Up Close: Heidi Lau
By Mimi Wong
Full text also available in Chinese.
Visible through a narrow stone archway, a pair of ceramic vessels stand as tall as human figures. Ghostly faces, as if trapped in limbo, peer out from the twisted, porous structures, which stretch upward like stalagmites or underwater coral. These hybrid, spectral sculptures muddle the realm between the organic and otherworldly. Shaped by the hands of Macau-born, New York-based artist Heidi Lau, the works in clay are just two of many she created during her inaugural residence at Brooklyn’s historic Green-Wood Cemetery. The resulting installation Gardens as Cosmic Terrains (2021–22) temporarily transformed the catacombs into a liminal space that invited both meditation and mourning.
Situated throughout the passageway, freestanding sculptures evoke the scholar’s rocks of Chinese gardens. In rooms off to the side, skylights eerily spotlit smaller pieces hanging from chains. In addition to faces, other bodily forms such as hands and vertebrae recur as severed and fragmented parts. The backdrop, a series of mausoleums and vaults where the deceased were interred, served as a reminder of death and mortality. Yet, the artwork’s presence in the setting also reflects the persistence of life, whether inadvertently via the real spiders building webs in the crevices of the sculptures, or Lau’s choice of green glaze that mirrored the color of mold growing on the surrounding concrete walls.
Lau recalled she applied for the residency while still in lockdown, back in the early months of the pandemic in 2020. The entirety of the installation was produced between November 2021 and May 2022. To continue making art amid a time of personal and collective grieving is not so much a triumph of the creative spirit as it is revealing of what matters and feels most urgent in times of crisis. Gardens as Cosmic Terrains hauntingly channels our desire to commune with something deeper, human or otherwise.