Category Archives: Photography

Boundary/Waters

The talented artist Rita Leduc and I met a bit less than a year ago as roommates in Splake at Tofte Lake Center in Minnesota. Inspired by the amazing experience there (that water! that sky!), we collaborated on a visual art/nonfiction piece titled Boundary/Waters for Alastria Press. You can see/read it here!

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Snapshots of Iceland

On Snæfellsnes peninsula, at the Rauðfeldsgjá gorge, we passed a man carrying a gull to his chest, its wing splayed under his arm. The man was speaking to his friend, the gull was nibbling at his zipper. In the gorge itself, a narrow crack in the mountains with a stream tumbling through it, the corpses of gulls hidden behind boulders we had to scramble over. At the back of the gorge, a rope leading up but we didn’t trust the rain and our wet feet.

By Öndverdarnes, auks and black-backed gulls, kittiwakes and their tiny chicks nestled into the nooks of the cliffs. It’s a long winding gravel path there, through the mossy lava fields. The moss is incredible, so plush and thick that you can sink half a foot in without knowing what’s underneath. Let the other cars pass when you can; there’s an orange lighthouse in the distance and a sign to help you identify the birds you’ve been seeing. Arctic terns with their black heads and wings like a plane, fulmar with that amazing glide, barely flapping their wings as they circle around Hreggnasi (what a view, to see the way the lava flowed from the volcanoes, the craters around, the glacier, shy and hidden by clouds).
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Can I tell you about the volcanoes we drove up? The empty dirt road, the warning sign (this volcano is active, it erupted in 2000, please run if we text you), the soft lava dirt that threatened to sink our car. The snow on the side of Hekla we slid down so that our bodies ached with cold. Almost sunset at 11pm and how the clouds descended suddenly so that our path down was shrouded, the car tires rumbling over rocks we couldn’t see. On the way back, sheep being carried by truck toward the volcano (they are everywhere, these sheep, so it’s funny to think that some are carried to remote places to sit in the grass and eat). Then there was Snæfellsjökull. Our second try, finally a sunny day, we hiked through the snow to reach a lesser peak. Crevices in the ice deep enough to grab a leg if you weren’t careful. Before we reached the peak though, clouds had formed a ring around us as though trying to trap us.
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One night a calico farm cat joined us in our room. We’d opened the door to our room that led outside and the cat, seeing us, scampered over and spent a while purring happily in bed as we petted her. It was midnight and still light outside.

The colors of the sulfurous mud pots in Námaskarð. And the stink of it! So much more overwhelming than I thought it’d be but beautiful in the steam rising from the land, the bubbling heat, the streaks of yellow and green.
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Two pools, one in Hofsós, the other in Lýsuhóll. The first set on the edge of a hill, with a view out to sea. The second nicknamed the green lagoon and under the shadow of a mountain, with algae along the walls and floor of the pool so that you slipped easily and without any chemicals; I was told the algae was good for the skin. Both geothermally heated so that even with the rain, it was more comfortable than most pools here in the U.S. There were hot tubs, too, that were much more crowded than the pool—some of the locals, I think, didn’t even bother using the swimming pool at all.

IMG_20170718_122623IMG_20170718_114249IMG_20170713_224614The burgers and hot dogs were nothing to write home about but the best fish and chips are always from tiny little trucks in little towns without much else. Arnarstapi had the best and cheapest one and what is this potato seasoning that tastes a bit like cajun without the spice?

The most incredible hike in Skaftafell in Vatnajökull National Park. A narrow dirt path through flower-covered terrain, a view of forbidding mist-shrouded mountains in the distance like a fairy tale. There were birds that flew overhead, their wings thrumming like machinery as they swooshed past. Tiny field mice that sniff and put their paws on your sneakers. The glacier in the distance and then suddenly, it all opens up, the glacier right below with its striations and sharp edges, that intense blue that empties out into a glacial lake that feeds the rivers and streams running through and out and away.
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A Flock, a Siege, A Murmuration in Bennington Review!

