Interview with Hana Zhang

ICP-Bard is pleased to announce the Thesis Show of Hana ( Yejiao) Zhang on March 19th, 2020.
Born and raised in Liaoning province, China, Hana Zhang came to America for her MFA study
for photography in 2018. Before she came here her interest was mainly photography. It was in
the open environment of New York City that Zhang started to explore with various media
including sculpture, video, installation, fiction and documentary film. Exposed in an extremely
different culture, Zhang realized how her experience of traditional education and the conventional social norms in China had shaped her. In her work, Zhang explores how social
environment, opinions of the “others” and the pursuit of ultimate perfection could shape each
individual’s life in a dramatic way.

  • Tell us about the title  “Tiny Little Visions”. What are the visions? And why tiny?

I’m thinking about the limitations of each individual, how you feel, how you see things. The experience is always limited. I chose this title because the main project that I’m showing is fiction that consists of little characters. I always think that they want to change their appearance because they can’t figure out something. I’m really intrigued by the limitations that I have, because how I see the world is always based on my personal experience.

  • What made you decide to be an artist? And how did you start your art practice?

I started as a photographer when i was in college, my major was english language and literature. In my third year in college I read a book called “what I talk about when I talk about running”, i suddenly realized i don’t need to be an english teacher. So i asked my parents if i can study abroad, they refused. I was really rebellious at that time, so I borrowed some money. And stopped going to school and I started a coffee shop, at the same time I started taking photos for friends, and freelancing. After i graduated i worked as a wedding photographer for several years while working in the cafe.wedding photography was not what i really wanted. I applied for ICP MFA. i started doing some projects in 2017 to prepare for my portfolio to apply. At the end of 2016, I quit my job and I went to the public library in Shanghai everyday and I studied art history and photography history. It was just reading and doing projects for the whole year of 2016.

  • How has your practice evolved since then? What are some significant factors that influence your work? Has the process of making art also changed your everyday life?

When I first started to make work, I thought art was a way of expressing myself. My first project is called a room of her own, where there are mostly self portraits of me dressed up as different female characters. Photography is not a powerful enough way, so I lost interest in photography. Because of my background in English literature, my mind still functions in narrative and language. It is not how photography works, there are a lot of symbols. So I started working on films and video, then I realized there is a lot of narrative and texts involved, so I shifted into video structure, fictions.

Significant factor:

The most significant factor is my daughter. Being a mother adds more layers to my life, sometimes i feel a lot of responsibilities, and im doubting myself very often. If I make a mistake, i can’t go back. The relationship with my daughter is irreversible.

Another factor is being a female. I used to really care about how people look at me and how my appearance represents me. I try to think about why i care so much about these things, why i don’t want others to think i am a typical asian/chinese girl. 

I’m making a documentary of my last semester at ICP. i was thinking about making this film because i was really frustrated with the third semester, and i was trying to anticipate how the experience would affect me being an artist, my later career in life, so i started filming my classmates when they prepare their shows, and interview them. And then a week before my show, it got postponed. Now i realized i can’t change anything besides constantly checking the news. I just installed my doll house before getting the email. I try to not make myself feel so bad, so i decided to use the camera to document the setbacks.

  • How was the making of “Calling the Flowers”? What was the most difficult thing during the process? Was there anything unexpected?

It was a very sudden decision. I had 2 video classes in my first semester, so i decided to do something video during the winter break. I used a 5d mark ii and a microphone, and I went back to my hometown to live with my aunt for 10 days. It’s a story of my rebellious aunt, she ran away when I was in primary school. One day her son was waiting outside my grandma’s apartment, and later he started staying everyday because my aunt disappeared. I didn’t know how to ask her, so i decided to make a movie to find out the truth. The process was not so awkward as my aunt really wanted someone to talk to. The most difficult thing is to find out something you didn’t want to know. When i was looking for something, my aunt started to talk about something else about my mom, and things when i was a kid. I remember there was one time I was filming, but she started talking about something I couldn’t take. During the stay, i couldn’t sleep.

“Coming out Party,” an Interview with Alex Remnick

Alex Remnick’s thesis show, Coming out Party, opens March 12. Alex uses a variety of media to explore issues of identity, body, and emergence. Just months ago, the artist came out publicly as queer; his recent work explores and abstracts the emotional process of questioning the way we define ourselves. These revelations also offer new context to earlier work on display, as the artist emerges from a series of hiding places and obfuscations. 

