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.