Zen Teh

Swallowed by Darkness

© Zen Teh

Zen Teh is a Singaporean artist and educator interested in the interdisciplinary study of nature and human behaviour. Her art practice spans the fields of photography, sculpture, and installation art. Over the course of her career, Teh has initiated numerous collaborative projects with artists, art professionals, and scientists. During her time as an artist-in-residence in the international studio programme at Künstlerhaus Bethanien in Berlin, Zen Teh will focus on the relations between natural and artificial states of light and darkness and how they influence the community.

In research and participatory performances in Phnom Penh, Bangkok, and Berlin, Teh has been exploring how people perceive illumination, total darkness, and the volatile states that emerge when the borders of these opposites fuse rapidly in the context of war and global energy crisis. While energy discourses in Southeast Asia and Europe bear similarities with regards to uses of light and energy, understandings of “progress” and “development”, and their interest in renewable energy investment, personal perceptions of light can differ starkly depending on a person’s background. For some, a dark cellar in Kreuzberg bears an unknown danger and is filled with angst, while for others, it feels comforting and inspires them to explore the space using means other than sight. In Eastern traditions, fireworks are meant to scare away evil spirits with their bright lights. However, in Berlin, the fireworks scare representatives of some migrant communities who are retraumatized when hearing and witnessing the explosions.

In an anthropocentric and patriarchal world, light has functioned as a metaphor for knowledge (“enlightenment”) and as a tool for mapping a territory. What has been exposed to light is seen, named, and studied, and therefore, incorporated into a system of knowledge. As Marilyn Frye writes in The Politics of Reality (1983), the origins of the word “real” trace back to that which is “regal” or “royal”; thus, “reality is that which pertains to the one in power.” “The ideal king reigns over everything the eye can see […] What he cannot see is not royal, not real.” This implies that “to be visible is to be visible to the king.” The radical instrumentalization of light in such a system takes the form of surveillance. In this context, light captures everything, from private spaces to the shadows of ambiguous, fluid spaces, incorporating them into the global system of control.

At the opening on 22 February at 7 pm, artist SueKi Yee will present a performance in which she searches for the intrinsic human responses to darkness and light. What is our natural and cultivated relationship with the dark? What meanings do darkness and light as perennially co-existing and contrasting elements hold for us? How do our human bodies encounter, avoid, confront, or delve into darkness? The performance serves as an invitation to the audience to experience the exhibition through a personal, embodied perspective.

23.02. – 17.03.2024
Tue - Sun: 2 - 7pm
Admission free