BOILING TIME WITH
Lu Zhang is a multimedia artist who lives and works in New York. She tells stories through sculpting, freezing the shifting narrative of one's own cultural and social experiences, and making impositions upon everyday life in the forms of installation that incorporates ceramics, moving images, found objects, sound and dreams. She received her MFA in Fine Arts and MS in Art History from Pratt Institute in 2015. She also holds a BA degree in Economics from Xi’an JiaoTong University. Zhang exhibited, performed, wrote and lectured internationally.
The following is a short interview between Hongzheng Han, the curator of Standing Out, the Outstandings, and the participating artist Lu Zhang.
H: How to Boil Time (2019) includes text from the recordings of your dreams and the collection of your grandfather’s photographs. Can you tell us a bit about the creation and the relation between the texts and the images?
Z: From 2017-19, I started recording my dreams upon waking up, before my mind would be consumed by a daily to-do list. I would try really hard to describe the details of the location, people, the light I saw, and the sequence of events.
After three of my grandparents passed away in one year, all I did was listen to those dreams. Hearing my voice on those recordings, I wondered when I started using a language that is not my native tongue to speak when my consciousness was still half asleep? I liked the slipperiness and accidental poetry of “wrong” English.
In 2018, I rushed back to China to catch my grandmother's funeral and to touch her physical body one last time. This touch collapsed the physical and temporal distance that had separated me from my family for so long. Otherwise, at other times, I wasn’t sure whether my body and mind were in China or New York; or in some way separated, and wandering through one and another.
Through my grandfather’s eyes, I see impressions of my motherland that sometimes flash in my dreams. These days he takes photographs with an old iPhone while reading the newspaper, gazing out of his apartment window, caring for his houseplants, or on daily walks. Combining my dreams with my grandfather’s photographs is a way to collage fragmented memories from the past, the present, and dream stories. This act may or may not give me an answer to a question I asked in one of my dreams: How to boil time?
H: Not only skilled in video art, but you are also trained in ceramic, painting, and others. Do you have a favorite media? How can you establish your unique and unified artistic language as a multimedia artist?
Z: I think of aesthetics often in a relational way. More than what’s already been defined by the art historical term “relational aesthetics,” I often think of how each media is interrelated or can react to each other rather than the inherent properties of one specific media on its own. I don’t have a favorite media, it changes over different periods of making. It often ties to my approach at the time and what makes the most sense to me.
H: As an Asian female artist living in America, what has been your biggest obstacle?
Z: One of the biggest obstacles for me is also something I should be thankful for: the dual and sometimes oppositional need of being recognized as an individual and the urge of wanting to be part of something. The broader definitions of ethnicity and gender pose more existential questions: which Asian? Where in China? How and where did you grow up? All these elements define the flavor of a person who gets lost in the abstraction of the term “Asian.” But without the big umbrella of Asian, the individual voice is so thin and will take longer to be heard, if ever.
H: What do you think is the one thing that we desperately need to protect and rebuild our community?
Z: I think it’s the willingness to communicate. With Asian community, it’s more diverse and complicated due to the political complexities in different parts of Asia. We have to understand that difference exists, then, we need to face them, and move forward collaboratively. Also, be aware that navigating through social media, what you see/know is not necessarily true(or does it matter?). Aren’t we all in this social media prejudice cage of algorithms that restrain real dialogue?
H: How are you dealing with this surge of Sinophobia due to the COVID-19 epidemic? Does this situation inspire you creatively?
Z: I spent a long time figuring out how to buy pepper spray. You can’t order it on Amazon, and even when you can find it online, they won’t deliver it to a New York address. You have to go to a local pharmacy with a license to get it. I started having to carry it with me even when I took a walk in my neighborhood, which is one of the biggest Chinese communities in the U.S., and where I live is essentially a suburb. I rarely see people on the sidewalk. Being Asian in this country now is like having a virus. It’s a different alert.
I can’t say this situation inspires me, or I’d rather not be inspired by fear like this. But the hopelessness of the early pandemic, the shared confusion, did make me wonder as an artist had trouble accessing material and space to produce work, and how our friends are getting through that time? Me and Herb, started VSVLOOP (Virtual Studio Visit Loop), a studio visit series on Instagram Live, and soon my friend Trisha joined us to paint together as P_lub a.k.a Painting Club to make painting portraits for each visit. We painted artist friends, or those we adore, their families, and our understanding of their artwork from their Instagram posts. From April - June, we had 25 visits and made more than 25 paintings.
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?
Z: It sucks that Asians have been in this country for so long, and the oppression is still going on. But I know that change does not happen overnight. It’s a long process of everyone’s everyday efforts, and it’s important to communicate and be continuously communicating, through different forms and with communities.