Elizabeth Gabrielle Lee

Work / The unusual powers of disposing

The unusual powers of disposing


The unusual powers of disposing is an attempt to illustrate the movement of tricalcium phosphate, the prime natural resource harvested on Christmas Island during British rule of the Straits Settlements. Phosphate mining began there in 1899 using indentured labour from Singapore, Malaya and China; continuing to present-day Christmas Island Phosphates (CIRP). The resource was, and still is, used in everyday objects—toothpaste, porcelain, baby powder and baking products. Archival photographs and documents paired with domestic materials derived from phosphate, crystallise how the colonial trade of yesteryear continue to haunt us. A video piece revisits the former empire’s guide on mining on its territories, set against the backdrop of CIRP’s autobiographical video. Using scientific findings of phosphate impact on corals as a method of mapping the installation, the work charts the relative invisibility of this slow violence enacted upon the reefs and the miners. Unveiling the connection between the grand and the mundane, the work reveals the power matrix in the everyday through the concealment of phosphate. What comes forth is a force that is neither spectacular nor instantaneous, but instead, incremental.

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Additional Info

Deviations installation: 8 Glicée prints on Hanhemühle Bamboo paper, tracing paper, phosphate powder, everyday objects.

Deviations Group Show // 59 Hackney Road // Curated by Berny Tan // 19–24 February 2019

'To deviate is to depart from an established course. The word 'deviation' connotes both 'deviance' and 'defiance'—to reject and/or resist a norm. The norm must, logically, exist before the deviation. But that possibility of challenging, or even simply sidestepping, what we might otherwise assume to be an unassailable truth, declares that there are alternatives. There are different ways of looking, doing, thinking. And so, as pathways open, the power of the norm diminishes.

In Deviations, ten artists re-surface histories that defy accepted narratives, re-write the boundaries of artistic mediums, re-look the disregarded moments in our everyday. These are all artists who chose to displace themselves from their geographical norm (Singapore) in order to re-shape themselves and the ideas, images, and objects they put out into the world. Slipping in and out of photography, sculpture, installation, video, and painting, the works in the exhibition relish in the creation of new realities, resisting closure.

So we arrive here, at the unexpected.'

– Exhibition foreword by Berny Tan

Undescribed #5 installation: Single channel video looped; baby powder, porcelain dust, baking powder, sugar, toothpaste glue, MDF; Lithophyllon repanda corpse; three digital prints on Awagami bamboo paper and one print on photocopy paper.

Undescribed #5  Group Show // DECK // Curated by Geraldine Kang and Gwen Lee // 13 February 2020–15 March 2020

'The unusual powers of disposing dredges the unsavoury history of phosphate mining on Christmas Island during British colonial rule in the late 19th century. Elizabeth's keen selection of archival images is highly subversive and makes plain the dark roots of many products  that continue to be staple in our domestic lives. Her white sculptures are made with domestic products that contain tricalcium phosphate as a key ingredient. When juxtaposed with the equally deathly white remains of dead corals, the sculptures form an uncanny bridge across two centuries and are quite the wake-up call. We are placed in a position to realise how little we question our relationship with certain objects, how we gain access to them and why they have come to add value to our lives. We are reminded of the true cost of convenience and comfort, and of our own relationships to sources of power and distribution.’

— Curator’s note by Geraldine Kang

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