Stephanie Teng incorporates photography, poetry, and installations involving sound and light for her latest exhibition “8 Minutes from the Sun”, concocting a tranquil and introspective space for viewers in these uncertain times.
The Lunar New Year is fast approaching, which means we have a second chance to start a new year since we kicked off 2022; only this time around, we’re harnessing the power of the moon in the serene night sky instead. For those of us wanting a new beginning with the Year of the Tiger, Square Street Gallery’s latest exhibition is the perfect spiritual cleanse and just what we need to really start anew. Intrigued, I invited artist-photographer Stephanie Teng for a chat to unveil the cosmic mystery behind her second solo show.
The exhibition title “8 Minutes from the Sun” comes from a simple and interesting astronomy fact: Sunlight takes approximately eight minutes to reach Earth because of its 930-million-miles distance from us, meaning when we look up at the sun, we actually see it as it was eight minutes ago. This slight delay in the transportation of light inspired Teng’s second solo show, as she reveals, “The notion struck a deep chord in me during a period when I felt trapped in the memory of a lost time.”
The general passing of time has become an odd process, to say the least, in the past two years. “So much has changed both at home and abroad that has suspended and distorted our sense of time and place; of home and identity.” The artist continues, “This feeling of being suddenly thrust into a state of perpetual ambiguity and impending doom has stretched far beyond what humans are naturally comfortable with.” And that’s why we all need escapism, one way or the other. Teng’s way of grappling with these emotions is going on solitary adventures out in nature, seeking temporary escape in secret hideaways, where she found contemplation and conducted photographic explorations of light and reflections.
As Lao Tzu famously said, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” To move on, we must learn to live in the present, letting go of what no longer serves us. Incorporating photography, poetry, sound, light, and installation, Teng turns her difficult and transitional feelings into emotionally complex ideas for “8 Minutes from the Sun” and invites the viewer to meditate, reflect, and contemplate. Harking back at the profound themes of loss and growth, the gallery has been renovated to a dark and dim atmosphere for a truly immersive viewing experience of tranquility.
At the entrance, four black-and-white images, I Wish You Would Notice; The Edges of Our Erasure; At Least For Now; We Are Falling in Time, line the wall, as their subject of the moon resembles lunar phases. The next wall hangs a large diptych Nothing Comes From Nothing; Nothing Feels Like Everything, which the artist created by using a mirror in a secret spot that she had found in nature. The entirety of the exhibition has roots in her “temporary escapes”. Teng reminisces, “It was a two-year journey of going back to the same place over and over, placing a mirror down by the rocks on the edge of the water, and climbing around to play with angles until I found something poetic.” Coincidently, the titles of every work in the exhibit are poems that reflect the artist’s “fears and sentiments of the past two years”, somewhat forming her artist statement.
A lowered archway leads to the adjoining room, prompting a ceremonial shift into the Temple of the Ordinary—a darkroom supplemented by a soundscape recording of the beach, in which the skylight sees reflections in the water basin as the light barely bounces off the black walls. Unlike the first room imbued in golden hour light, this darkroom has a blue, midnight hue that breathes rhythmically. From sunset to sunrise, the exhibition flows as if with its own stream of consciousness; in the artist’s own words, “I wanted to use light to invite people to surrender to the forces of nature, to quiet the chaos in their minds.”