Rituals of Remembrance

Geoffrey Lok-Fay Cheung

See it On Campus: Level 2

Visitor Info

"Precipitant" (2024) and "Temporary Suspension" (2024) are on view in the Libby Leshgold Gallery

ECU Award Recipient

Vancouver Art Attack Award – Honourable Mention

Florid Scale (detail), 2023. Digital print on watercolour paper, 24″ x 20″.

Project Statement

“Rituals of Remembrance” explores the ways we hold and transform memories and how they inform our sense of self. Inherited, intergenerational memories can often impede our efforts to actively shape our identities and to find purpose and belonging. In recognition of this, my thesis project explores how rituals facilitate the reshaping of memory and how they can become an adaptive tool to renegotiate the past with the present.

Photographs, photo-objects, and installations comprise my current body of work which investigates how the act of layering—of materials including wax, organic matter, and digital processes—overtop photographic images serve to reflect and embody my own memory transformations. Such material strategies which occlude the image plane speak of the erosion of memory and our own agency in memory transformation.

Obfuscation and other acts of refusal are common themes in my practice; they acknowledge the challenges of remembrance, but they also suggest non-productivity and failure as strategies for recontextualizing identity and the past. In this way, my practice proposes rituals of remembrance as processes for renewal whereby narratives can be rewritten, opening up space for new relationships with the histories we carry.

After Thought (detail), 2023.

Concurrent Investigations

My thesis project focuses on memory, memory transmission, and the rituals we enact to engage with the past. It is also informed by research into other aspects of identity, belonging, and both queer and diasporic experiences. Below are a selection of works created during my MFA which explore these themes.

After Thought grapples with the erosion of memory through ritual and time. It is composed of rows of burnt oak boxes set at waist height. The fire-treatment addresses the duality of ceremonial practice which simultaneously honour and destroy.

Each box contains a family photograph. A mixture of wax, spent tea leaves, chrysanthemum petals, incense ash, and essential oils are layered overtop. Their accumulation over the photos, which increases from one end of the installation to the other, denotes the passage of time. These materials embody ritual and implicate human hands in the occlusion of memory.

After Thought seeks to trouble the boundaries separating domestic versus public spaces of worship, and to question our valuation of memories. There is tension between reverence and neglect. Viewers activate the piece if they pause to peer down into the boxes, enacting a gesture of reverence. If they walk through without stopping, the work is still activated by their procession and disregard. In both cases, the performative element questions the role of the individual versus the community, both in the propagation of memories and our adherence to ceremony.

Till and Toil (video installation excerpt), 2023. 12:20, 2-channel video.

Till and Toil is a 2-channel video that addresses our relationship with the past and the ways we process memories. Projected on two separate walls, the twelve minute video installation features, on one side, the laying down of chrysanthemum petals onto a grid, and on the other side, the slow orderly removal of petals from the tabletop.

The piece is a personal examination of my our ritual practices and my personal accumulation of ceremonial detritus over the years. The chrysanthemum petals featured in the video have been gathered, pressed, and dried, and represent a small portion of similar materials gathered over the years.

Collection is ritual, and materiality is evidence of my hand and my desires to remember. Working with materials in this way enables me to linger with memories of my ancestors. As the video piece comes to the end of its twelve minute run time, it begins anew. The labour of remembrance is repetitive and unending.

The embodiment of (my)self within my artworks evidences my personal desires to connect and find belonging with the past. They also address broader ideas of inclusivity and omission of individuals within familial and cultural narratives. Another Channel is a printed work that is composed from the overlapping of multiple images of my paternal grandfather’s home region and is overlaid with images of my body. The act of inserting myself into the visual plane is desire, protest, and a claiming of histories which often lack queer and othered voices.

In the Another Garden and the untitled work-in-progress above, I use cropped images of my body in collaboration with AI to create self portraits. Prompting the software to fill our the image with cultural symbols, I am leveraging the instability of truth and history and acknowledging our reliance on digital technologies to mediate our experiences. More importantly, the works are an embracing of glitch as disruption—of world-building and revisionism—which attempts, once again, to reveal new interpretations and relationships with ourselves and the histories we carry.

Forest Wakes (installation detail), 2023. Spent black tea leaves from Guangxi, dried ash leaves, video projection.

Geoffrey Lok-Fay Cheung

Geoffrey Lok-Fay Cheung (b. 1986, Vancouver, BC) is an artist examining the way bodies hold and transform memories, from its compaction against familial narrative legacies, to its dilation through ritual and ceremony. Cheung’s practice is guided by diverse material and disciplinary traditions, creating works—including print, video, and installations—that incorporate photographic images, organic materials, and digital processes. His interest in the negotiation of personal identity and cultural inheritance is informed by his own lived experiences. He is a queer second-generation Canadian settler of Chinese descent working and living on the unceded territories collectively known as Vancouver as well as the traditional First Nation territories known as Toronto. Cheung has shown works across Canada and the United States. He is completing his Master of Fine Arts degree in 2024 from Emily Carr University. He continues to hold a fascination for metaphysics and natural phenomena having previously obtained a Master of Science from the University of Toronto.

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