Artist Spotlight: Cissi Tsang
April 12, 2016
West Australian artist Cissi Tsang is one busy lady, not only is she presenting timofhex at You Are Here in 2016, but she also undertook a residency in Namadgi National Park that went a little off plan. We caught up with Cissi to find out more:
Hi Cissi! Tell us a little about yourself and your practice.
Hello! About myself – I’m based in Perth, where I’m doing a PhD at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts. I’m also the Gallery Coordinator at Joondalup Art Gallery, a community-based gallery in Perth’s northern suburbs. I play solo under the name timeofhex and I’m the lead guitarist in a crazy band called Potato Stars.
About my practice – I guess I would call myself a cross-disciplinary artist, in the sense that I’m trying to find different interpretations of the environment using multiple mediums and placing them into one piece of work.
My practice is about sonifying the found environment using data, and using the found environment as an evocative narrative device. I do this through converting hexadecimal data (HEX) – a base-16 data format – from field photographs and videos into music, then combining that resultant composition with field recordings and placing it altogether into an audio-visual piece.
I’m also interested in the interaction between artist and data, so I actively play around with the HEX itself. While I maintain the note order of the sequences, I will interject my interpretation of tempo, note duration, sequence order and pitch depending on my judgement of its aesthetic value. Depending on the composition, I will also sometimes play improvised guitar into the piece as a way of adding an extra layer of interaction.
Your artistic practice is particularly interdisciplinary, what aspects have you brought to the Ready-cut Residency?
I’ve always liked the idea of combining elements from different practices. It was what brought me to my current practice – the desire to combine two mediums I was interested in (music and photography) to create something new.
Following on from that – the main appeal for doing a residency here was to collaborate with artists from other mediums and finding nexus points in our respective practices. I particularly find working with writers quite intriguing because, like my own practice with combining images and music, words allow the writer to re-imagine the world both aurally and visually.
I’d worked with a writer before – last year I re-interpreted one of Perth writer Dott Lullfitz’s writings into an audio-visual HEX piece as part of an exhibition at the Joondalup Art Gallery. I found it quite enjoyable and jumped at the opportunity to work more intensively with writers when I was offered this opportunity.
As part of the residency, you collaborated with fellow residents Aaron Kirby and Eleanor Malbon, can you tell us a little bit about the creative processes you went through, both individually, and collaboratively?
In terms of images – during our time together, Ellie asked me an interesting question: “What do you look for when you are photographing?” Initially I didn’t know how to answer that, but after some thought I said that, while this might sound flippant, I don’t look for anything in particular when I’m in the field. To expand – that’s because when I’m out in the field, I’m really just responding to the environment and recording my observations. There’s no careful planning or thought put into the process. It’s rather instinctual. It’s not like a studio environment where you can control the elements in a frame.
So I guess that sums up my creative process as a whole – capturing whatever is interesting and whatever speaks to me at a particular moment. I like the idea of viewing myself as the observer of the environment, capturing elements of scenes and snippets of time without disturbing the vicinity.
Collaboratively, we often spoke about how the landscape affected everyone, and also more philosophical notions about the meaning of being and place. That was helpful for me in terms of planning how I would approach the tone of the compositions.
What was your experience in Namadgi? How did the landscape inspire you?
We had a different experience of Namadgi than initially intended, due to prescribed burns! We didn’t find out about this until Thursday afternoon, so it was very late notice. We didn’t end up going to the Readycut Cottage because the roads there were closed, but Aaron and Ellie came up with several other ideas on the fly. We instead chose to visit the southern-most point of Namadgi and camped around the area for a few days.
The landscape is beautiful – just very still and peaceful, and also highly variable. There was one morning where the landscape was just covered in a coat of frost, like a winter wonderland! Then the rest of the day blazed up and it was like the cold was just a memory.
Have you ever participated in a residency program before? How can residencies help artists to develop their practice?
In terms of “proper” residencies, last year I was chosen to be part of the Supported Residency program at the Bogong Centre For Sound Culture based in Victoria. I was able to immerse myself in the environment and create compositions for two weeks. The landscape was similar to Namadgi in a way – mountainous, with flowing creeks and abundant wildlife.
I think residencies are fantastic for artists because it gives you the space and time to experiment, cultivate and create without the interruptions of everyday life. It gave me the luxury of focus and space, and also gave me time to think about what I really wanted out of my practice in general.
I found that a lot of times in my life, I was doing art in whatever time I had spare over my other day-to-day obligations (uni, work, friends, family, etc.), so I didn’t have the time to contemplate the overall vision of my practice. Having that precious oasis of time created by the residency was a wonderful way for me to really examine my practice in detail, and to bring more clarity into the whys and hows of my approach.
I’ve also done similar things to residencies like an intensive two-week art studio in Tianjin, China, as part of the Porosity Studio program run at UNSW in 2014. It made me learn a lot about planning and implementing because we had a short timeframe to complete a work, and I think that was a great lesson that I’ve been able to apply in my current practice.
What was the best thing about your time in Namadgi?
Sharing the experience with two great artists in Aaron and Ellie, who were also very generous to me and made sure I wouldn’t starve, freeze or get lost. Having some interesting philosophical discussions over cups of peppermint tea. Also seeing brumbies in the flesh, watching the incredible sunsets and walking around the landscape during that magical frosty morning.
And what did you find challenging?
This is a toss-up between:
1) Not having coffee;
2) The crushing realisation that the hikes I do in WA did not prepare me for the brutally steep climbs found here. At all. My poor ego.
Do you think this experience will impact on your practice more generally? Have you had any creative breakthroughs or ideas not related to the particular project you were working on?
I think this experience will expand my practice in general. For instance, I’m really interested in the concept of using contours of an image to make percussive scores. Basically, what I do is map out the basic outlines on a photograph, and then map it onto a five-rowed graph to approximate a stave. I thought this project would be a perfect time to try this out. The landscape of Namadgi has been very intriguing with its rolling mountains, so it will be interesting to see what it sounds like!
I’m also looking forward to getting feedback from Aaron and Ellie about the musical score and seeing how my images and sounds might influence their writings. It will be great to see a positive feedback loop happening between the three of us.
Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little about your creative findings as a result of the residency? What can audiences expect?
From my side, you’re going to hear some interesting field recordings, see some great field footage intersped with some music visualisation, hear some (hopefully) interesting compositions and see me play guitar.
What do you hope audiences will take away from your presentation?
I hope audiences will have a multi-sensory experience where they can see the possibilities of inter-disciplinary work. On my end, I’d like the audience to have an appreciation for alternative methods of composition.
I also hope the work sparks a dialogue between us and the audience about the work – both the content and the process.