Category Archives: Art

What Futures

Take a look at my story “What Futures” in the People of Color Take Over Fantastic Stories of the Imagination special issue! It’s about future Shanghai and belonging and it’s here! Thank you to Nisi Shawl for selecting it for this issue 🙂 You can read all the other wonderful writers’ work here.

In other news, I had a reading with the Asian American Arts Alliance last Wednesday, where I actually read What Futures! Here’s the video.

So it’s summer here now, and hot. There are wild blackberries and strawberries in Central Park but a recent thunderstorm knocked down some trees. The High Line has trees with pink fronds that prove nature=art. Ducklings are hanging out in the reservoir. I baked a vanilla pound cake that made me understand just why a vanilla bean pod is such a wonderful thing (although baking in the heat is not really recommended). If you like fun and ridiculous musicals with amazing vocals, check out Bella at Playwrights Horizons. If you want to get some more art in your life, check out LMCC’s River to River Festival (free!). If you’re not in NYC, maybe get on over here to enjoy the swampy subways and red hot cultural events?

Goodbye, studio

From LMCC’s Open Studios, a map of China inspiration:IMG_20170427_101852

Art?

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Thank you to the many people who came (over 600 of you!) over the two days of Open Studios. What fun it was! Thanks to those who read my work, took copies, ate blueberry cake, drank tea, talked to me about China and folktales and writing. Hard to believe it’s over and that I’m saying goodbye to my studio here. It’s been a good seven months.

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LMCC Open Studios!

Just a reminder that I’ll be participating in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council‘s Workspace Open Studios this week! Lower Manhattan Cultural Council empowers artists by providing them with networks, resources, and support, to create vibrant, sustainable communities in Lower Manhattan and beyond. The Open Studios will be held Friday, 4/28 from 6-9pm and Saturday, 4/29 from 1-8pm in the Financial District in Manhattan. There’ll be dance performances, readings, video, and visual art galore.  It was even mentioned in Hyperallergic! I’ll be hanging out in my studio where you can read my work, eat some goodies, or chat about writing. You can RSVP here. It’ll be super casual though!

Also, come get a handmade business card!17917608_10101391882982151_6464338263134568240_o

Art Show and art show

My story “Art Show” is up today in the spring issue of Nashville Review! Check it out here (and the rest of the issue here!) It’s very much inspired by the international art community and scene in Shanghai.

And to celebrate (and due to waking up early because of jetlag), I bought myself some pastries from Arcade Bakery. Maybe I should make this a habit every time I get something published?
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Also, as an artist-in-residence in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program, I’ll be participating in Open Studios this month! Here are the details:

Friday, April 28, 6-9pm
Saturday, April 29, 1-8pm
28 Liberty Street- 24th floor, New York, NY

Come check it out! I can tell you that this batch of artists, writers, choreographers, and performers are pretty damn talented so if you’re interested in the arts at all, make your way down at the end of this month and feel free to invite everyone! RSVP here!

The sad plight of arts funding in America

For those of you who read, write, paint, dance, act, play music, draw, create—let’s stand up for the arts (along with all the other things we have to stand up for such as women’s rights, immigrants’ rights, lgbtq rights, because common decency, right?) The NEA and NEH are under attack even though they help the economy way more than their relatively small budgets would suggest. According to the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, “The NEA is also an economic powerhouse, generating more than $600 million annually in additional matching funds and helping to shape a $730 billion arts and culture industry that represents 4.2% of the nation’s GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs.”

PEN America tells us what we can do.

Back to New York

Back in New York now after a long 14 hour flight from Shanghai. I’m feeling a bit of a sense of culture shock now that I’m back—where are the crowds? And the e-bikes? There’s so much diversity here! The roads in Brooklyn are potholed something awful and the single or double family homes around Jamaica are so much different from the skyscrapers and traditional housing of Shanghai. And here, you get a “Hey, beautiful,” instead of “Why aren’t you wearing a jacket? Aren’t you cold?!” (I prefer the latter, though.) It’s pretty warm here, too, and the magnolia trees are blooming! Two springs in one year—not bad. I can’t wait to start biking around.

