To Begin

Performance: 3 hours at Thomas Young Gallery, Boston, 2016

 

 Chun Hua Catherine Dong holds heavy books and watches the time passing

Chun Hua Catherine Dong tires to lift a stack of heavy books while being surrounded by egges

Chun Hua Catherine Dong lift a stack of heavy books and holds them as long as she can while being surrounded by eggs

Chun Hua Catherine Dong lift a stack of heavy books and holds them as long as she can

Chun Hua Catherine Dong let her heavy books drop and write time on a page

Chun Hua Catherine Dong tries to lift a stack of heavy books

Chun Hua Catherine Dong tries to lift a stack of heavy books while being surrounded by eggs

Chun Hua Catherine Dong lift a stack of heavy books, drops books, tears books for three hours

I hang a clock on a wall, use eggs to create a rectangle, and place a stack of books in the centre, I lift all the books, hold them to on my chest, and maintain the holding position still as long as I can. If I cannot hold them anymore, I let the books drop . Each time books drop, I tear a page from a book, write the exact time when the books drop on that page, and pin it to a wall. When books drop, some eggs move slightly, some don’t move at all. If they move, I use a charcoal to trace their movements.

“ To Begin” investigates social transformation through repetition and labour. In this work, the stack of books is the burden of both history and unsustainable civilization. In our current social climate, collapse seems inevitable. Each time books drop, a change occurs. It reshapes the structure e of the eggs, releasing the tension, but also liberating an individual page from the books for audiences to engage with and examine.

Holding books is a meaningless task and an endless toil. Time in this work does not exist. It is marked only by the breakdown of my ability to hold the books. And to hold the books is to bear the insupportable weight of history and theory. The outward absurdity of this Sisyphean struggle hints at the futility of mechanized and repetitive labor, while also exploring whether meaning can be made simply through a commitment to repetition.

Camus concluded that the key to happiness for Sisyphus lay in accepting the futility of his task. I also question whether happiness resides somewhere between pointless labor and acceptance. The performance endures regardless of the end result – as time goes on, more books drop and the weight becomes lighter, the labor less intense. When there is no more weight to drop, the gesture becomes a mere static pause.

This work demonstrates that the process of social transformation can be slow, but changes can happen anytime and anywhere. It examines how the collapse of power structures shift social dynamics, and how this inevitable collapse influences our daily existence and creates new beginning.

photo credit: Vela Oma