For Annie Lai Kuen Wan, casting domestic objects in ceramic is a way of exploring her relationship to the material world and time. She creates out of commonplace articles—phones, calculators, cans or tetra-packs from departmental stores—their impressions and copies in unglazed ceramic, reincarnating them as if they were fossils from another time.
An obsession with the nature of time and the material world’s relationship to it drives much of the artist’s recent work, among them the sculptural installation Phenomenon of Times (2014). Here, Wan explores our relationship to time through history books– objects that are receptacles of the sequential narratives through which humanity constructs its existence in linear time. With a gestural regularity reminiscent of the act of reading, the artist brushed every page of the nine-volume History of India by 19th century Indian civil servant and historian Romesh C Dutt (published in 1906) with clay. She then fired the clay-coated books till all the paper burned off, leaving just the ceramic shell. Wan thus erases all traces of an oft-recited account of the past even as she records its demise in scorched earth. According to the artist, the past, present and future reveal simultaneously in these sculptures. By interrogating our linear relationship to time through them, she is reflecting on the “lightness or nothingness of time”.
A video illustrating the process that went into the creation of Phenomenon of Times is also part of the installation.