But leaving Shanghai was pretty surreal and happened far too quickly. About three days before I left, I went to Suzhou for the day. SK and I peered down into wells and into a shop where a mechanized press printed sheet after sheet of material (is this how it works in the U.S. too?) We stumbled upon the bird and flower market where adorable ceramic flower pots and cacti in the shape of tiny rabbits were being sold, as well as turtles, pigeons, and puppies. On Pingjiang Rd, there were ice cream cones of different colors. Then it was time for the literary festival! It was lovely meeting Don and Lieve—Lieve was such a good storyteller that I barely had to say anything but it was a pleasure to listen to her. Afterwards, I read “Westward, Ever Westward” then had dinner with SK and Lieve before rushing off to the train station. Due to the traffic, we would’ve missed the train if it hadn’t been delayed an extra 10 minutes.
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As part of the residency, all of us artists have to leave a “trace” that is then put in Swatch’s virtual museum online and may be shown in one of their galleries. I really liked the end result of my trace, titled “Smoke Signals.” Here’s what I wrote about my trace and some photos!

Using joss paper as a medium, Smoke Signals reflects and complicates the Chinese tradition of burning joss paper as money for ancestors in the afterlife. The joss paper is one that my family always uses but instead of putting it to its traditional use, I inscribe the last two lines of a poem I wrote referring to the use and significance of it upon Chinese culture. Within the center is a Chinese translation of the poem, almost invisible except in certain lights. In this way, this work comments upon the hidden messages within this tradition—paper as smoke signals and currency, the invisibility of the Chinese text—as well as reflecting the poem’s message in a physical form, using traditional materials in a non-traditional format.
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Anyway, I’m really glad I did this residency—it was definitely a productive experience. I participated in one art show and two readings, wrote at least 5 short stories and a few smaller works, and met some amazing artists of all types from around the world. I’ll really miss a lot of my fellow residents—it was pretty hard saying goodbye when those I knew for three months left and only got harder with artists I’d known for longer. I know I’ll come back to China in the future—after living in China for almost two years in the last five years, I feel as though it’s my second home—but the artists I know will be scattered around the world. I suppose that gives me more of an excuse to travel, though! See you all someday in the near future!
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I love you. I know.

My new favorite jacket:
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Now that Chinese New Year festivities are over (no more Monkey king crowns with their long shiny antenna and all those lanterns and crowds over the bridge at Yuyuan), all the shops are open again. The other day, while walking from the French Concession, Ai and I found a mostly empty store filled with piles of miscellaneous items: heaps of rope, boxes of fabric cut into odd shapes for 1rmb each, bamboo hampers with the label “Flower” on them, oval shaped mirrors, straw slippers. It was a store that was about to close but it was hard to tell what sort of store it was in the first place. IMG_20160302_165106

T visited and I took him on an adventure to another of the islands in Hangzhou Bay, Qushan Island. There’s so little written about it on the internet so it was a real adventure. During our first night, we checked out four hotels before we settled on the last—the prices were all around the same but some were definitely more shady than others! One of the first we saw had a boudoir type photo on the wall and peeling wallpaper, at another, the guy showing us the room wouldn’t let us test out the hot water—never a good sign. Unfortunately, it rained all during our first and only full day there but we decided to go hiking regardless. We trekked past the city and towards the mountains, past farms, and first found a reservoir then a road into the “scenic area.” It was actually quite an undeveloped scenic area—the paved roads devolved into dirt road and we got sidetracked a few times, including once by google maps which showed a road that had been completely washed away. The coastline was unexpectedly…industrial isn’t quite the word I’m looking for but there were quarries and salt fields, not a completely natural coastline. Eventually, we found our way to the temples that are apparently the highlight of the scenic area but even they were quite different from what we expected. The temple was covered in mist so that you could barely see a few feet ahead of you and yet, it was more of an idea of a temple. Gates that were unfinished, a bridge without railings over what would one day be a pond. A monk passed us but didn’t say a word and later, we heard chanting from one of the buildings. Otherwise, we were alone but even if we weren’t, it would’ve been hard to see any other people. Incredibly surreal. P1140547 P1140551

The next morning though, before our ferry back, a walk along the western side of the coast—all fishing boats and repair yards. One road ended at a gate for a company but a man told us to go in where we saw machines that moved blocks of ice on conveyer belts above our heads and smashed them before dumping them into the ship’s hold. A perpendicular path took us through a vast space filled with long green fishing nets; the road then continued over swamp and towards towns nestled by the mountains. P1140559

Several new artists have arrived in the last month within a very diverse range of fields: architecture, music, sculpture, literature, graphic design, ceramics. We held an art talk for ourselves and it was fascinating to hear about everyone’s projects! Only wish I had more time to think about collaborations but now I’ve been here the longest out of everyone. I’m currently reading Shubnum’s novel, Onion Tears—really engrossing and a fun read, the setting so different from what I’m used to reading since it’s about an Indian family in South Africa. And can I say that I’m just a little bit in love with Ai’s photo collages? Oh and since we’re on the subject of artistic work, my friend Nathan (a fellow Hangzhou Fulbrighter from 2012) is working on a documentary about competitive yoga! I hadn’t even known the sport existed but it sounds pretty fascinating—here’s the concept: “Posture: The World of Competitive Yoga,” explores the many controversies, lawsuits, and failed petitions for yoga to be recognized as an Olympic sport. The story follows several competitive yogis as they train towards the 2016 USA Yoga Federation’s National Tournament. This shit is about to get zen!” It comes out this winter. Check out their website and facebook page.

