Postcard From…

Liyen Chong, Houston, Texas
Liyen Chong Worn on the Moon, from On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (2016), an Instagram live-feed performance in Houston and broadcast as part of the Auckland Art Fair Projects 2016.

Liyen Chong Worn on the Moon, from On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres (2016), an Instagram live-feed performance in Houston and broadcast as part of the Auckland Art Fair Projects 2016.

I learnt a while ago that, at any one time, as many as one in five New Zealanders are overseas – that’s one million of us trying to navigate work and life while holding familial and cultural bonds to this island nation. I’ve been living here in Houston, Texas for the last six months; it will be home for the foreseeable future and, almost inadvertently, I’ve joined the ranks of New Zealand artists who, after establishing themselves in their home country, have moved overseas, if only for a time.

Since 2012 less than half my time has been spent living in New Zealand. The rest has been taken up by residencies in South Korea and Indonesia, combined with travel in Asia, then onwards to Europe and now the United States. Whether encountering a Félix González-Torres in a subway station in Seoul, unpacking the complex politics behind the contemporary art being produced in Indonesia, or stumbling across a Michael Stevenson in an ethnological museum in the suburbs of Berlin, I realise I’m constantly trying to contextualise art from a New Zealand point of view.

Back when I was a painting student at Ilam, I recall hearing the late Ted Bracey, then head of the art school, mention there was a particularity of being taught art through reproductions in New Zealand. Indeed, the concepts I held in my mind of seminal artworks made elsewhere were so strong that even when I stood squarely in front of a Turner painting at the National Gallery in London years later, it was impossible for me to really be present with the work.

Since being overseas, I’ve been increasingly aware of my own reaction to the physical experience of colour. Whether it’s the intensity of a pure pigment sculpture by Yves Klein at the Menil Collection, or the ephemerality of atmospheric light in James Turrell’s Twilight Epiphany at Rice University (both easily accessible to the public here in Houston), I have been amazed at how little I have understood in the past of how colour, a key component in art, impacts us. In downtown Houston just the other day, I drove past what appeared to be a mass of bright red, blue and white flags held by a small group of demonstrators. What at first seemed to me to be a celebration of some sort, turned into a proclamation denying the legitimacy of grievances that the Black Lives Matter movement has sought to address. The bright colours that had caught my attention adorned Confederate flags, a symbol to many of slavery and white supremacy. In a flash, my emotions ran the gamut from curiosity into anger and then fear for my differently coloured body.

Perhaps it’s the strong UV light in New Zealand that washes and wears colours out, or the persistent trendiness of a palette of muted greys and blacks in New Zealand fashion, but I hadn’t reflected much on the importance of colour before. Or maybe I just needed to be challenged to experience life as an outsider to re-focus and explore what it is in art that is most important to me.

Appeared in
B.186
B.186

25 November 2016

Liyen Chong

Artist

Liyen Chong’s work can be found in prestigious public collections in both New Zealand and Australia. A McCahon House Residency alumni and a previous recipient of Asia New Zealand artist residencies, Chong is currently based in Houston, Texas and is always happy to meet fellow art people from New Zealand.


Related

Exhibition
Bad Hair Day

Bad Hair Day

Bad Hair Day investigates the wild and wonderful ways of hair through painting, printmaking, sculpture, photography and video. 

Collection
Flying Oblique
Liyen Chong Flying Oblique

Liyen Chong is perhaps best known for a series of embroideries she made using her own hair, one of which, I am Here and There (2007), is also held in our collection. She made Flying Oblique just after she had decided she would not make any more embroideries – and just before she had her hair shorn off completely. Named after a position in the Chinese martial art of Tai Chi, it suggests both Chong’s awareness of her outward appearance and a desire to move beyond it. Using a camera with a self-timed shutter, she has caught herself mid-swing, her long hair forming a sweeping curve that echoes several other circular elements she has placed around her studio.

(We do this, 12 May 2018 - 26 May 2019)

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Malmö is a good place to disappear. I came here in 2010 to attend the Art Academy. I remember watching the Academy’s director on YouTube describe how professors were not allowed to enter a student’s studio unless invited to do so. I would say that this is intimately tied to the ideological legacy Sweden is known for. I bring it up because it is something that still resonates with my life in Malmö, along with why I live here.

 

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Postcard From...

Postcard From...

When I arrived in New York in late 2014 I was told it’d be ten years before I’d qualify as a New Yorker and two years before I’d feel comfortable and start to enjoy the city. That sounds far-fetched but as my two-year anniversary approaches I’m tending to agree. It is a very special city, a lot of fun, but it can be difficult to pace oneself for the long game.

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I live in Vienna; what’s it good for? The general humour of the place starts with Schmäh (pronounced schmee), a happily nihilistic response to problems. For a long time, people here have been thinking about meaninglessness and the indifference of reality. An American professor who taught linguistics at the University wrote a paper on the topic. One nice thought related to Marie Antoinette, who the French think of as naïve and decadent—‘let them eat cake’. However, she was raised in Vienna and by most accounts was much more politically aware than her peers in Paris. When the pitchforks came the statement was not a naïve one, but a knowing resignation to the guillotine; perhaps the first historically recorded incidence of Schmäh.