Category Archives: Art

QR code takeover (+ an interview)

In Shanghai, even the small stands that make breakfast on the street take mobile payment. What a change from the last time I was there, in early 2016; I feel old-fashioned paying with cash for my 1.5 rmb 油条 breakfast. There are tons of orange and yellow bicycles (two different companies) parked helter-skelter because there’s no need for docking stations—if you’ve got a phone and a data plan, you’re good to go. I’ve got a phone but no data so I walk, but it’s nice to see so many people cycling even if the bicycles take up most of the sidewalk.

One day during my short visit, early in the morning, I saw regular folks lined up to enter a huge mansion across the street from where L lives. Must be something cool going on, I thought. We looked it up: A restoration of a 1900s garden villa by Prada that used to be owned by an entrepreneur of textiles named Rong Zhai. We went early in the morning on a weekend—the wait time quoted was about 1.5 to 2 hours but we waited about 50 minutes before we could get in. The Art Deco stained glass were incredible—I loved the ships. It was interesting to note the difference between old and new though. The layout of the building was fascinating, with stairs everywhere, even on the same landing. Also, apparently Prada’s next season involves a lot of knee-high sports socks with dress shoes so get ready!
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Another day, I went to a talk at NYU Shanghai by the historian Valerie Deacon who was researching British and American air crew and their evasion training during WWII in case they were shot down over Germany-controlled France. The British were told to remember the correct side of the street to walk/bike/drive on; the Americans were told not to chew bubble gum. It’s funny to think that would be the giveaway for an American! Also, the training manual told them to get a bike if possible even though they’re rare but don’t steal them since that’d draw attention, ha. I’d love to read her research once she’s done but she’s only just starting this new project.

Besides that, it was all walking around old neighborhoods and seeing how they’d changed and eating a lot of great food like Chongqing style grilled fish. One area by Suzhou creek had a new development but plastered on the windows were posters decrying the developer/landlord as scammers. It’s sad that it’s not more uncommon. And my favorite little residential area in the middle of a bunch of demolished areas near Laoximen seems to be gone. I’d made a video of the area before and intended to do something with it—I still hope to. And I took a photo of G taking photos of hardware.

Today is Pepero Day here in South Korea. I have no one to exchange pepero sticks with so I guess I won’t become taller or thinner. (I think you have to exchange them? But I obviously don’t know anything about besides seeing the displays in front of all the convenience stores!) I did go to the Hongdae Free Market today to see what local artists are making. Pretty jewelry and cards and fabrics, mostly. Two portrait artists—one a more detailed anime style, the other more caricature-esque.

The other week I wandered around by Gyeogbokgung and passed by several different fairs/markets on the way to the Seoul Museum of Art. And managed to catch the changing of the guard at one of the smaller palaces, Deoksugung. Oh and I saw this butcher and his humongous side of cow.

Also, can I say that Korean-Chinese food is a whole different animal from Chinese food or Chinese-American food? It’s completely unrecognizable to me! Not bad, just different, like this version of jajangmyeon (noodles in black bean sauce). And I love these little crispy fish pastry snacks. And the freshly fried donuts…     

In non-Asia news, I stumbled across this little interview I did for Bennington Review with regards to A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration. Take a gander.

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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, Île 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 Hermé. 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!