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Artist of the floating world.

Reality is shaped by one's own, unique sense-making, as an approach to knowledge goes. Rorschach's inkblot test works as such--the eye sees what the mind suggests, sifting shadows into meaning. What this 'seeking' self reveals can be startling or unsettling, and may speak more truth for the beholder than any objective reference will.

In her abstract prints, Nicole Coson teases out our Rorschachian responses, engaging viewers in an act of self-confrontation, however perfunctory. Amorphous forms roil out of the ink, strange and yet half-recognizable, a sinister insinuation in one's conscious ordering. "I'm interested in producing this uncanny feeling in people," says the 22-year old artist, of the works in How To Appear Without A Trace, at the Display Gallery in London this June. "The images are non-figurative, but they are almost familiar, and what comes out is this unexplainable feeling of knowing something but cannot quite grasping it. It makes the viewer nervous, unsettled."

While the images are 'spectral', the ghostliness is more energy and insubstantiality than supernatural, recalling the sensation of floating or suspension, the mind in mid-flight between the known and the unknown. Inspired by Freud's concept of the uncanny, Coson, who recently received her BA in Fine Art (first degree honours) at Central Saint Martins, keeps her compositions intentionally ambiguous but highly intimating. "What I do is make a suggestion of a face, an eye, a mouth, and let the viewers build the rest for themselves."

Inevitably, she says, they see anthropomorphic shapes, like dancers, or the self-referential. Like the Rorschach test, the process leads to self-discovery. 'In the end, we yearn to see ourselves', muses Coson.

Critics may pose profound, symbolic associations, from the religious to the post-colonial, but lay audiences appreciate these thoughtful intrusions into their consciousness as an instructive, or playful, provocation. Time Out included Coson's show in Farringdon as one of five 'must-see' exhibits in June for those on the First Thursdays smorgasbord of East London's best art events and galleries. The popular London guide hinted at an edifying experience for viewers, wrestling with 'the ephemeral nature of time'.

Monotype printmaking's spontaneity and singleness feed this fleetness. Coson applies an even coat of black ink on a plate, then wipes away the substance with scraps of cloth or her fingers, revealing the image. All the ink transfers to the paper during the etching process, making each print unique and unrepeatable. (For her works with blue ink, Coson varies the process--inked wool is directly pressed onto the paper, without the plate, forming snaking, fibrous marks).

The subtractive process of ink removal to 'call up the ghosts', as it were, is preciously random. "Having one chance to do an image, it's beautiful," Coson says."You capture a moment that can never be repeated. Ghosts, too, you cannot capture them..."

Why is she so drawn to the ambivalence of the immaterial? "The feeling of not being weighed down appeals to me. Having this lightness, this feeling of floating, it's a form of release."

In a sense Coson asserts her individualism and uniqueness as an artist in a world coming together yet remaining highly disjunctive. She resists being pinned down to the normative idioms of East and West, marshalled to represent distinct cultures. "We all have different backgrounds, to claim that you are representative of one such does not capture who you are. I grew up in a household that mixed up Filipino, Chinese, and English when we communicate, which you can take for being somewhat culturally ambiguous. But I have my own distinct experience, just like everybody else. It's who you are as an individual, not necessarily part of a collective..."

In a complex environment, we float between cultures, polities, technologies. By building our own narratives around her monotypes, Coson exposes our (irrational) fears and our paradoxes and, possibly, our true selves. She herself seems poised in mid-flight, floating and yet fixed, like her ghostly summonings. Can you appear without a trace? The answer may be staring back at you.Coson plans a show in Manila next year. It will be well worth waiting for. (JOYCE FERNANDEZ)

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Title Annotation:Arts & Culture
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Sep 7, 2015
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