Bennington Review’s 3rd issue: Threats is out now but you can read my story “A Flock, A Siege, A Murmuration” online on their website! I’m really happy the way this story turned out; it was inspired by the bird flu outbreak in China in 2013.

Also, who knew Governor’s Island was as nice as this?

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Red-spotted blackbirds, dragonflies hovering over lavender, urban vegetable gardens, chickens, biking for hours, hidden hammocks, hills, awesome playgrounds, perfect breezy weather, and a lovely view—what more could you ask for?

(Okay, the food selection could be better…!)

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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summer/fall

Just a quick post to say: Hello! I’m still alive! But I’m working on a new website which is one reason why I haven’t really been posting here.

Anyway, now it’s fall, and I haven’t even updated since summer! Summer was lovely but went by way too fast. There were trips to Long Island and one long trip to Costa Rica (again!) complete with car misadventures, iguana sightings, and many many beaches on the Pacific coast.img_20160719_135403 img_20160722_154307 img_20160722_075156 img_20160724_080730

There were bicycle rides to the beach and museum outings and readings. And at the beginning of September, a trip to the midwest for family, friends, the Minnesota State Fair, then the most wonderful one week residency a girl could ask for at Tofte Lake Center at Norm’s Fish Camp. Loons and bald eagles and the Milky Way and s’mores with new friends and kayaking on a crystal clear lake. It was truly magical. p1140985 p1160040

This autumn is turning out to be pretty packed, too, with a new job and several new pieces coming out in some literary journals I really admire. Also, hey, I’m an artist-in-residence in Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace program! With my own studio and everything! So I think my work goals of finishing this collection early next year is definitely doable. I’m even already thinking about my next big project…

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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The Bookworm Literary Festival!

For all those interested, I’ll be moderating the last event called “On the Wings of the Dragon” at The Bookworm Literary Festival in Suzhou this weekend. The focus is actually on Lieve Joris’ work–she’s one of Europe’s leading non-fiction writers and will be talking about her journeys between Africa and China. 6:30pm on March 26th at The Bookworm in Suzhou! Afterwards, I might do a short reading at the Festival Party. If you’re in the area, come check it out!

I only just got back from visiting relatives in other, more mountainous areas of China. It was rainy but I still managed to go hiking around a few mountains (so green and lush! Palm trees and tall grasses and along the way, fields of rapeseed flowers glowing yellow in the gloom.) I also ate tons of delicious food, from homemade dumplings to hotpot to sweet&sour fish to clam noodle soup. It was a pretty great time although I’m saving my more complicated thoughts from the trip for an essay but here are a few photos.IMG_20160322_131322~2P1140610P1140790IMG_20160321_151044~2

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

Those lakes, those mountains

Two years later, I’m back in China and although based in Shanghai this time, I went on a quick trip to Hangzhou, like I’d promised I would.P1130446

The mountains are as beautiful as ever as is West Lake, despite the rather terrible air pollution these last few days. I hadn’t realized how much I’d missed nature after being in Shanghai for 3 weeks. I’d forgotten how much I loved the juxtaposition of city/tea fields/small villages/mountains/lake so close together, the changes so rapid. On my second day, M and I walked up behind the tea museum into the tea fields and up some steps and suddenly we were on Jilong Mountain and from there, to Tian Ma Mountain then down a dirt path to a quiet temple. P1130501 P1130509 P1130515

The first day was for West Lake, up the western edge, with brides in red posing on walkways floating over the water. Then south and east for dinner at Wai Po Jia because the western side has mostly mountains and temples. P1130453 P1130448

In the morning, a walk from my hostel in Siyanjing (Four eyed well) through Manjuelong and up past caves, one dark and filled with the music of water, another lined with carved statues appearing from the stone. To Nan gao feng where I helped an old man take photos. Mosquitos ate me alive and I have been itching since.

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But there’s something about climbing the mountains in Hangzhou that is just so satisfying. You can keep on going until you want to stop—there is no set entrance or exit and I like to imagine taking a days-long hike over the mountains, one after another after another; I don’t want it to end. The mountainside is lush and there’s a tranquillity to it—in a touristy city, it feels like a respite. P1130470