In Spring 2022 the Bluecoat, Liverpool will present the largest overview to date of Suki Chan’s multi-platform project CONSCIOUS. Suki Chan (UK/HK), b.1977, is an critically-acclaimed artist and filmmaker whose work uses moving image, photography, and sound to explore our perception of reality. CONSCIOUS brings together the diverse, subjective perspectives of scientists and ordinary people, whose multi-layered stories shake up our preconceptions about individual and collective consciousness. Within her wider study of consciousness and perception, the artist explores how memory loss destabilises our understanding of the present, while opening up other possible realities through her close collaborations with people living with dementia.
The exhibition includes photography, sculpture, virtual reality and three films Memory (2019); Hallucinations (2020) and Fog In My Head (2021), a major commission by Film London Artists’ Moving Image Network (FLAMIN). Memory shows the contrast between geological time and the human lifespan, exploring geological processes and processes in the brain. Subterranean panoramas of caves are juxtaposed with extraordinary aerial views of Somerset and time-lapse confocal imagery inside a developing brain. These enigmatic images are accompanied by voice-overs that tell of pilots caught between life and death, traversing the air above the earth, some able to reflect back on their hard-won experiences.
Hallucinations is an immersive journey into the personal experiences of two people who are living with dementia, juxtaposed with the perspective of two carers. The film reveals intimate details that convey how dementia changes perceptions – resulting in hallucinations, altered experiences of time and sense of identity. The two-channel video installation invites us to enter into the reality of Pegeen O’Sullivan, the daughter of Irish novelist, Liam O’Flaherty, who currently lives in a care village, and Wendy Mitchell, who wrote her first book after being diagnosed with young-onset dementia at the age of 58. The film transports us to their interior worlds, their personal journeys and perceptions of reality. The voices of O’Sullivan and residents, families and staff of the Belong care Village at Crewe, where Chan undertook an artist residency, spill out of tea cups in a new sculptural installation by the artist. The textured soundtrack is composed by Dominik Scherrer, winner of the 2014 Ivor Novello Award.
Chan’s most recent film in the CONSCIOUS series Fog in My Head commissioned by FLAMIN Productions contrasts real-world imagery with abstract scientific material. The artist takes the viewer on a sumptuous visual and aural journey: from the centre of a natural beehive, a developing brain, a home, an office and a forest. Connecting these distinct spaces is fog. The title refers to the quote “fog descending on the brain”, Wendy Mitchell’s metaphor for how the neurocognitive disorder dementia makes her feel. Fog is an analogy for the confusion, disorientation, isolation as well as the strange comfort that dementia brings.
Throughout the exhibition Suki Chan asks how do mind-altering diseases such as dementia destabilise our understanding of reality? And conversely what does this tell us about our own understanding and perception of reality? The artist makes space and gives value to the uncertain, the altered and the shifting, within her touching collaborations while investigating what it is to be ‘conscious’.