The image almost blurs into pattern as the cut-out breaks up the ground and mollifies the message. Like a succinct one-liner, a headline or satirical quip, the message is seated within the context of repetition and yet it triggers a responsive recognition and an ensuing abrasion. Frida, for instance, consists of a cut-out of the well known face with her heavy meeting eyebrows and the flora of Mexico surrounding her. The fabric out of which the cut has been made is wrapping paper for a baby present, replete with rattles and pastels. Frida Kahlo was doomed to childlessness as the result of a near fatal accident, horrible in aspect as she was pinioned to a metal fence post when thrown from a bus. The artist not only then faced a life of physical suffering but also had to deal with the emotional hardship of not being able to bare a child. The Joyce Lau version is as straight to the point as a blade cutting paper.
The use of black outline is either achieved by slicing into the ground and revealing a black back drop or by overlaying the filaments of a line silhouette of the subject against the pattern chosen for the contextual ground. In Toxic Boy a street punk male in cut off pants and holding a can of paint slouches before an overall repetition of grey cupids and is Lauís interpretation of a character from Tim Burton's book "The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories". The difference between the historical angelical babies and the boy is reinforced by the rubbery, spidery line made in depicting the figure.
Lau relates to history through eyes made aware of race, religion and cultural diversity. Napalm shows the photograph of victims fleeing from napalm in South Viet Nam. She juxtaposes the photographic image with a pattern taken from Katsushika Hokusaiís famous wood block. The eighteenth century Japanese artist was himself a rebel - a cocky and quarrelsome Bohemian. That his work should have been translated into a banal and kitsch wrapping for presents furthers the irony as Joyce Lauís choice of materials are pertinent to her understanding of tragic events in Eastern history. Lau, of Chinese descent, lends new connections to the relationships between tradition and the stimulus of progressive modernity. The dark lines of the stencilled image, much like the work of Kara Walker, illustrates that it is too easy to superficially cast the subject. Through her research into the many possibilities of associations, Lau brings forth a new version of political positioning.
Copyright © 2007, Julie Oakes