JES FAN: I guess I am more known for using biological substances and embedding them inside my sculptures or infusing them with my sculptures. But the desire really is to de-emphasise the kind of anthropomorphic centre of these substances that are often so tied to identity. The desire is to actually propose that working with these substances are actually not that different than working with plaster in my studio or, blowing glass, or carving fibreglass. ‘Interior landscape’, or ‘interior trauma’, is an experience that you can’t necessarily describe with language but an interiority that you can only feel. The word’ Sites of Wounding’ Actually, I stole it from an instruction manual that describes how to harvest agarwood incense out of these trees. It describes these sites of when they either drill a hole in the tree or, carve out a tree, or chop the tree; they call it the site of wounding.
Essentially, to have agarwood, the tree has to endure some sort of injury, and then the tree has an immune response. Like without the injury, the tree is actually quite porous that exhibits traits of ability to regenerate in sites of wounding where sites of where they’re injured. It’s a narrative that I’m trying to unpack that touches upon not just this idea of belonging but also this idea of using these non-human bodies as raw materials to inform some sort of trauma within our human bodies that’s accrued culturally or socially.
This was in the Tokyo National Museum. And I found all these journals studying the interiority of these Kamakura Buddhas, what appears to be one thing: the interior has an entirely different experience. So, I spent a lot of time there experiencing these sculptures. In order to harvest [agarwood] there, I actually make clear what the shape of the wound is. You have to actually carve out the body. So that led me into doing CT scans of my body and printing my body, my interior body and making these sculptures that’s about interior landscape.
JES FAN: (Cantonese) These are cross-sections of my right leg obtained from a CT scan. There are six of them in total; this is one of them; the work on the wall is another. This time, I really want to interrogate the wall as an object, the wall as a material and the gallery as a material to work with. So, three works are actually embedded within the gallery walls. There’re slits in the walls that you can peer into.
JES FAN: Art and sciences are essentially just ways of questioning. They are not opposing in my world. I think, ultimately, what drew me into studying glass earlier when I was a student is I’m deeply fascinated by how things are made, what things are made out of, and ‘How do I make that?’. And pushing these questions, not just applying to objects but also applying to my body and my identity. Like, how is femininity formed? How is masculinity made? How is melanin made? If I keep pushing and pushing, what kind of absurdist question can I end up with? And same as art, I think they all arrive at just more questions.
Jes Fan frequently employs organic materials and other components that invoke the body to explore the possibilities of nature and animacy. In his biomorphic forms and tactile sculptures, Fan juxtaposes the visual elements of human skin—something biological and living—with the cold and clinical instruments of a laboratory to evoke visceral responses from his viewers. Throughout his practice, Fan examines complex ideas of sexuality, gender, race, and species to challenge oppositional concepts and binary thinking.
Fan started using concepts of non-human organisms and ecosystems to explore the relationship between species and kinship when he began the multi-chapter project Sites of Wounding in 2020. In the Sigg Prize 2023 exhibition, Sites of Wounding: Chapter 2 features Aquilaria sinensis, an endangered incense tree native to Hong Kong. Also known as agarwood, this tree is prized for its fragrant resin produced only in response to trauma, such as fungal infestations or injuries.
For his Sigg Prize 2023 exhibition project, Fan scanned his own body and 3D printed his internal musculature and organs to create sculptures affixed with tinted glass globules. One of his 3D-printed casts, Gut, and his glass globules All nouns are false and All names are nouns are also embedded into the wall, turning the gallery into a metaphor for the wounded body. Meanwhile, a video traces the agarwood’s connection to Hong Kong—a former trading hub for incense—and also untangles the roots of the city’s name, which translates into ‘fragrant harbour’.
- Produced by
Moving Image Studio
Kenji Wong Wai Kin, Chan Wing Chi
- Director of Photography
Lau Tsz Hong, Rex Tse, Ip Yiu Tung Zachary
Lau Tsz Hong, Kenji Wong Wai Kin
- Transcript and Translation
- M+ Video Producer
- M+ Curatorial Research
Isabella Tam, Ariadne Long, Chloe Wong
- M+ Text Editing
Amy Leung, LW Lam
- Special Thanks
Jes Fan, Chris Sullivan