Su-Mei Tse’s multidisciplinary practice contemplates existence, notions of time, language, and music. She captures the ephemeral nature of the world and fleeting moments of memories and impressions in everyday life. Whether they are a passing thought, transitory state, or a visual or auditory experience, her work lyrically translates them through sculpture, film, installation, and photography.
As a fundamental component of Tse’s approach, photography-based work has allowed the artist to create new paths of artistic exploration. The medium facilitates inquiries for her into the meditative, into our relationship to the world of flora, or into the possibility of a sensitive engagement with the past. They also merge with other motifs more commonly associated with Tse's practice, such as time and the perception of music.
Su-Mei Tse (b. 1973, Luxembourg) lives and works in Luxembourg and Berlin. The 50th Venice Biennale awarded her the Golden Lion for Best National Participation in 2003. Tse was the subject of a 2017-2019 exhibition entitled, Nested that traveled to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum; the Yuz Museum, Shanghai; the Aargauer Kunsthaus, Switzerland; and Mudam Luxembourg. Other solo museum exhibitions include Portland Museum of Art, Oregon; Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston; Art Tower Mito, Tokyo; Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge; MoMA PS1, New York; and University of Chicago. Her work is in collections including Centre Pompidou, Paris; New Museum, New York; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland; Nouveau Musée National de Monaco; and Moderna Museet, Stockholm.
"The practice of photography allows me to translate not only the images I have in mind, but also emotions, a feeling in time or just a moment that inspires me ..."
— Su-Mei Tse
In the works from the series Sky, Su-Mei Tse photographed variations in the same area of the atmosphere over a short period of time. Presenting these successive images with variations of cropping and distance in her installation, she visualizes an endless expanse of time and space. Tse calls into question the break between reality and the observation of time as well as the perception of space.
"In the Plants and Shades photographs, what really interests me is the contrast between the blur of the image - a kind of timeless blur - and that moment when the plant touches the surface of the glass and becomes very distinct. It is like that imminent moment in painting when the brush touches the canvas, or of a poem when the ink forms a word. That delicate moment of creation and visibility."
— Su-Mei Tse
“More recently, this interest in the plant world has taken on a different slant, one less directly connected with humanity, to discuss the intimacy of the links that exist between plants and the world and to represent the ‘respiration’ by which they are joined: this is another way to talk about existence. The photographic installation Plants and Shades assembles different manifestations of an image that we have all experienced: the sight of a plant pressing up against a glass window to receive the maximum of light, with the leaves standing out sharply and in detail, while the rest of the plant and everything around it gets lost in the blur. The delicacy of the image embraces with it a ‘touch’ between the plant and world.”
— Christophe Gallois, “The Meaning of Music,” Su-Mei Tse: Nested, 2019
"Tse’s works have simple, clean forms, yet they radiate a multiplicity of meanings that can be read at different levels; she notes that they often wander through her thoughts, ruminations, references and intuition, but ultimately return to beauty and tranquility. This special quality is particularly evident throughout the exhibition."
— Hyperallergic, “After an International Tour, Su-Mei Tse, Nested Arrives at Taipei Fine Arts Museum,” April 19, 2019
Studio 8 (Rome) is a small series where Su-Mei Tse manifests a contemplation of time passed through color photographs. The images of Studio 8 (Rome) are photographs of the reflective surface atop the other work Faded, a series of sculptures that are manipulated mirrors realized by the artist in 2014-15. The reflection captured in this work is of Tse’s atelier during her residency at the Villa Medici in Rome, which was also the atelier of Jean-August- Dominique Ingres during the early 19th century. By photographing this atelier through a faded and mirrored surface, Tse emphasizes and explores the meaning of temporal space that is evanescent, absent, and capable of bearing possible residual aura.
“Tse seems to be after the what-you-thought-you-saw, and the what-you-think-you-heard. What’s actually there does not add up in any logical way. The artist asks that you make a leap of faith, and the reward is a gentle, internal shift of perception that lingers long after you’ve seen her work.”
— Sarah Schmerler, “Su-Mei Tse,” Art in America, February 23, 2010
The Pond, 2015
Realized in collaboration with Jean-Lou Majerus
Two inkjet color prints mounted on steel, two glass plates
Prints: 58 x 46 1/2 inches (147 x 118 cm), each
Glass: 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 x 3/4 inches (100 x 100 x 2 cm), each
Edition of 3
“In The Pond there is something very intuitive. The two images of the installation convey a very particular moment: just after looking around the Renaissance art collection of a private institution in Florence, I was in the garden and saw these plants immersed in a pool, reflecting the sky. Perhaps it was because of what I’d just seen, because of its weight, that I was suddenly able to see a tremendous lightness in this image, like a pause for breath. My work often moves between these two aspects: thought, reflection, references, and then something more intuitive, which gives way to beauty and reverie.”
— Su-Mei Tse
During Su-Mei Tse’s one-year artist residency at the Villa Medici, the French Academy in Rome, she developed a strong interest in the classical world. For Tse, antiquity represents a starting point, a kind of purity that was inherent in the beginning of Western civilization. Upon traveling to the ancient sanctuary of Delphi in Greece, which was once considered the center of the classical world, Tse created two photographs.
In one panel of Delphi, she depicts a grasshopper high above the ancient theater. Considered a symbol of good luck and enlightenment, the grasshopper is viewed as grounded, yet free. This balance between pragmatism and liberation is further exemplified by the grasshopper’s lofty and historic setting. In contrast, Tse depicts a detail of The Charioteer of Delphi, a fifth century BCE bronze statue. Tse chooses to focus on the feet of the life-size work as well as the stone pedestal they rest upon, further relating to her interest in being grounded, or being present in a moment.
"Tse weaves physiological perception and personal memory together with art-historical and institutional technologies of vision, extending power’s scope along another vector into a thicker stratum of embodiment."
— Nuit Banai, "Su-Mei Tse," Artforum, October 2009
“With the photographic work ‘Le Musicien Autiste,’ the artist highlights the importance of introspection, the need to be in harmony with oneself and what one does before giving oneself to the public.”
— Asai Toshihiro, Tse Su-Mei, Mito Art Tower, Tokyo, 2009
"It has been for some time that I’m interested in these trees with their apparent roots wrapped and protected by a woven fabric in this fragile moment, just before being planted. I like this provisional time, waiting before establishing roots in the ground. This image is finally a symbol for the question of our own roots. In previous works, I used plants or animals with a direct connection to the human being.”
— Su-Mei Tse
In the series of works entitled, Home (Cube Studies), Su-Mei Tse presents photographic examinations developed in the spirit of three-dimensional drawings. Playing with the basic shape of the classic line drawing of a house, these are variations on distortions of a cube. Thin and simple threads gather the frail sticks of the cube and moments of fragile instability become translated into a geometric form of delicate beauty. The sculptural and spatial approach of the ‘mental drawings,' as well as the rhythmic variations they create, comment on the fragility of the inner state of mind.
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