Have you touched a stone so soft that you knew it was human? In De Anima, Aristotle compares the soul to wax, as a malleable material capable of holding the impressions of all that we experience. Paper does something similar. Papermakers refer to this quality as paper’s memory. Like skin, paper remembers the way it was born and what happens to it while it lives. Even in death, it stands as a testament to its own demise. The questions that compel me to make paper, are the ones that seem, to me, to be the most fundamentally human.
I was born on a snowy, January morning in Hefei, China. My grandparents raised me. I used to recite poems I memorized, out loud on their terrace. Sometimes I would eat the flowers my grandfather meticulously planted and cared for. I’m sure that this is somehow a metaphor, but I’m not sure what it means. Just like I don’t know what I mean when I say I have met God. Just as I don’t know what I mean when I say “I know”. I immigrated to North Dakota, with my mother, when I was ten years old. I cried the first time I ate pizza.
Since 2015, I have been traveling to different and often distinct locations across the United States to create site-responsive, monumental paper-works. In this nomadic practice, Tibetan and Japanese papermaking coalesces with feminist rituals and fluxist performances. Each sheet of paper begins outdoors, with the inner bark of the mulberry tree, the sun, water, pigment, my hair, as well as foliage and dust collected on-site.
These inquiries have received institutional support from MacDowell, Yaddo, Foundation for Contemporary Arts, National Endowment for the Arts, Real Art Ways, Morgan Art of Papermaking Conservatory & Educational Foundation, Vermont Studio Center, Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University, Connecticut Office for the Arts, and the Edward C. and Ann T. Roberts foundation. None of that matters. The most important thing is that I went to graduate school at University of Georgia. I did it because otherwise I would have been deported. It was a complicated, painful time. However, I learned how to make paper from an artist named Eileen Wallace.
I’m almost thirty-one now. I write this from a living room in Cleveland. I still haven’t found what I’m looking. Sometimes it makes me sad that I haven’t found it, and sometimes I hope that we never find it. There is a tuxedo kitty here. She has big eyes and she often chirps. I am writing of this because life and art are not separable entities. Both take on the shape of whatever holds it. In a canal, the river momentarily becomes the canal and yet, in the next instant, it rushes out to sea. Is anything distinct from anything else? After all, how does one fall in love, and how else can the moon pull on the sea?
“As above, so below” is a phrase once used in esoteric alchemy and astrology. It refers to the idea that earth is the mirror image of God, or the astral plane. In numerous cultures, landscape is seen as an extension of a magical being’s body. In Chinese mythology, Pangu is a giant asleep inside an egg. When he wakes up, he swings his axe to create the sky and the earth. He holds up the sky for eighteen thousand years, pushing it away from land a few meters each day. After he dies, his breath becomes the wind and clouds; his voice, thunder; his left eye, the sun. What is, then, the relationship between horizontal movement, which manifests as a single swing of an axe, and vertical ascendance, which symbolizes the axis of spiritual ascendance?
Landscape, in the story of Pangu, is an emerging organism, one that simultaneously lives and dies. In my practice, material and process act as poetic metaphors for – and rigorous exercises in – philosophical concerns surrounding change. I am interested in the formation and dissolution of personal landscapes in contemporary settings. The conditions under which these fluctuations take place are riveting; they include ritual, myth, birth, death, migration, meteorological events, and the temporal parameters of human perception. In my work, I consider the symbolic qualities of land and of the act of navigation.
Recent wall-based compositions hover between body and landscape, in that both are necessary to their becoming. However, they are not illusionistic renderings. Instead, they exist as oblique, abstract monuments. They reference Chinese paintings, where man is depicted minimally, if at all. Scale is about the disappearance of bodies, that of my own, while creating the work, as well as of the viewers’, as they encounter these pieces. The compositions ask us: What is a body? What is a woman’s body and what is a migratory body? Where did we come from, and where do we belong? However futile these efforts may be, they are are genuine attempts to harness the momentary, such as the passing of a single hour, to allude to the eternal, like the dissolve of dusk into night.
Essentially, we must die alone. Simultaneously, we must shut our eyes on a world that seethes with agency and possibility, most of which do not belong to us and we cannot even begin to fathom. Therefore:
Art as ego-death.
Art as object-death.
Art as image-death.
Art as performance-death.
Art as spectacle-death.
Art as experience-death.
Art as knowledge-death.
Art as necessity.
Art as gravity.
Art as attention.
Art as labor.
Art as passage.
Art as vessel.
Art as void.
-Hong Hong, Ohio, October, 2019