we may root through our release. In an earlier work with lucid dreams, eat225, I recorded with the Olympia onto glossy primal tabs before every morning deplete. When your body is holding force in biotic restraint, flow intensifies. Some things are forecasted, remembered, lucked out, or lost. Tension in this turn activates or summons other roots for circulation, which are, to me, spiritual in nature. There are multiple directional transfers happening all at once. Within those willful moments, you're trying to contain, and collect, and bond all.
Book of Work of Body Book of Trees, Ali Van
2015

Credit: The artist and The Institute of the Cosmos


Book of Work of Body Book of Trees, Ali Van
2015

Credit: The artist and The Institute of the Cosmos

Let's talk more about your glasswork and An Archive of Foraged Ferments. As you’ve mentioned, the stretching of the glass material creates carriers that archive or preserve objects. By keeping objects, one learns from their change in states, but also participates in a ritual of observing time. Do you see yourself as a spectator? Or perhaps you wish to take part in their transformation, and temper with time by changing the environment they are in?


Yesterday I revisited a sack of potatoes I hoisted away for safekeeping toward the end of 2020, nestled amongst an array of my late grandfather’s tools. The potatoes have transformed in amply surprising ways. Most have grown florets-like limbs finding womb light which is diffused from its source. Now everything is immensely green in the dark.

Nature is confounding, it works hard especially when we are not looking—like the great love that comes with maintaining a conversation, a mothering ritual even, a comfort in collision, with the profound and discreet offerings of others surrounding—human, object or otherwise. Essentializing a moment for later, for traction and memory, to extend a simple song of existence, gives life indefatigable qualities. I like to think that most of our whirls convulse concretely when we make believe. When we play, time concurs with the imagination. When we rest, we may rejuvenate to prolong our concurrences. Like the blue Muji carry-on, a sleeping bag can be considered a console for many kinds of body. Once inside, a cocoon dedicates our energy to deferring the circumstances, to term still, and to make no bounds.

Nature is confounding, it works hard especially when we are not looking—like the great love that comes with maintaining a conversation, a mothering ritual even, a comfort in collision, with the profound and discreet offerings of others surrounding—human, object or otherwise.

You have listed some artists and writers that have inspired you in your artistic journey. Do you want to share more about how they have anchored your practice perhaps on some specific occasion(s)?


I am fond of language and love. When they come together, I feel one can fly. There are also certain soul beings in this world who create love constantly. I return to a few coming to me now, including Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, Rainer Maria Rilke, Yasujirō Ozu, Jean Painlevé—a lot of musicians, architects, chefs, and carpenters too. Fishermen by the river, bakers breaking an awning morning roll to steam of an oven’s first release, keeping ken over still mountain. Love makes people place moments in time unite solitude and empathy, a growing sensuality for inventive possibilities, and more.

When I walk, I like to carry a book and linen—lemon water too, if possible—a linen for the book which converts, upon reading, into linen for the body. I may sit and read a segment and partition into a score of affirmations: colours from the sky and earth unveiling on occasion for connection. When your own rhythm is softened by the rhythm of others, therein lies an invitation to reset, punctuate, and take in a deeper breath even.
An Archive of Fermented Objects, Ali Van
2021

Credit: The artist and Florida Ferment Fest/Arts of the Working Class


An Archive of Fermented Objects, Ali Van
2021

Credit: The artist and Florida Ferment Fest/Arts of the Working Class

For many of us, nature is a constant source of inspiration. You specifically mentioned atlas cedar, a slow-growing tree, whose oil promotes grounding and balance of emotions when used aromatically. What are some of the lessons that you have learned from atlas cedar?


I am going to take a small leap away from the atlas cedar to think about another tree I have grown rather fond of lately, which is the showy mountain ash. It is a tree with pebble-like leaves and is an attending species to the cedar waxwing, which draws from its fruit as temperatures approach zero. The showy mountain ash has almost more berries than leaves, and if you're lucky—if its berries have not fallen off entirely or have not been eaten—waxwings will flutter around the tree a while longer.

In return, atlas cedar carries my synaptic curve father into flight pattern and migratory mech—a presence for longevity too in spirit of the natural state of things—the silhouette of an expanded universe wider and more open than we know. Some trees like the atlas cedar grow slowly over time, exercising environmental resilience and reminding me, too, to milk our shadows. In essence, atlas cedar constitutes a sweet and solemn sovereignty, perfect for dorsal breathing. Like caring for one’s own hands—I do terribly poorly with my thumbs—an acute awareness toward smallness can spur an application of breathing over larger grounds. Like home—a beckoning hearth—atlas cedar carries a sense of nature's crest to me. It is a treat to be amongst trees of visual sustenance too. I am reminded to look up and look out, reminded of my own scale in relation to the world, and reminded of the migratory freedoms of a collective mind.

The idea of migratory freedom leads me to think about one of your constant inspirations, death.  We witness it every day in our food, in nature, and in our human community. In a way, a life ends to free up other forms of life. Perhaps you also see death as a transformation and discovery of new life. What aspect(s) of death fascinates you and how does it inform your practice?


I do not know if this is a unifying compulsion, but I feel great need to make my bed a certain way every day. There is always point in the process where I think this is where I will lay if something unexpected happens today. I wish to ensure that my repose respects life, and to be lain—if lucky—with respect to all things. Death helps me register time—meaning to be—and every breath generates life by beginning with death.

A lot of my breath-related work lives to in-spirit the body in a similar way. What a gift it is to voice one’s sovereignty through every significant movement in and beyond the body. What relief, also, of sincere contemplation. With each passage, one nears light extremes of closeness—an ignition that historically governs what can remain fluid and intact tomorrow. Death relinquishes the soul to flight, giving life a hint of romance parting. Death does not, in my eye, stop time.

A lot of my breath-related work lives to in-spirit the body in a similar way. What a gift it is to voice one’s sovereignty through every significant movement in and beyond the body.

Blue I Am, Ali Van
2020-22

Credit: The artist and The Courtyard House


Blue I Am, Ali Van
2020-22

Credit: The artist and The Courtyard House

Most of the themes and ideas that we have talked about—breath, movement, circulation, a language towards love, and the romance of death—require a lot of unlearning before we can look at them through a fresh lens. Do you see your work as research of such, where you must re/discover some hidden truth even within your own body and mind?


I stand by truth. Our pandemic has offered room to consider authentic truths, alongside what conjures itself as real. There are faiths involved in re/discovery—spirits of passion and potency, a motivated rescaling, or a reorientation so that we are effortfully closer to the core. Truth in discovery requires restfulness. When there is rest, the rest emboldens magic. I love that we, complete in our connections, complement each other, and even complicate our geographies together. What vastness to optimise the inextricable! Through collective micro-transformations, we are thrust into discovery. I am thrust into acknowledging what you are in relation to all that there is.

There are so many deaths to contrast one life, whilst learning to refine one’s ground to integrity. There will be maintenance, home building, lovemaking, fresh produce, longing, and maybe more of the unspoken and written word. The banquet of love offers great sound to embed root and new meaning.
¹⁰ Parterre, Ali Van
2020

Credit: The artist and Yokohama Museum of Art


¹¹ Parterre, Ali Van
2020

Credit: The artist and Yokohama Museum of Art





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