Exhibition review: Ying Ang, CCP

'The Quickening' offers a poetic mood board of motherhood with unfiltered authenticity.

A white swan dives into black waters, its island of feathers a raw beauty that evokes quiet awe and a moment of pause.

This sense of subtle wonder runs throughout Ying Ang’s ‘The Quickening’, a photographic exhibition currently on view at the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP), which traces moments from the artist’s pregnancy and the birth of her son.

But it’s not beauty in itself that the show evokes. ‘The Quickening’ lays bare motherhood with unfiltered authenticity, where moments of intimacy are interspersed with longings for ‘the outside’. As Ang describes in her publication of the same title:

‘You begin your life in expansion. From rolling to crawling to walking, your reach moves outwards from infancy through to adulthood. At the cusp of motherhood, everything instantaneously moves in reverse. Your world begins to shrink, to coalesce into the tight sphere of domestic life.’

Ang is a masterful writer as well as an observant photographer, her text and exhibition carry the same level of poetics that have the power to linger in your consciousness.

Read: Comedy review: 300 Paintings, FRINGE WORLD

In ‘The Quickening’, the face of the mother is never absent, or simply directed towards the child. She peers from one wall into the exhibition space, a presence that asks to be seen. In another photograph, she seems deep in thought, brows slightly knitted, while her child wails from the baby cam in a separate frame nearby.

Imagery from the baby monitor peppers the space, sometimes magnified to become the backdrop of other works. It serves as a reminder of the persistent demands of motherhood, a call that must always be answered.

Ying Ang: ‘The Quickening’ at CCP. Image: Courtesy of the artist. Photo: ArtsHub.

An infant never asks, always demands. Here, love and labour form a sense of tension that can be distilled into one work, where the chubby harmless-looking fist of the child tugs at the gold chain around the mother’s neck. Playful perhaps, but equally relentless.

Quickening is when the pregnant person can feel their baby’s movement through the womb for the first time – a fluttering sensation that evolves into the ‘kick’ that many parents anticipate. It’s also a moment (with many more to follow) when the mother sacrifices her freedom for that of the child’s – careful movement juxtaposed by reckless exploration.

The photos are like beads spread across a table, or timestamps which, when chained together, transport viewers into the shoes of the artist.

They bring to light how experiences of motherhood are not generic, but individual, both in terms of the joy and the struggles.

From bathtime to ultrasound scans, cityscapes to domestic scenes; together these photos form a mood board where Ang’s journey of motherhood seesaws between her sense of self as an artist and as a mother.

Though one central pillar will feel relatable to every parent: the child at times appears like a quiet angel, and at others a demanding alien.

Ying Ang: The ‘Quickening’ runs until 9 April at CCP, Melbourne; free entry.

Celina Lei is an arts writer and editor at ArtsHub. She acquired her M.A in Art, Law and Business in New York with a B.A. in Art History and Philosophy from the University of Melbourne. She has previously worked across global art hubs in Beijing, Hong Kong and New York in both the commercial art sector and art criticism. She took part in drafting NAVA’s revised Code of Practice - Art Fairs and was the project manager of ArtsHub’s diverse writers initiative, Amplify Collective. Celina is based in Naarm/Melbourne. Instagram @lleizy_