Chapters of Unknowing

The Cloud of Unknowing, Ho Tzu Nyen, installation view at Museum Diocesano di Venezia, 2011 54th Venice Biennale:ILLUMInations; Photo: Winston Soh



The cloud of unknowing is complex.
It is intricate.
It is also intertwined with metaphors and meaning
that creates dialectic conversations within the work.

It is impossible to give a definite response, nor a singular criticism.
What can be generated is a response of a similar intellectual genre.
To speak fairly of the work and do justice to the piece,
it is necessary to use a language similar to that of the work.


Legends Betold, the Tale of Pan Gu

In the Beginning, the entire universe was contained in an egg-shaped cloud.
the egg, lived Pan Gu. Pan Gu slept unassumingly in the egg, and for 18,000 years, he grew.

One day, he awoke and stretched.
The egg broke! Alas, formed Earth and Sky, Yin and Yang.

Pan Gu was surprised, but pleased.
A big and kind giant he had grown to be, and as the kind giant he was,
he planted himself between Sky and Earth, so they would not mix again.

But, Pan Gu fell to his death.
The tremors quaked through the ground, dividing Earth into continents.

His body formed the world and all of its elements.
Breath, the wind and clouds;
Voice, the thunder and lightning;
Eyes, the sun and moon;

Flesh into soil and trees;
Sweat into dew and rain;
Blood into rivers and oceans;
Veins the paths of men.

His hair and beard formed the stars that trailed the sky
and the parasites on his body formed the diverse races of humankind.

Pan Gu was gradually forgotten, his existence nearly unknown.
Though a kind man, he had a fiery heart that matched his burly exterior.
His mood changed from day to day, and the weather followed suit.
Within the elements of the world that were very much a part of him, lay fragments of his sensibilities that were to be awakened from time to time in this world he had once been pleased with.


INTRODUCTION: The welcome.

This is a city of majestic civilization
of mysterious dark sinuous waters.
The labyrinth of city planning.

It is a period of festivity.
The streets are bustling with activity,
but one passes a room in captivity.

Halt! Beware! Take heed!

Resist temptations, the allure is deep.
A mist of esoteric nature lies within in the form of a meandering, sinuous vapor.
It tempts with sly intentions, and seeks to hook.
Gradually coiling itself around its prey made captive.

That said,
The desire for the unfathomable is strong.
If thou shalt venture,
Take heed, take heed!

Guard your sanity.
Guard your wits
Guard your lucidity
Guard your rationality

Curiosity killed the cat,
but satisfaction brought it back.


A Testament of Experience

Enter the gates of an otherworldly realm.
The air pungent with a smoky transcendental aura.

You ascend the long narrow flight of stairs, as though the space had developed its own rite of passage.

In this case though, the ritual serves to strip you from all connections and ties to the outside world, and while time is taken to arrive at the peak of the stairs, you take in the transition in environment and the senses, from the festivity at the entrance, to the anticipation of the narrow stairs, and finally the sense of an airy tranquility at the final space.

It is as though by taking a step from the stairs into the final space, you had stepped into a protected bubble, a warm womb.

The room is spacious and minimal but not sparse. Serene warmth and holiness emanate from the stone walls and overhead arcs. A soft orange light rests on the surface of all matter in the room and your attention is drawn to the middle of the space, where a white screen and some huge bean bags appear brightly lit in the light reflection. The synthetics of the bean bags, white screen and the black audiovisual equipment contrasts with the naturalness of the original space. It is not jarring nor uncomfortable, but instead, they evoke a sense of purpose. You immediately and instinctively move to the bean bags.

As you allow yourself to be consumed and submerged in the comfort of the bags, the next ritual begins. Silence is pierced as smoke emerges from behind the translucent screen, forming a chiaroscuro composition shaded by the choreographed projection of light. The smoke overwhelms the screen and invades the space of the audience, very much like when Alice received a puff of smoke in her face from the caterpillar, and gradually, unknowingly, one is hypnotized into entering a new realm, whether physically or mentally.


 The Danger of being too involved

Anticipation, anticipate.
Swishing consumes as silence abate.
Puffing, puffing, the clouds are chugging.
A flash of light across the screen of white,

Panting, thumping, pant and thump.
Musky scent of chemical-ed fluff.
Eyes are glued and mind preoccupied.
Opulence and Sublimity frolicking in spellbinding choreography,

Throbbing, Grating, Throb and Grate.
Low basses form rhythms to which your veins pulsate.
The space is dim, but synchronized strobe lights gleam.
A hallucinatory seduction to a surreal surrender,

Pictures that provoke, absorb and trigger.
Painterly Pictures,
Classical Pictures,
Beautiful Pictures,
Unsightly Pictures,
Familiar Pictures.

