Hi, I am a little extraterrestrial from an unidentified planet masquerading as a human named Vivian. I like art. I have yet to learn the weird ways of your people so please excuse my awkwardness.
How did you first get involved with art?
Haha– I don’t have an extraordinary backstory. I have always liked to doodle and make things since childhood. I pursued and earned a BFA in Painting at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
I don’t think I can articulate my personal history with art-making as a relationship. It exists as a muscle– an organ maybe– to me. As a quiet, anxious person, I realized that I have always needed a visual medium to communicate with others and properly express myself. Most people use their voice. I create images.
You said that “your current body of work explores issues of exploitation and objectification of children through their portrayal as doll-like characters.” Talk about the symbolism behind the doll-like characters.
My doll creatures are often drawn in violent and provocative poses and situations. I am interested in the way the doll occupies the special space between human and object. They are simultaneously attractive yet repulsive. Cute and creepy. Something we can control and play with, sell and buy, etc. We know they’re not real but we fear that they do, pretend they do, take advantage of the fact that they aren’t.
By studying the portrayals of children and our relationship with dolls, I think it reveals a lot about us as adults.They allow me to explore and raise questions about sexuality, desire, gender, agency, and identity. Our current societies believe children to start off empty of all of those things. Regardless, I want people to enjoy my art from whatever angle they can find even if it’s simply from a formal perspective. My real goal is to figure out how to create small pockets of discomfort that those feelings of enjoyment can dip into. I like that push and pull. I hope to improve and find better ways to communicate my thoughts across through my making.
I love your piece ‘Shoulder The Pain & Carry Forward’ What inspired this piece?
I enjoy this piece too! I created it for an issue of Forge Magazine in 2015. The theme was “recovery.” The idea of portraying a girl carrying a huge weight on her back was inspired by a sculpture + performance assignment I had done during my senior year in college. I collected all these empty cardboard boxes and tied them all together with rope and tried to carry them all on my back. The bulk looked at least 3 or 4x my size.
As I remembered that piece, I thought it would have been interesting to replace the boxes with dolls as extensions of the self– like baggage we carry. They are a part of you, so it feels hard to let go. I like to think there’s something powerful about carrying all that weight– it’s a display of strength. When you can finally see that, letting go doesn’t feel as bad.
Who or what has been the biggest single influence on your way of thinking?
Oh, good question– I don’t know! I try to absorb influence from multiple sources. I want to say I read a lot but currently not as much as I would like to. I just simply love stories– processing and remembering information as stories. I recently realized how much I love film– both animated and live. I’m not a connoisseur by any means but good films tend to stay with me. I try to analyze movies as I watch them as if they were essays. Then I would lie in bed and think about how a film made me feel for a few nights in a row if I really liked it. There is one movie quote that has stuck with me and I try to remember it when I can. It’s from a 2008 Chinese film, “Mei Lanfang 梅兰芳,” a biopic directed by Chen Kaige about a famous Peking opera singer.
It basically translates to “Shame is not brought by the act of losing– only by fear.” It reads more beautifully if you understand the language but I think the meaning still holds. I’m afraid of a lot of things especially of making mistakes so this line resonates.
Red seems to be a repeating color in a lot of your pieces. Why red?
Red commands attention! The color holds a lot of personal significance for me as someone of Chinese heritage so I feel a sort of obligation to use it in my art. I think it’s the one color that everyone has a relationship with as it possesses a lot of symbolic qualities- positive and negative. It represents strength, love, evil, blood, sex, prostitution, among many others.
As an artist, I would assume your work is constantly critiqued. How do you handle negative criticism?
I’m definitely still navigating how! I, unfortunately, do often let it affect me personally if it’s negative. I am already terribly self-critical. I often criticize myself before I let others criticize me. However, I think it’s important to keep going and work harder– no matter how sh*tty a critique makes you feel. It’s up to you how you want to handle the criticism. You should listen to it but you don’t necessarily have to take it with you, good or bad. If it’s a question of ethics, take accountability and learn from it. I’ve had an internet troll accuse me of child pornography once. At the time, I freaked out– I established new rules for myself in how I should draw/share things– not restrictions, just guidelines. I didn’t agree with the accusation because the image in question was not meant to be gifted or sold and I wasn’t portraying anything quite human or based in real life. This is actually what I wanted my work to do– make people a little uncomfortable! However, I acknowledged that this is something that I can’t be careless about. The person didn’t want to have a conversation with me though and just tried to insult me. Regardless, I find that it’s always best to remain open and respectful despite how crude the other party is. A negative critique can still be constructive if it’s framed correctly. Don’t think about having to prove that one person or group wrong if they don’t like your work. I would also say to work towards not worrying about having to consistently satisfy the people who also like your work. Focus on you. Impressing yourself > impressing others.
If you could collaborate with anyone, who would you like to collaborate with?
Oh man. James Jean. First and foremost. He is my absolute, absolute favorite if it’s not already apparent. Although, I’m slowly reaching a point where I would like my work to evolve past his influence on me.
I would also love to collab with Henry Darger if he was still alive. I believe James Jean was influenced by him too, haha. Minus that– the main reason is that he has a body of work based on this group of weird children he’s created called the “Vivian girls.” Plus he was also a fellow Chicago native! It’s wild. I didn’t know about him until post-college and my work had already started developing in this vein. It’s fate.