“I Am There, I Am Not There”: Ting-Ting Cheng’s Project on Domestic Spaces

I feel that every room I have lived in—whether as resident or student or tourist—has indelibly inscribed itself upon me. Now and then, I find myself fondly remembering that blue carpet, that golden lamp, that kettle, that bathtub—inanimate objects and items that I have used or touched and have had to leave behind. Even though they are a part of my past and now absent from direct view, they remain too prominently alive in my mind. Thoughts of my former temporary shelters somehow give me a comforting assurance, they make me feel and think that I can belong to this world and find my place in it. That I am not really all that disconnected and alone in the universe…

I could totally see something familiar in “I Am There, I Am Not There”, a 2010 project by Ting-Ting Cheng, a Taipei-born, London-based artist who uses images, sound, video, objects, actions and participation to explore concepts of foreignness, nationhood and immigration. In this series, she presents simple and beautiful shots of domestic spaces from the houses in which she has stayed or visited. Instead of human figures, we only see their traces, evidences of their existence and clues that reflect who they might be. Viewers are invited to peep into a strange house. Hints are meant to trigger curiosity towards somebody else’s personal life.


Ting-Ting Cheng


Ting-Ting explains: “After working on my project ‘Reasons to Travel’ that explored the idea of travel and home, I started to be interested in the relationship between people and space. How does space influence and reflect our everyday life, especially the space within which we spend most of our time, home.”

She says that the authenticity of photography is being challenged and questioned here, adding: “In contemporary art, the boundary and distinction between documentary and studio photography are disappearing. Back in 1930, Bill Brandt began selecting locations and recruiting models to make pseudo-documentary scenes. Jeff Wall rebuilt a nightclub in his studio while Philip Lorca di-Corcia shot street portraits with artificial lighting even without the sitters’ notice. The definition of reality in photography is changing, what we’ve seen is not necessary believed. Reality depends on the perceived notion of real. Even the most natural-looking everyday life scenes can be staged.

“Homes, the most intimate spaces in our life, should be reflecting the occupants’ personalities and everyday routine. The objects in the images are the real belongings from the residents but the displays are staged, indicating that even the most personal place can be deceiving. Photography is not a truth carrier rather it is a channel for storytelling. It tells parts of the tenants’ lives, while keeping the rest of it in mystery. The viewer’s curiosities are triggered, they wonder about who’s living here and what kind of life he/she has. At the same time, they are fooled by photography and the artist. The pictures oscillate between real and fiction.”

Ting-Ting Chen received her MA in Photographic Studies from the University of Westminster in 2009. In 2014, she obtained her MFA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths College. The artist has had solo shows at Taipei Fine Art Museum, Galerie Grand Siècle (Taiwan), Identity Gallery (Hong Kong), Gallery Nomart (Japan), Rowan Arts, Iniva (London), Addaya Art Centre and Luis Adelantado (Spain) and group exhibitions at National Art Museum of China, National Taiwan Museum of Fine Art, among other venues. She has also participated at the Bi-City Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzen), III Moscow International Biennale for Young Art and Contemporary Art Festival Sesc_Videobrasil.

Ting-Ting currently has a project titled On the desert island (1 June – 1 Dec 2017) on display at Stuart Hall Library, Iniva in London. Her solo exhibition but hon, why don’t you write your own history opens today, October 18, at the Galerie Grand Siècle in Taipei and will run till November 19, 2017.

Links: Website (www.chengtingting.com) | Facebook (www.facebook.com/t.cheng1985)

Images used with permission.