We chatted about the work before he installed the show this week. 

JY: Alex, when did you start your artistic practice and relationship with image making? 

AR: I was born in 1990 in New York city. I’ve grown up here most of my life. I went to college in Philadelphia, where I studied art with a concentration in photography. I’ve been taking classes at ICP since I was about 15. In college, I was juggling art and photojournalism; I worked at the college newspaper as a photo editor. When I graduated, I shot for a newspaper for about four years. Eventually I burned out, and moved into digital media; I didn’t pick up a camera for almost a year. Out of nowhere, I started shooting again. I was taking myself on these little road trips and revisiting projects and ideas that I had started at the newspaper.

JY: How has the program at ICP-Bard informed your idea about art making? How has your work evolved? 

AR:  The biggest thing that ICP did for me was reopen that door of permission. For years, I didn’t really know who I was making work for. Part of the reason I got interested in performance was because I had a professor that I admired whose practice was based in performance and who was enthusiastic about getting his students to enter that world. A lot of my early performance work I think I made to impress him.

When I came here, the lid just popped off. Performance offered me the opportunity to trust my instincts and be impulsive with what I was making. Now, the downside is that I have to go back later and find the cohesive narratives in what I’m doing. An idea comes to me that I find interesting or sort of intriguing, and because I’m in art school that is deeply permissive (in a good way), I’ll just go for it. But then I have to explain it later and I don’t always know. That process of interpretation can feel really arbitrary. Making my board book last year was all about looking back at six to nine months of disparate, impulsive works which were not intentionally connected, and trying to find a throughline. One of my classmates, Hana, mentioned that she kept noticing that I was trying to disappear or to hide. 

I’ve been using the term obfuscation; it manifests differently in different work. There’s a photograph that I took last year of me wearing one of those clay face masks. Outside of the context of everything else I did, it’s just me doing some self-care, but in the context, it becomes something else, an obfuscation, a way to hide.  

This year has all been about the opposite: emergence. Both in my work, my personal life, and public life, as a queer person. In terms of my willingness to show “myself” in the work. I’m still interested in that tension though, between wanting desperately to be seen, and never really fully revealing yourself. Is the act of wearing makeup a revelation or is it another form of hiding? There’s an image in the show where I’ve taken a coat hanger and pressed against my face. In a way it’s me putting something in between my face and the lens. But it also reveals something far more genuine than I could show if it was just me staring at the camera. 

JY: I’ve noticed that you made a lot of collage recently. How did you come to making collages? How did it come to take such an important role in your show? AR: Actually there were a couple of situations where I found myself collaging. One of the graduates from last year, Gen Fournier, hosted a zine making workshop during her solo show. I found that process really exciting. Then, a couple of months ago, Justine Kurland did a similar exercise in one of her classes, where she brought in a bunch of her old photo books, and invited us to cut them up.

In my first advisory meetings with Justine she said “you should figure out what you wanna do with yourself for the next month.” So the past few weeks I’ve just been diving into this new way of making work. I’m starting to find a consistent visual language.

I’m always trying to find a balance between working impulsively and pushing myself out of my comfort zone. Maybe I like collage is because it offers a new way to try to achieve that balance. You can work really instinctively, each piece of paper could just as easily go somewhere else. You’re trusting your lizard brain to put pieces where they should go. At the same time, finishing a collage is a really gradual process, so you also have to plan a bit for the end result.

JY: Right, collage is something you can do really instinctively and yet it still needs preparation. I am curious about the preparation part, where does the source material come from? Have you been collecting them? 

AR: They’re mostly from magazines and catalogs. It’s not a personal archive really. My sister likes to read magazines and tear at pages so I’ve been taking some from her and just sort of grabbing what’s around. One of my next challenges will be to figure out ways to make the source material matter as much as the images they create. The wall piece is starting to do that, because it’s so explicitly about bodies, but it’s also a reflection on what types of skin we see in media. 

JY: You’re also a musician. How has that factored into this show?

AR: Elements of sound design have started to creep into the work. Last year I made a couple pieces that involved electronic instruments that responded to touch. I have a piece in the upcoming show that’s partially a sound installation.

