Akeroyd Collection


Jes Fan, Palimpsest, 2023

Palimpsest documents an almost three year-process where Jes Fan collaborated with local scientists from the University of Hong Kong to cultivate oysters to include intrusive bio modifications. Through close-cropped video sequences, we see the meticulous work of the artist implanting living oyster shells with the individual characters, 東, 方, 之 and 珠. The characters are placed flush to the interior surfaces of the molluscs which begin to respond and contend with the intrusion in order to survive. As a result, the slow violence that is enacted upon the oyster during this process changes the internal structure of the shell which now carries with it a permanent trace of an enforced language. The characters spell the Anglo-imperial moniker ‘Pearl of the Orient’, and the oyster now carries this physical, biological ‘speech act’ as a by-product of producing the pearl itself. Drawing parallels to Fan’s previous exploration of biohacking and body modification as a method of eclipsing normative gender ecologies, this intervention into nature suggests that speech and language itself can be a carrier of imperial and colonial violence, shaping the bodies that are subjected to such a form of inscription. Overwriting, the oyster’s natural patterning and formation, Fan’s gesture could be interpreted as a form of perverse calligraphy, or a structural imposition. But it also points to a slow, insipid domination that is all too familiar. The pearl has no choice but to absorb the violence brought upon it - it must take on the language against its will in order to survive. This perhaps poignantly and poetically mirrors the kinds of violence that language itself can carry and that we are often asked to adopt ourselves. Like the oyster we too frequently find ourselves inscribed into undesirable systems via the language we are given to use and carry with us.

MediumColour video with sound
Duration5 minutes 43 seconds
Editionof 5 + 2 APs