Blue Cryptobiosis #10

Christine Ay Tjoe Indonesian

On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 915

Starting in 2010, Ay Tjoe developed a technique using her hands to mark, rub, and scratch oil sticks onto smoothly primed canvases in a process closer to printmaking or drawing. The result is an often vibrantly colored composition with a dramatic blend of lines, blotches, and washes that oscillate between abstraction and figuration. Blue Cryptobiosis #10 belongs to a series the artist produced in 2020 and 2021 in response to the abrupt changes to daily life wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic. The term "cryptobiosis" refers to the state of inactivity in organisms triggered by extreme environments. Ay Tjoe looked to the self-preservation mechanism in tardigrades, a micro-animal, not only inspired by the natural navigation of harsh conditions, but also by the hopefulness embodied in this metabolic pause. "This is about the specific, rare, and beautiful ability of living things," she said, "…offering possibilities of a longer life and greater hope instead."[1] For the artist, blue represents hope because it is associated with water, which restores tardigrades back to life. The raw energy from the direct action of the artist’s hand on oil sticks grants the painting a visceral, bodily expression, while highlighting the materiality and versatility of oil. Vaguely taking on the form and transparency of the micro-creature, the painting becomes an allegory of the artist’s reflection on life in the ecosystem.

[1] Artist quoted on webpage for Exh. Hong Kong 2021,

Blue Cryptobiosis #10, Christine Ay Tjoe (Indonesian, born Bandung, 1973), Oil on canvas

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© the artist. Photo © White Cube (Kitmin Lee)