I’m also hosting a “music day” the Saturday of my show. I’m bringing in my studio monitors, a microphone, and my crappy MIDI keyboard, and I’m just going to work on music all day. Whoever comes through Saturday is invited to collaborate; we can record stuff, track stuff, etc. I thought it would be fun to show this other side of myself, and to try to break down this arbitrary barrier I’ve built between Alex the artist and Alex the musician.

JY: What are your next steps after school? 

AR: That’s a mean question.

The Vocabulary I Learned Today

mascot (n)

a person or thing that is supposed to bring good luck or that is used to symbolize a particular event or organization.

amulet (n)

an ornament or small piece of jewelry thought to give protection against evil, danger, or disease.

oxymoron (n)

a figure of speech in which apparently contradictory terms appear in conjunction (e.g. faith unfaithful kept him falsely true ).

empirical (adj)

based on, concerned with, or verifiable by observation or experience rather than theory or pure logic.

The spectator has no empirical knowledge of the contents of the off-frame, but at the same time cannot help imagining some off-frame, hallucinating it, dreaming the shape of this emptiness. 

convergent (adj)

coming closer together, especially in characteristics or ideas

Using these strikingly convergent analyses which I have freely summed up, I would say that the off-frame effect in photography results from a singular and definitive cutting off which figures castration and is figured by the “clicknof the shutter 

cleavage (n)

a sharp division; a split.
Freud considered fetishism the prototype of the cleavage of belief 

patriarchal (adj)

relating to or characteristic of a patriarch.

relating to or characteristic of a system of society or government controlled by men.

Psychoanalysis, as Raymond Bellour has often underscored, is contempo- rary in our Western history with the technological arts (such as cinema) and with the reign of the patriarchal, nuclear, bourgeois family 

Mutilate (v)

inflict a violent and disfiguring injury on.

Mutilated face of victim was left unretouched by the mortician at the mother’s request. She said she wanted ‘all the world’ to witness the atrocity.”

“Ewai”, An interview with Ewai Hunt

Steve: Hi ewai, tell me about the process in which you have arrived, if I may use the word “arrive”, to your exhibition “Ewai”

ewai: Originally, I was shooting fairly unoriginal deadpan black and white film. That was what I applied to the ICP one-year certificate with. But that course was effective in breaking down my practice, and by the end of it I was doing everything but go outside and point my camera at things. Performance became something I was very interested in. And that trend continued into the first year of the MFA. I was using my past in endurance racing as a way to try and access something of the moment of artistic creation. I tried various things out, and some of it seemed to be going somewhere interesting. Key for me is the ascetic process. It doesn’t have to hurt, but it requires effort and dedication as well as discipline. When I started down that road with performance it was in the repetition, or rules that I could then find a freedom for something else to happen. I could start to work things out. I’ve read a lot of shamanic texts and Buddhist writing, as well as some Zen. In my 20’s I was experimenting with a lot of these ideas. But then life took over and I just worked for 20 years. But I think perhaps that was useful as a gestation period. The other thing I was trying to do with my work in the one-year was starting to work with formalism. It wasn’t super-generative at the time, but it’s informed a lot of the feel of my work since then.

So then when I started to think about the solo show and thesis at the end of the first year and I had this urge to work with sticks. I couldn’t explain it at the time, but it was there, and I started to think about how that may look. Then on a whim I picked them up I Prospect Park over the summer. Then I just introduced them into the assignments throughout the 3rd term. I wasn’t particularly interested in what happened in those outcomes, but I was zeroing in on something. And by Christmas I just had a plan to go into the studio for a month and see where they took me. More interesting things were happening. I was trying to control as much as possible and then do little mini “performances” with them on the rig I had setup. I had gone back to medium format and each roll of 12 was in essence a performance, then I would reset. I did all kinds of things. Shaving the sticks, painting them, arranging them. I was doing what I had been doing in the earlier performances but this time I was repeating the whole process and so now I could actually keep moving forward where before it was kind of “one-and-done”. Then I hit the darkroom and essentially did the same thing. I was looking for an outcome that was on the verge of appearing and disappearing. Something very empty but with emotional content. When I really started thinking about it, I realised this urge to work with the sticks was linked to an early childhood memory, it took a while for me to even admit that to myself. Then I just kept working like this until the Untitled Series M063 happened – the M063 is the roll number. I knew when I had the last few images in the stop bath that I had got what I had been looking for. It took a lot of attention and repetition to get there but I’m very happy with the end result. It has all the elements I’ve been trying to bring together for 2 years.

