Dear Ursula is the first chapter of Serenity Department, an intergenerational mending collaboration two years in the making between my mother Maria Ling Qing Huang, and myself.
My mother and her aesthetic have played a large role in mending my Westernised perceptions of beauty. She has taught me to look at design through the Chinese value system of feng shui, which is based on the spiritual and auspicious placement of objects in space to synchronise the energy of an individual to their environment. I’ve been closer to my mother’s value system and aesthetic sensibilities and her craft feels like an act of destiny making. What I learned of modernist design was how to communicate – or, more precisely, how to schmooze with mortals of a specific Western and privileged background. But what I learned from my mum’s aesthetic was how to communicate with the realms beyond mortal life – design as self-fulling prophecy.
Joss paper 阴司纸, also known as spirit money or ghost money, are paper offerings that are burnt in Asian ancestral worship rituals. The ritual can be seen as the continued practice of filial piety even when relatives have passed into the spirit world, a gesture of care expressed in the burning of paper money and replicas of luxury goods to ensure the material comfort of deceased relatives. Joss paper is the messenger between the living and the dead, and a signal between past, present, and future. I have come to reframe this cultural practice for myself as a form of ‘spectral publishing’ – ways in which I attempt to speak to familial ghosts that have passed down their ancestral wounding.
For this occasion, we’ve published one of my mother’s drawings There is Love and Hate together with a story I wrote based on our conversations around this particular image. They are published in the form of spectral garments – life-sized joss paper clothes designed to communicate with our ancestors, updating them about our messy attempts to mend our earthly ruptures of migration; distance, time, language, culture, and heartbreak. On the finnisage, paper replicas of the work were ritualistically burnt on the auspicious day of All Hallows' Eve. This installation is the first chapter of a series of 8. These spectral garments are experiments in embodied publishing, spectral publishing, navel expanding, and ghostwriting, methods which I will share more on a dedicated online research platform soon to come.
Work part of the exhibition The Brain Mixologist curated by Eva Posas at A Tale of A Tub, Rotterdam
Photos by LNDWstudio