Intellectual Hygiene (2020) by Sai Di

Intellectual Hygiene
by Sai Di

March, 2020

This video piece emerged from a tour of the AMS Art Collection, then developed over a period of on-going dialogue with the Hatch Art Gallery’s Assistant Director - Yasmine Whaley-Kalaora. The digital animation is a performative allegory on the backdrop of the archival images from the AMS Art Collection. The bulk of the works in the collection are from the 1950s -1970s; many of these works came out of the modernist and Abstract Expressionist movements which tropes still deeply effect our material and visual culture today. Abstraction creates a void in the visual space where theory steps to fill its hollow. Hence, the demand for meaning and knowledge is ever more pressing in the contemporary art practice. The task for the artist today is not to produce images only, but images as sites of epistemology.


The four scenes in Intellectual Hygiene address various elements present in the institutional approach to artistic pedagogy. These repeating vignettes address the gender imbalances in artistic representation in the collection, the dissonance between art and theory when experiencing a piece of art that had little contextualizing information, as well as the desire to be vigorous about one’s intellectualizing practice.


The eye chart in the second scene makes me think of the experience of reading without having to synthesize the linguistic meaning, where the boundary (or non-boundary) between text and image is blurred. But this is what the institution expects from artists, to produce an eye chart that is also intelligible! Here, I’m reading an eye chart with English alphabets, with my hands gesturing left, right, up and down. This is how I remembered doing the eye exam back in China where the eye chart has a single alphabet “E” rotating in four directions repeatedly, in all sizes. Perhaps this is how many of us experience contemporary artworks today, as we meander through white boxes in all forms and sizes, like the proliferating letter “E” on the eye chart, that constitutes our distance to knowledge. 


A list of artworks in the video in order of appearance:

Yves Gaucher, Soft Signals at Dawn, 1966

Michael Morris, Untitled, Multiple, 1967-1968

David Bolduc, Typewriter, 1968

Adam Harrison, Artist Painting with the Aid of an Overhead Projector, 2006

Jack Chambers, Grass Box #3, 1970


SAI DI is a Vancouver based artist. She has a bachelors degree in Computer Science, and is currently completing her BFA at UBC. Her interdisciplinary practice is mainly concerned with the re-imagination of “spaces,” through drawing, performative gestures, form making and material experiments of the everyday objects. She is particularly interested in the norms, gaps, and non-functions in the urban and institutional spaces. Her work engages counter/other narratives through allegorical and textural acts. For more of her works: http://www.disai.online

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