Steve: Are there any artists that you have particularly looked at in order to arrive at this process?

ewai: Agnes Martin and Anne Truitt have been huge for me. They taught me how to bring the right level of attention to things. That was what allowed me to keep working with the sticks and listen to what they were trying to tell me. That also allowed me to start to spot any inauthenticity in my work or writing. Also, Allan Kaprow for the performance aspect. Rudolf Anrheim is worth a mention for the formalism stuff.

Steve: What is next for you?

ewai: I’m early in the process of writing my thesis. So I’m now in an input and analysis phase. I seem to have to work like that. Output can only happen for so long until I have to stop and think, and writing has become a useful tool in that process. I’ll get the thesis done then I’ll hopefully just start the cycle again with new eyes.

The Vocabulary I Learned Today

poignantly (adv)

in a way that evokes a keen sense of sadness or regret.

enunciation (n)

the way of articulating words clearly and distinctly according to the rules governing the language

Roland Barthes, whose Camera Lucida4bears witness to this relationship most poignantly. It is not only the book itself but also its position of enunciation which illustrates this kinship, since the work was written just after (and because of) the death of the mother, and just before the death of the writer. 

treacherously (adj)

guilty of or involving betrayal or deception.

Photography is the mirror, more faithful than any actual mirror, in which we witness at every age, our own aging. The actual mirror accompanies us through time, thoughtfully and treacherously; it changes with us, so that we appear not to change. 

castration (n)

the removal of the testicles of a male animal or man.

The fear of castration and its further consequence, its “fate,” are necessarily different, at least partially, in children whose body is similar to the mother’s. 

simile (n)

a figure of speech involving the comparison of one thing with another thing of a different kind, used to make a description more emphatic or vivid (e.g., as brave as a lion, crazy like a fox ).

Peter Wollen states this in an apt simile: photography preserves fragments of the past “like flies in amber.” 

perpetuate (v)

make (something, typically an undesirable situation or an unfounded belief) continue indefinitely.

Film is able to perpetuate the memory of dead persons, or of dead moments of their lives. 

libido (n)

sexual desire

verdict (n)

a decision on a disputed issue in a civil or criminal case or an inquest.

The compromise which normally concludes this inner struggle consists in transforming the very nature of the feeling for the object, in learning progressively to love this object as dead, instead of continuing to desire a living presence and ignoring the verdict of reality, hence prolonging the intensity of suffering. 

disavowal (n)

the denial of any responsibility or support for something; repudiation.

metonymically (adv)

a figure of speech consisting of the use of the name of one thing for that of another of which it is an attribute or with which it is associated (such as “crown” in “lands belonging to the crown”)

The Vocabulary I Learned Today

Jiu-jitsu

a self-defence system, martial art, and combat sport system that focuses on grappling with particular emphasis on ground fighting.

lexis (n)

the total stock of words in a language.

The lexis is the socialized unit of reading, of reception: in sculpture, the statue; in music, the “piece.”

pertain (v)

be appropriate, related, or applicable.

Another important difference pertains to the social use, or more exactly to their principal legitimated use.

confound (v)

cause surprise or confusion in (someone), especially by acting against their expectations.

Our culture still has a strong tendency to confound art with fiction.

kinship (n)

blood relationship

The kinship between film and collectivity, photography and privacy, remains alive and strong as a social myth, half true like all myths

keepsake (n)

a small item kept in memory of the person who gave it or originally owned it.

Photography very often primarily means souvenir, keepsake.

discrepancy (n)

a lack of compatibility or similarity between two or more facts.

contiguity (n)

the state of bordering or being in direct contact with something.

phonic (adj)

relating to speech sounds.

In the auditory sphere – totally absent in photography- cinema adds phonic sound (spoken words), nonphonic sound (sound effects, noises, and so forth), and musical sound.

stroboscopy

a special method of examination of a vibrating or fast moving object, such as the vocal folds. A bright flashing light lasting a fraction of a second (10µs) is used to illuminate the vocal folds. This flash ‘freezes’ the movement of the vibrating vocal folds.