It’s pretty bittersweet now that my time here is coming to a close soon. I’ve loved meeting so many talented people (and learned a little bit about visual art, I think) but it’s been a bit hard watching people come and go since some only stay three months. And they’re scattered all over the globe! From Brazil to Germany to Serbia to Indonesia. But I’ve got a lot to keep me busy this last month: working on my “trace” to leave behind for the residency, visits to my relatives and my family’s hometown, and arts events. Plus, I’ll be participating in a few events in Suzhou for the Bookworm Literary Festival! I haven’t gotten much information about what I’ll be doing quite yet but will post once it’s all confirmed.

Oh, and here’s a photo of one crazy foggy day (not pollution!): P1140540

Europe Part I: London & Paris

London

In London, bees are allowed inside pastry display cases to taste the wares. Would you like a bee with your cinnamon roll? Here, take three. D names the birds for us in Regents Park—wood pigeons, coots, moorhens.We climb up to sit in front of bronze lions in Trafalgar Square but cannot climb onto their slick backs. The double decker buses make you feel as though you’re running over just about everyone. B+D bring us to Chinatown for bubble tea and jianbing as though we were in China and not London after a more traditional meal of fish and chips where I decide I like ijl’s haddock better than my cod and the tartar sauce is surprisingly sweet. And a nighttime view of Big Ben and Parliament. And clouds with a heartbeat within Covent Garden. P1130060 P1130052 P1130059

The next day, by the London Eye, the most aggressive street performer ever with a bullhorn and a request not to leave until after the finale. And a 5 pound charge, of course. We explore the British Museum and Tate Modern, always free. Cranes crown the skyline of London—I count fifteen then stop because there are still more. After walking over Tower Bridge and past the Tower of London, touts on Brick Lane beckoned us for dinner, ask if we’re hungry. The true answer is yes. The correct answer is probably no. But we say yes anyway and we’re led into, not the restaurant we said yes to, but to another, connected through passageways between dining room and down the stairs where we listen to bankers discussing their salaries which, surprisingly, are lower than we’d expected unless we heard wrong. We get thalis, one vegetarian and one not. The chicken tikka is the best, in my opinion, along with the lamb curry. Ijl likes the tikka masala which is different from ones I’ve had in the states but maybe too creamy for my taste. P1130067 P1130073 P1130077 P1130079

Then there’s brunch with B+D the next morning and a walk along Little Venice, small canals lined with houseboats. Most carry sticks and broken panels of wood, perhaps to heat the boats during the winter? Atop some are full gardens and bicycles lying upon their sides. Then Portobello Road Market with a crush of people buying pina coladas in pineapples and supposedly, antiques as well. And a quick ride to St. Pancras Station for our Eurostar train to Paris. P1130081

Paris

We stay in an adorable studio on Place d’Aligre in the 12th Arrondissement, a street that curves around a plaza so it is easily recognizable on a map. Our first night, we get crepes at Les Embruns, made of buckwheat, and the crème brulee I get is full of vanilla flavor but the sugar top isn’t crispy the way I like. In the morning, a market starts up with antiques vendors in the plaza and fruit & vegetable sellers on the streets. I get a pint of tiny Charlotte strawberries to go with our chocolate croissants, sweet and just right for 1.5 euros. We start out late but wander through the gardens by the Louvre up to the Grand Palais where they’re holding a fine art & design fair. Pay our 10 euros and enter the glass canopied venue with stalls and stalls of furniture, glass, jewelry, and other forms of art from around the world. P1130088 IMG_20150913_084958

It’s a stormy day but thankfully, our host lent us an umbrella of rainbows to take with us to see the cathedral at Notre Dame. Along the way, there are gold covered statues atop buildings and bridges, ornate in a way you don’t see in the U.S., like the temples in Thailand covered with gold leaf. The cathedral is beautiful, of course, but crowded. It’ll be a pattern here in Europe, these beautiful, crowded cathedrals and basilicas. We take the bridge over to the smaller island on the Seine, ĂŽle Saint-Louis, for ice cream at Berthillon where the flavors are so vibrant, it seems more like gelato than ice cream. What flavors? Pear & mango & ground peach.
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For dinner, Le Trumilou for duck confit & chicken in a tarragon sauce. A bottle of red wine. I order the charcuterie for my appetizer which turns out to be a bit of a mistake—all patés, one of which has a very jelly-like texture. The duck confit comes with potatoes that are perfect, so crispy and smelling of herbs. IMG_20150913_181012 IMG_20150913_181006 We leave the umbrella by accident and ijl has to go back to get it. And we learn that Brooklyn has followed us to Paris. IMG_20150913_193212

