It’s a natural human impulse to collect things. It may be books, clothes, figurines, merchandise, antiques, the vintage, the contemporary. Sometimes it’s a hobby, other times a compulsion. Even in cyberspace, from video games to the metaverse, denizens scour their virtual landscapes for collectibles both priceless and trivial. There are many factors that could drive this urge to collect, yet all of them seem to underscore a basic psychological imperative: the need for purpose.
It’s also just as human to look at our faults. Whether consciously or not, we gather our mistakes, anxieties, fears, and darkest memories and store them away in the boundaries of our psyche — hidden, yet close at hand. It may be a defense mechanism to protect ourselves against these often all-consuming ideas, or it may simply be compartmentalizing one trail of thought from others. Regardless, at any moment, the simplest of cracks can threaten to break the dam, and the infestation crawls through.
Do we collect to find our failures, or do we find failures while collecting? Can we seek purpose in amassing the faults that invade our spaces? For ND Harn, the search for answers continues in her journey of repetition and self-reflection. In her fourth solo exhibition, Collecting Faults, the artist dissects her deep-seated inclinations to gather her faults and manifests them as a universal symbol of fear and anxiety: insects. Roaches, spiders, moths, butterflies, grasshoppers, centipedes — all swarming the pristine white gallery walls, encroaching on a space we might have thought was safe and free of worry. Rendered in striking detail through printmaking and colored pencil, Harn’s small, pervasive faults tread a fine line between making viewers shudder and look away, and drawing them into the intrinsic urges that make one confront the horde of anxieties that outnumber them.
Occupying a breadth of wall space is an installation of drypoint print cutouts. Small critters infest the area, claiming the space as their own. From afar, one might notice the nature of the work as a wall-bound collage of sorts. Yet the detail with which Harn depicts each creature entices the viewer to come closer and observe the almost scientific way this miniature ecosystem has been established. Traveling across the space, one becomes acquainted with each member, reminded of their experiences with them. For who hasn’t come across a spider, lizard, moth, or butterfly, unexpectedly or otherwise? More than these individual forms, one can think of the whole work as a taxonomy of memories – memories of chance encounters that, however little they seem, are all too pervasive.
When we are faced with such thoughts, we might be tempted to let them linger. Apart from being Harn’s specialization, printmaking presents a fitting outlet for this. Printing the same insect, the same design, the same intentions, over and over again, one is faced with all their variations, from the perfectly replicated to the error-ridden reject. And with collecting such faults comes the urge to redo or fix them until we arrive at some semblance of perfection. Lost in the process of collecting and fixing, we end up losing sight of what made these imperfections to begin with.
In Collection 1 and 2, Harn presents her insectile prints, mounted like taxidermy displays. Several are colored; others have biting personal notes scrawled across their wings. “Tell me what I did wrong,” “Help me understand,” “Why?” and even a plain sad face. The bright colors of these works belie their sentiment of melancholy and supplication. These feelings manifest in what may be a metaphorical self-portrait, Me, depicting a dead mouse trapped in fly paper.
The intrusion of pests into our spaces can trigger a deep-seated fear within us. A spider in one’s room stirs more panic than one encountered in the wild. This comes from knowing that even within the private spaces we build to shelter ourselves, alien forces can still find their way through. And they can hide, nearly imperceptible among our belongings, among the facets of our identity we collect over time. Thus in allowing these unwelcome guests to gather, we come face to face with failure, knowing our efforts and defences were not enough to keep them out.
One would be hard put not to meet their faults in any other way. It is only human after all to question and lament the darker memories we accumulate. But perhaps in witnessing Harn’s ruminations, we can still find purpose in facing our failures, anxieties, memories, regrets, grief. There is no instant gratification or reward to be had in this kind of collection. Yet in knowing the faults that are as much a part of us as the parts we cherish, we may be able to make peace with our own journeys of self-discovery and the grimness that comes along with it. And in the process, we regain our sense of safety against whatever small encounters we come across.
Collecting Faults runs until July 11 at Finale Art File.
Mara Fabella is an artist, writer, and occasional fitness junkie. Tap the button below to buy her a coffee.