I am in love with the Japan Meterological Society's Himawari satellites, as much as I can love any machine. They send breathtaking vignettes of the sky over East Asia back to earth. I've started translating what they capture into paintings: sky to satellite to earth to human to ink, water, paper.
From satellite footage taken February 11, 2018 at coordinates (-24.10612650282858, 100.79614620772449)
From satellite footage recorded February 7, 2018 at coordinates (40.44924648006949, 143.2731302742955)
From satellite footage taken February 14, 2018 at coordinates (-3.6395031297339315, 169.45694882898133)
This series translates stories from Chinese folklore and stories told to me by my mother, father, and grandmother into images that capture my slice of Asian-America in 2018.
Under the Honeysuckle
My parents both remember growing up without sugar because their families couldn't afford it. Dad caught bees with the other village kids and tore them apart, sucking honey from still-twitching bee bodies, savoring sweetness that came with a site of stings to the face. Mom scoffed when she heard this story. The girls, she said, went straight to the source, picking honeysuckle flowers from the vine, sipping on sweetness without worry, finding abundance in unexpected places.
I only remember details from Chinese fairytale about a cowherd who falls in love with a heavenly maiden. Once a year the lovers reunite by crossing a bridge of magpies across the stars. In many ways, migrating to a different place is a lot like walking over a bridge of birds in flight, thousands of miles above earth, hoping to see loved ones soon. Migration is beautiful. Migration is precarious.
To the future
There’s power in imagining ourselves in the future, which is why I create future portraits. I ask portrait participants to imagine sensory details about who they are at an exact point in the future. I help them try on many future selves: the goal is to envision a variety of future selves. I paint portraits of the ones they want to remember.
I've showed this work publicly – at Hole in the Sky's Freaky Future show in December 2017 and a workshop at Camp Yes in July 2017. Read more about this work.
A future vision from my first time travel participant, Alisha.
Present day Alisha.
Another Alisha, 2057
Xena, 2017 and Xena, 2057
Me, 2017. Also me, 2057. This future me stopped doing her brows decades ago, wears giant wooden power necklaces, and has kept her side shave for 45 years and counting. She divides her time between New York and Hong Kong, overseeing an arts residency that pairs young and old artists around the world. Her secret for aging gracefully is skinnydipping in the Atlantic.
Time travel workshop materials
Camp yes workshop
A scene from the time travel workshop I facilitated at Camp Yes, a summer camp for those who identify as women to heal and gain creative confidence. Workshop participants interviewed each other about their future selves, and wrote down stories and drew portraits of their partners’ future visions.
Drawing the past
My grandma is in her 80s. She was in her 50s the first time someone took a picture of her. I'll never know what she looked like when she was my age. But I can study her face when we video chat and pay attention to the way it echoes in mine. I used to wonder why Mama and Papa Ni say, "you have her mouth and his nose and so-and-so's forehead." I understand now. When you're separated by miles and time from where you are from, with no pictures to remind you, the closest and best thing you can do is to find the people you left behind in the faces of the people you brought with you.
With this project, I'm making the pictures that don't exist. Triangulating what my grandma and other family members looked like, from their memories, their family members' memories, what they look like now, and what I look like is a special kind of remembering. It feels like time travel with a pencil and paper.
Nai Nai, take 3
Nai Nai laughs when I press for details about her life. "Why all these questions? I had the same big head I do now. And two long pigtails, down my back." I saw her face light up when I was in China this January, touring an old silk factory. She showed the historical reenactor some of her old tricks for drawing silk threads from silkworm cocoons, and soon they were talking shop. How crazy that her craft is so rare nowadays that the only place she's found a colleague is a tourist site with reenactors? So here I am reconstructing a future-past, sitting face to face with who I imagine my grandma was at 27, learning to spin silk -- the art of coaxing improbably fine threads into coherence.
Nai Nai, take 4 - 6
Tai Tai, Take 1
Great grandma survived two wars, one violent regime change, and the cultural revolution. Photos of her did not. Neither did her qipaos. Through it all, she stayed movie star beautiful, proud as fuck, and queen bee mean. I channel her when I yell back at cat callers.
A collection of figure and still life drawings and paintings.
Colony Club, 2017
Charcoal on paper from Colony Club's figure drawing nights.
washington studio school
Oil on canvas from one sitting at Washington Studio School.
Figure from Drawing Night
Charcoal pencil on paper from a figure drawing night hosted by a friend.
Oil on canvas from two sittings at Washington Studio School.