The atmosphere is foreboding.
A strong inclination of aimless urgency.
Heightened sensitivity of senses offered to the space, of
theatricality, physicality,

Participation, Participate.
Seeping smoke awakens unwanted nightmares.
Beguiled and immersed, one is exposed.
Physical space, cinematic space, one is besieged,
Completely Defenceless.

stills from the projected film
images © ho tzu nyen


A Chapter of Verses: Helpless Beings

The setting is of banal quality.
A derelict and seemingly isolated building,
A decaying apartment block,
public housing.

Pitiable beings.
Something is impending, yet you ignore.

So unassuming
So unaware.
Proud little things.
So indulged in their little presumed space.
So isolated, So alone.

A man emerges from a room.
A white screen remains.
It all begins.

The Drummer,
The Musician,
Concealed in his sanctum of flashing electric streaks.
Drumming; expressing.
His self-consumed catharsis liken purgatory compositions
Jamming a gallimaufry of tumultuous percussion.

The common day folk,
The everyday woman.
Going about everyday chores,
walking; Watering
Her ratiocinative thoughts leave her impervious to imagination
Pathetically impassive even in the face of possibilities.

The Writer,
The Scholar,
Stowed behind his pyramids of books,
Contemplating; writing
His languish transforms into epic scribomania
churning out legions of morbid graphorrhea.

The Tinker
The Hoarder
Hiding in his abode conglomeration of paraphernalia
Loitering; fidgeting
His tenuous condition reflects the precarious festoon of light bulbs from above,
consumed by paranoia in the paradox of silent tintinnabulation

The Idler
The Stagnant
Frozen in her dated glory as time passes by
Static; Rotting
Her state-of-being is illustrated by her surrounding of rotting vegetables.
Hopelessly indulging in her fatuous reverie as life crumbles by.

The Dreamer
The Unsuspecting
Unwarily prepares to engage in deep slumber,
Vulnerable; Oblivious.
His plight was eminent despite the lack of an inkling abnormality.
Evoking the sleep of reason produces monsters.

The Fearless,
The Seeking,
Venturing into the dingy undergrounds of dark sewage waters
Stripping; Cleansing
His colour stripped and his skin bleached by the dirty mud.
He is the Cloud incarnated.


An Orthodox Poetry:

The Cloud

Woolgathered shroomers bloom;
ephemeral and transient.
Bathing in empyrean luminance;

Heavy Panting.

Man strips.
Man bathes.
Man discolours.
Man is Cloud;
and Cloud is Man.

The Cloud is Albino;
Albino in diapers;
sumo-sized Albino in diapers;
a fierce sumo-sized albino in diapers.

The Cloud’s head is smoking.
This is perfectly orthodox.
It is necessary to remain vehemently grim.
This is completely reasonable.

The Cloud engages in sardonic peekaboo,
pervading not so common everyday homes.
The Cloud apparates,
and stares.
The Cloud stares very hard, trying to be ominous,
and disapparates.

The cloud has a new hairdo
a huge white afro-american hairdo.
Rain falls amidst splashes of coloured light streaks
Rain falls in hail of the cloud.

The Cloud Growls.
Yes, Growls.

The growl echoes.

It is necessary to be afraid.
For it is,
the Cloud of Unknowing.


 Self-designed Entrapments

We as beings have a propensity to take things into our hands.
We pride the limitless capabilities of the human mind.

our tendency to intellectualize our surroundings,
and rationalize our sensings.

We are mere preys to our intellect,
as we engage in our wild chase for worldly desires and reasoning.

We fail to realize our self designed entrapments
We are caught in the trap.

As we lose ourselves in our surroundings,
We are subtly altered by the environment we change.


 Moments of Apprehension

What we fear?

The Unfamiliar,
The Uncertain,
The Undisclosed,
The Unchartered.

Belittlement, Derision, Ridicule, Facing Mockery.
Control, Supremacy, Intrusion, Impedment of Privacy
We fear, Fear in itself.

There is but a fine line,
between the sublime which we hold with high regard
and the absurd which we abhor.

We dislike the feeling of apprehension.
It invokes in us the connotation of absence in our being.
It is undesirable and bad.

Therefore, it is necessary to be prepared.
To suffocate ourselves with the baggage of preconceived ideas,
so as not to be caught in the unknown.

This is why we feel disturbed at times,
and why we feel moments of apprehension.


The State of Being when you awake while in REM

An abrupt knee jerk.
The Cloud in a banal world.
a Man.
But with clouds emerging from his head,
or smoke.


It is time,
for a round of hysterical laughter
and another immense round of applause.


For it has ended.
30 minutes of sublimity!

PSHHHHHHHHHHHH….. you are surrounded.



Your 30 minutes is up.
Thank you and Goodbye.