And then there is the Louvre. We take the lesser known entrance by the subway & mall yet there’s still a long line that snakes through the mall. I ask a Chinese tourist in Mandarin whether it’s the line to buy tickets. Funny how it feels more natural to ask a Chinese tourist than a local but my high school French is pretty lacking. We spend hours at the Louvre, watch other tourists take photos of the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo, see the tablet with the code of Hammurabi engraved upon it, go through the sculpture gardens for cherubs force-feeding goats in exquisite detail. Wander through its foundations as a fortress and go through its ostentatious rooms of Napoleon III and Louis XIV. In the Islamic art section, there are models of art for the blind that you can touch. Museums make me want to touch everything because you’re not allowed to touch anything. P1130096 P1130095

We take out bikes through the Velib bike share system and ride them all the way to the Eiffel Tower. The Eiffel Tower only has one area open with a long line and when we get to the front, we’re told that it was only for the lift. The cashier on the other side for the stairs had only just opened while we were waiting but our cashier takes pity on us and lets them know that we’re coming through. The stairs aren’t too difficult actually; we take them up to the 2nd floor before we take the lift up. On the way, we see the lift with its pseudo elevator beneath it holding a fake conductor on the side. Very odd. We are on the topmost level of the Eiffel Tower as twilight blends into night. The wind howls on one side so we go around to the other, pointing out the landmarks we’d seen. P1130130

In the morning, we bike around the Sorbonne and get macarons at Pierre HermĂ©. I lose my sunglasses while leaping over a curb (we ride dangerously) but otherwise, the bicycling is wonderful compared to NYC. There are bike lanes everywhere and drivers notice bicyclists. Better than taking the subway which, although the trains seemed quick and efficient, the stations smelled of urine. Then it’s off to Geneva!

The strandbeests at the end of the world

Underground, I saw a balloon sailing away along the subway tracks, chest height, lifted by an invisible river. It was a dirty grey, smudged with streaks and had probably seen many subway tunnels in its time. It disappeared through the tunnel and the 4 train came right behind it.

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Near work, in Central Park, the hawks circled the sky and shrieked again and again like a call and response. Mr. Bubbles, as R the doorman calls him, doesn’t even notice, he’s too busy arguing with a Parks staff member who doesn’t like his gallon jug of water. R tells me that Mr. Bubbles, on a good day, makes $300 a day, which isn’t bad for a man who spends the daylight hours making giant bubbles for tourists, but probably significantly less than the man who started The Gazillion Bubble Show (P.S. Trust me, don’t see it. I made that mistake when I was young and naĂŻve and my friends and I thought it was a play.)

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The grapes are growing well in Astoria. I wonder if they’re for wine. I think all the apricots have fallen and the persimmons don’t come out till fall. One house, with its profusion of flowers, never ceases to astound me. It’s a yard of abundance, almost unseemly in its variety and quantity.   IMG_20150603_135925 IMG_20150828_092006

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In the subway car, I saw sky in the window of the car in front, as we were making a turn. A bright blue with white clouds. We were underground; the sky never reached my train car.

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The skies threatened rain during my trip to Cambridge & Ipswich. On the way there, the traffic moving slowly, JB left the car to grab us apple cider donuts from the orchard and sprinted to meet our car which had gained some distance. They were warm and doughy with just the slightest hint of crunch, no sugar coating the outside.

The strandbeests, vastly overwhelmed by the number of people gathered to see them, struggled up the sandy beach with prodding from their handlers. There were two. They moved up slowly, stopped, moved again. And then were dragged backward to repeat the process.

We were told to stay behind the cone. Then a staff member drew a line in the sand, significantly ahead of the cone. Stay behind the line, she said. We moved forward. She drew another line in the sand. Now stay behind this one. And then it was the cone again. It was like a game. But some didn’t follow the rules. Men with toolboxes who just stood there. A woman who was “with him.” The strandbeests toiled up again. Then their sails were folded up and they walked, a slow procession with thousands trailing around, to the other side of the beach and unfurled even more sails.  
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Afterwards, a line of cars to exit that simply didn’t move. Fifteen year old boys to guide everyone out. Folks walking miles into town or perhaps to cars that weren’t trapped in the lot. One woman walking along the side of the road looked as though she would collapse from exhaustion. It was like the end of the world.

