"There is always a rhythm to editing, both intuitive and logical. When I’m putting the elements together, I begin to understand the place better, to find the disposition of that specific location."
Could you tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a practising artist and where did you study?
I’m a Chinese-born, Chicago-based artist. My work is comprised of video collages and sculptural video installations that focus on the complex interactions between humans and their environment. About a decade ago, I came to America and entered the Master of Science program at Syracuse University. My art career didn’t start until six years ago when I was finishing my studies in Syracuse. Syracuse was an interesting place to live because of its close proximity to metropolitan cities like New York and Boston, but it is also surrounded by the beauty of countryside and nature.
I became deeply intrigued with American urban life, how people live in a city, the relationship people have with each other in a city, as well as the relationship people have with both the built and natural environment. I started to take art lessons at a local collage. A year later I moved to Chicago and started my MFA at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. I graduated a little over two years ago and have been a practicing artist since then.
Could you tell us about your installation: "Underground Circuit"?
One of the inspirations of my work is documentary photographers like Walker Evans who captured the American vernacular of ordinary life and indigenous architecture. Underground Circuit came about during my visits to New York City. I was strangely fascinated by its subway structure where the platforms of the local stops were at the opposite sides. I noticed that while people wait for the train, they can’t help but also observe those on the other side of the platform as if they are actors on a stage. The stations are like two-way theaters. I wanted to explore this sense of theatricality and also a collective urban rhythm embedded in ritualistic moments.
Underground Circuit is a collage of hundreds of video clips shot in those subway stations. Station to station, the movement of the commuters in the outer rings of the video suggests the repetitive cycle of life and urban theatricality and texture. The inner-most ring includes people sitting on benches waiting; the central drummers act as the controller of the movement, inspired by the concept of the Four-faced Buddha in Chinese folk religion, the god who can fulfill and grant all wishes of its devotees.
For the installation, the video is projected onto the gallery floor and mapped onto a cube with relief in the middle of the projection area. The installation invites audiences to sit on the central cube as Voyeur-gods, to observe the anonymous characters in the projected urban labyrinth.
You often work with video collage, could you tell us a bit about your process and your thoughts behind it?
My process of creating art has two aspects. One is traveling to locations and collecting raw footage. Most of the time I go to these places without a particular mission or trying to seek out the most photographic view. I obviously carry with me the mythology of the places, but I try to keep an open mind, be spontaneous and allow chance to happen. Second is editing, where I search for themes and events and interesting juxtaposition in the raw footage and assemble them into collages.
There is always a rhythm to editing, both intuitive and logical. When I’m putting the elements together, I begin to understand the place better to find the disposition of that specific location. I may repeat this process several times until this piece resolves. So in a way, my work is a visual diary. And certain compositions lend themselves to a more installation-based approach while others work better as flat videos.
What artwork have you seen recently that has resonated with you?
A few months ago, I visited a sound art exhibition at SFMOMA. One of the pieces that really moved me in the exhibition is “The Visitors” (2012) by Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson. It is an immersive sound/video installation with nine projection screens showing eight musicians including the artist himself each performing a melancholy song in different rooms in a historic upstate New York mansion. The song is based on a poem, The Feminine Ways, written by the artist’s then recently divorced wife. As soon as I entered the space, I was immediately drawn into that very rich, seductive visual experience and lyrical sound quality. I also think the installation is quite clever—nine separate projections and sound tracks ‘force’ and direct the audience to move around the space to see and listen to each performer like an individual portrait, but at the same time appreciate a collective performance by all of them—a deconstruction and reconstruction of sound, visuality and space. What I appreciate the most about the work is that the artist used a language that his audiences understand completely. It’s about loss and longing, memory and relationship—the core and primal human emotions and conditions. He expressed these feelings simply by showing a beautiful side of humanity in a raw and straightforward way. It’s definitely a piece worth seeing and spending some time with.
How do you go about naming your work?
I don’t believe that naming should literally describe a project. It should add another layer of meaning. I tend to use simple language and few words that normally are not used together, but in a way that activates the visual experience, and sometimes direct the concepts. For example, one of the videos in The Humors series is called Soft Plots. Visually the video is a collaged, surreal landscape of people playing volleyball in the sand (it was shot from a window in a high-rise apartment building by the Oak Street beach in downtown Chicago), but I see it as a metaphor and an abstract map of urban living—both group-oriented and fragmented. “Soft” and “Plots” is a playful combination of words that suggests the invisible threads that create communities across discontinuous space.
Tell us a bit about how you spend your day/studio routine? What is your studio like?
My studio is very basic: a small room with a desk, a large computer, my camera and projection equipment and installation materials, and a bean bag for me to sleep in when I work overnight. But more importantly is the location I’m shooting at, which becomes my temporary ‘studio’. And this studio has no routine; even if I go to the exact same spot to shoot at the exact same time every day. The world around me never stops changing and evolving into new situations and fragments that happen in front of my lens.
Is there anything new and exciting in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?
I just finished Underground Circuit, and it was installed as a part of my solo exhibition, In the Shape of a City at the Paul Watkins Art Gallery in Minnesota. Moving forward, I have a few new projects. One uses the topography of San Francisco, which is very different from the urban landscapes that I’ve been working with. I will also go back to China for the first time in seven years, and anticipate being inspired by the changes there. I’m also starting to prepare for my next solo show at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder, Colorado which will open in August 2018. I’m very excited about the show since I will have a big space to experiment with. Also in the pipeline is a show at the Blue Star Contemporary Art Museum in San Antonio.
All images courtesy of the artist
Publish Date: 23/11/17