Study of Hands, 2021

Single-Channel Video Installation with Illustrations 

‘Study of hands’ is a project that explores the richness in the forms and movements of hands.

The project is inspired by Dunhuang grottoes art. Dunhuang is an ancient oasis town located at a religious and cultural crossroads on China’s Silk Road. The grottoes art in Dunhuang is the finest example of Buddhist art, that had spanned over a period of 1000 years.

A few years ago, I came across a catalogue of Zhang Daqian's copies of Dunhuang mural paintings. I was fascinated by the fluent lines and beautiful colour of Buddhist art. What intrigued me the most is Gandharva (Flying Apsaras), who are the gods in charge of holy songs and dances. They symbolise happiness and joy in heaven and are featured prominently in Buddhist murals as figures playing traditional Chinese instruments.

In an attempt to bring Dunhuang’s mural paintings to the more contemporary media, I began to trace and copy the mural paintings with ink pens and markers. It was during this process when I discovered my interest in hands, which in fact had already been used as an element in some of my previous projects. My interpretation of hands as a symbol for communication solidifies. Gesturing is a language in itself, as shown by the sign language. Furthermore, gesturing is a language that conveys more emotions than words. Instead of accurate expressions of thoughts, gesturing is more spontaneous, if not intuitive.

Working with the murals makes me appreciates the elegant drawing of hands in Dunhuang Buddhist art. Not only the shapes are impeccably reproduced, but the brushstrokes also embed movements in the hands, rendering the drawing more vivid and dynamic. This is the most well illustrated in the paintings of Gandharva. One can almost hear the music from the instruments through their gestures.

I was therefore spurred to bring the underlying movements in the drawings alive through modern technology. I copied the hands from the mural paintings and converted them into animations. By digitalising the shapes of the hands and overlaying the movement of the hands with music created by digital software, I would like to show the possibility of modern technology in engaging with and reinterpreting ancient art.