Back in Cambridge, we sported our strandbeest tattoos while eating hell fries and huge fried chicken sandwiches. Ice cream eaten right in front of Toscanini’s. Pinochle played in the evening and a half-shaven cat for company. Donuts the next morning in Union Square and a walk up to a tower. Later, over the Mass Ave bridge because I’d forgotten which bridge led to Beacon Hill but the smoots are more scenic anyway. The Boston Public Library as beautiful as ever although the walk back blinded us with a hard drizzle, the Cambridge side of the river a ghost city. P1130019 P1130025 P1130026

Good Ghosts

Things have been pretty crazy here in New York. There have been birthdays and trip planning and future planning and everyday planning like “How do I see my doctor if they decide to go on vacation for several weeks right as I get an ear infection?” July & August: the months when you need to get things done but can’t because everyone’s on vacation. IMG_20150813_192553

So, to catch up, here’s a list of everything.

1) David Wax Museum was a lot of fun to listen to and watch when they played last month at a free show in the enclosed parking lot of City Winery. Suz played the donkey jawbone a time or two (one of its teeth popped out!) and there were plenty of new songs I hadn’t heard before! Crazy to think that it’s been four years since I met them when they came to check out my apartment sublet in Amherst.

2) The Chinese consulate. Nervewracking but not as bad as I expected (judging from the terrible yelp reviews) but hey, those yelp reviews were super helpful in filling out the paperwork. You wait in line outside the building, turn off your cell phone, go through the metal detectors, get your number, and wait for the board to read out your number and tell you which window to go to. Quite civilized, actually. I was a bit nervous when the consulate clerk asked me to explain and write out the topic of my writing since I’d put my employment as Writer. It’s a good thing that folktales aren’t politically sensitive! I’d show you a photo but you know, that kind of thing isn’t allowed. Consulates are serious business.

3) Trip planning because…I’m going to Europe for several weeks next month! And then heading to Shanghai on my residency! I’ve been preparing by eating chocolate croissants and using Duolingo to brush up on all this French that I don’t remember learning back in high school. How did I get As if so much of the grammar seems completely new to me? Unfortunately, trip prep also means trying to get all sorts of medical things done when all the doctors want to go on vacation. But that also leads to…

4) NY bucket list activities! Sri Lankan buffet in Staten Island? Check. Kayaking through the canals of Oakdale, complete with white herons fishing beside us? Check. Bronx Zoo where a lion roared at us five times and we saw an adorable red panda? Check. Lunch at the almighty Googley? Check. (Thanks, T! Thanks, Googley! I quite liked those potato pancakes and the beef- was it pot roast?) Eat a Chickenshack sandwich from Shake Shack? Check and it was alright but nothing too special. Hiking with friends+dog upstate? Check (P.S. don’t let your friends carry two gallons and two liters of water because that is INSANE.) I’ve still got a bunch of things on this yet-to-be written down bucket list like go see Catherine Lan’s exhibit at the Queens Museum, go to the Queens Night Market, win the Hamilton lottery, and eat at every place I’ve ever dreamed of eating at. I’m looking at you, Tortilleria Nixtamal+Ice & Vice+the one and only Arepa Lady! IMG_20150815_124343 IMG_20150807_154536

Also, this doesn’t take place in NYC, but I am so so so excited to see Theo Jansen’s Strandbeests in Massachusetts next weekend! So cool. And it’s a good excuse to bring me back to that area and binge on Toscanini’s ice cream which is only the best ice cream in the world. B^3 for the win.

5) And then there was last week where it seemed as though everyone I’d ever known were suddenly either coming to NYC or facebooking me out of the blue. Okay, that’s an exaggeration but I was contacted by two friends I hadn’t talked to in at least 5 years, one of them probably closer to 10 years. And then I went to see the Furious Girl Tour which consisted of three poets I went to grad school with and it was quite furious indeed. Then my landlord+lady (ha) from 2012 was in town and we got lunch at Ayada Thai—it was really tremendously nice to see them and catch up. Many ghosts but they were good ghosts; in general, I’m mostly pretty happy to meet up with people I haven’t seen in a while. So if you’re a good ghost, you can contact me and I’ll probably get a muffin with you. Or force you to watch some free dance shows.

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Oh and 6) My story, “Westward, Ever Westward” is coming out in Okey-Panky next Monday! It’s short and sweet; I guarantee you’ll like it or your money back.