People @ Goddard
Residency Sites: Port Townsend, WA
This morning began with the careful placement of the last supporting “brick” on our 8-year old’s couch cushion fort and a conversation with my partner about the ingenious way our 15-year old has gotten around one of our few restrictions. Now I make the shift from home-work to "professional" work. It's a subtle shift-- as I don't "go to the office"-- across a distinct, yet movable boundary, like the boundary I navigate between art and life.
Art is very much a way of making connection. I believe art serves a fundamental human need. ART IS FOOD, as the “Why cheap art?” manifesto of the Bread and Puppet proclaims. The mundane work of every day life, the dailiness of human existence serves as the ground of my creative process. Making art helps me make connections between spiritual insight, political activism and scrubbing jam off the kitchen floor. “Chop wood, carry water,” my dad used to say when I was a child. Later in life I learned that these words reminded the Zen Buddhist novice that spiritual enlightenment does not reign above the fray of everyday life but in fact comes to us in the here and now, through finding joy in everyday tasks.
I began making films and videos about 20 years ago, working in experimental narrative and then on documentaries for public television. A year of working on a documentary produced by HBO taught me a lot about the ethics of representation, and also convinced me I had strayed from my path. I returned to graduate school to reinvent myself, just as I discovered I was pregnant. So the reinvention of myself as an artist coincided with the reinvention of myself as a mother.
My practice has included storytelling, installation art, papermaking, drawing, knitting and sewing. Making art for me is about improvising new dynamic relationships between meaning and material, personal and political, spiritual and corporeal, fantastical and mundane, individual and community. My current influences come from individuals of diverse practices; storytellers Amina Blackwood-Meeks and Joel Ben Izzy, freeform knitting designer, Debbie New, installation artists Annette Messager and Tim Hawkinson, and scholar Ellen Dissanayake and map-maker Doug Aberley.
Story offers a way to reveal and to embrace contradiction, the contradictions of a culture that lauds traditional family values yet restricts how we love one another; a culture that raises motherhood on a pedestal yet tolerates daily violence against women; a culture that simultaneously perpetuates a fascination with the “other” while obsessed with securing its borders.
One recurring theme in my work is the story of navigating through culture and identity. As an immigrant who exchanged Taiwanese citizenship for U.S. citizenship over 25 years ago, even my own extended family view me as an outsider. Raised in the United States, I can no longer fluently communicate with our Taiwanese-speaking relatives. Yet my immediate family sustains a kind of weak link with those across the ocean. The word, “family”, conjures up contradictory feelings of love, longing and grief. I strive to make cultural barriers more fluid and make art in sympathy with all border-crossers. The border that hangs tenuously between art and life also becomes more flexible in my work as my stories weave between oral history and fantasy, sharing authorship with participatory audiences. I stage interactive experiences, keeping alive a commitment to making art more accessible and integrated with daily life.
Just prior to my most recent move, I was told of an ordinance still in the books that stated, “No persons of Chinese descent m ay purchase this house.” The words provoked a deep interest in the question of how a neighborhood identity comes into being. Who has the power and privilege to make a neighborhood what it is? My current project, Neighbor to Neighbor, uses oral history and community engagement to forge a collective answer to this question.
Technology is another theme or preoccupation that I dance around. An older project utilizes hand-knitting to construct pseudo-mechanical dolls fashioned after the Teletubbies. “Functional Obsolescence” reflects the ambivalent relationship I have with “new technologies.” Ever since I decided to put my Bell and Howell 16mm camera in the closet and replace it with the more cost efficient video camera, my artwork has become increasingly dependent on new technologies. I am both enthralled by new technology and yet wary of how we so easily overrate its capabilities. As I incorporate new technologies in my work, I reach back with equal enthusiasm to revive archaic technologies. The Teletubbies I made used a technology associated with grannies—knitting—to create warm shells in which to house their cold, electronic bodies. These cyborg creatures embody our culture’s ambivalence about technology, our deepening dependence on technology and our fear of its dominance and need to subdue that fear. The knitted dolls appear both cuddly and menacing, expressing the tension between desire and fear that drives much of science fiction. The dolls disguise surveillance cameras, and the TV’s in their bellies display video collages of reproductive technology in science fiction movies.
Collaboration figures prominently into my teaching. The best way to describe my teaching would be “team-learning”; I guide advisees as a co-learner. I believe the greatest gift I can give to a student is help in discovering her or his own best ways to learn. I’m very big on understanding learning styles and learning differences. I have high expectations as a teacher, but ultimately I feel most successful when a student becomes her or his own demanding teacher.
I live in North Providence, Rhode Island, where my art practice is helping me nurture a sense of place in a region to which I still feel like a foreigner. I teach children how to knit and tell stories, mentor high school students in their creative pursuits, and serve on several boards to advocate for arts education.
MFA in Intermedia, University of Iowa; BA in Comparative Literature, Indiana. University.