IN BETWEEN DIMENSIONS: SIYUAN TAN
Siyuan Tan earned his B.F.A. in Sculpture from Luxun Academy of Fine Arts, Shenyang, China and M.F.A. in Sculpture from Savannah College of Art and Design. Now he works as an artist in New York. Tan previously worked at ID3 Group as Sculpture Studio Manager, and as a Q Studio Clay Modeler in Ford Motor Company. Various working experiences have exposed him to a variety of materials for art and industrial fabrication, which thus led to his usage of media like spray paint in his paintings and sculptures. Tan has participated in group exhibitions internationally including Beijing, China; London, U.K.; Rome, Italy; Landshut, Germany; Aveiro, Portugal; New York and Atlanta, U.S.A. Recent exhibitions include Trenton Museum, New Jersey; Marietta Cobb Museum of Art, Atlanta; Indianapolis Art Center, Indianapolis (2020); Fou Gallery, New York (2019); 4th Wall Power, Time Museum, Beijing (2019); KUNST IM DIALOGUE / Migration, Stichting White Cube Global Village, Landshut, Germany (2018); SABA IV, Delaware Contemporary Museum, Wilmington (2018) and Tan Siyuan: How Much I Love You, Trios Gallery, Atlanta (2017).
H: Sacrifice (2021) investigates both colonialism and capitalism; what inspired you to create this three-panel painting?
T: My work has always revolved around the connection between the space of reality and the void. And the inspiration for this work comes from my vision of the future of humanity and the grand imagination of interstellar conquest. The elements of my childhood experience, Japan’s colonial history to my homeland, and my personal immigration experience in America are synthesized together and latent in the iconographies of the paintings.
The following is a short interview between Hongzheng Han, the curator of Standing Out, the Outstandings, and the participating artist Siyuan Tan.
H: Growing up as a Manchu ethnic minority in China and now living as an Asian minority in America, what has been your biggest challenge transitioning in between all these identities? Do you see your multicultural identity as a burden or an advantage when you are making art?
T: I indeed grew up in a Manchu area in China, but in contrast to a lot of outdated Western thinking of the treatment of ethnic minorities in China, my growing-up experience has been very different. You see, China's ethnic policy is very minority-friendly. We have a lot of benefits living as ethnic minorities. Therefore, I don't really feel special or different from the Hans. But in the U.S. I can feel a huge identity challenge, both in life and at work. The biggest challenge I have encountered in the transition of identities was, of course, the language. In my work, multicultural identity is both a burden and an advantage. The burden is mainly brought by American'sAmerican's social construct of identity politics. For example, in American fine art exhibitions, even if there are enough spots for a diversified selection of artists, you can only find very few POC artists represented, and most of the time, Asian artists are rarely considered, let alone solo exhibitions. However, the advantage of being an artist with multicultural identities allows me to be empathetic to other communities, allows me to see more than just my point of view. I am able to stand on the basis of not only my culture of origin but also to integrate the immigrant culture to create my work.
H: You were professionally trained as a sculptor, but you have always experimented with different kinds of media, such as photography, film, and painting. Do you think your training in sculpture translates well in 2D media such as painting?
T: I have been working hard to translate my understanding of sculpture to other mediums, and currently, it is about painting. I feel that I am able to apply some of the knowledge and wisdom I have learned on sculpture, as well as techniques, to painting, but not all of them. This is probably because of the difference in mediums. Also, this transformation process has taken me about three years to master fully. And during these three years, I was constantly doing dimensional reduction exercises. That is, transforming 3-dimensional objects into 2.5-dimensional patchwork works, and then eventually 2-dimensional.
H: How are you dealing with this surge of Sinophobia due to the COVID-19 epidemic? Does this situation inspire you creatively?
T: After Black Lives Matter and the 2016 presidential election, there was a lot of violence against the Chinese community. I did worry about it, but I basically isolated myself at home and only focused on creating my work, so it didn't have a particularly serious impact on my personal life. But the countless and endless attacks on Asian Americans did force me to have some self-reflection, and I made a series of works in response to this surge of Sinophobia. This series of works is called "Stuck in Between."
H: Standing Out, the Outstandings is an exhibition designed to amplify the long-oppressed Asian voice in America. As one of the ten artists in this show, are there any encouraging words you would like to say to our community?
T: The world is a rich and colorful place because of its differences and diversity. America do better!