To get everyone revved up for our upcoming Grand Opening Event, throughout this coming week we're going to be keeping you updated with interviews from our featured gallery and consignment artists! Todays Insights come from transient visual artist Catalina Ouyang.
1. How would you describe your personal practice? Where do you work best, what inspires you?
Temperamental. I'm still trying to figure out what my "personal practice" is, as of course many artists are. A year ago I was taking a very hands-off approach to making; I wanted everything printed from a computer, or fabricated by somebody else, or made from pre-bought items and parts: aluminum shelving units, frames, display stands. 6 months ago I was ready to swear off art and call myself a writer. Now I'm getting dirty carving shapes out of foam and MDF and painting with oils. I didn't paint with oils for about 3 years, I never thought I'd do it again. So you never know. I've gone through phases of my work being very invested in my cultural identity, and at other times less so. Right now I'm in a "very-invested" phase. Maybe it will last. I like big shiny cute things, and my work has occasionally been this, but not always. I also like intimate, poetic, subdued objects, but it can be hard to reconcile that with the big cute shinies. So, idk, I'm working it out.
2. What concepts are driving the work you will be showing at the gallery opening?
The works at Westminster are loose formal/conceptual departures from the visual work and writing I have been doing over the past half year. I've been thinking about blueness and blue eyes, and about the Chinese legend Journey to the West as a sort of bastard allegory for my own "journey to the west," or this westward (read: white-ward) desire I've had as a Chinese-American woman: a desire for whiteness in the self, a well as a sexual desire for whiteness. Journey to the West features this famous cast of 4 pilgrims who are traveling from China to India to retrieve Buddha's holy scriptures--the monkey king, a pig-man, a demon-warrior and their master, the monk Xuan Zang. But that folkltale is based on the actual historic pilgrimage of Xuan Zang, around 600 AD.
So I've been working with this avatar version of myself, kittytuna, that has bright blue eyes and a shaved head and the 6 "jieba" scars of a Shaolin monk: these are 6 dots that are burned into the scalp with incense, as an initiation rite to prove one's spiritual devotion. On the kittytuna I think of these as "unholy holes," perhaps gesturing toward an aborted/perverted understanding of self/belief system, that in one of the works (a small panel) become these 6 unholy mounds. The accompanying panel to that piece is a sort of shallow bathtub form. These two panels are the color 青 (qing,) which is the term that until recently the Chinese used interchangeably for both blue and green. And with these ideas of blueness/blue-indeterminacy (does blue exist to those who don't see it culturally?) I've also been thinking about the so-called blueness of water, and drowning, and Ophelia (see:Dead Woman in the Bathtub: Why Are We So Fascinated by ...), and the kittytuna as an Ophelia, drowning in the tub in a self-imposed white hysteria.
3. How do you feel about working in St. Louis?
It has its challenges, clearly, but I am grateful that space is cheap enough that I can afford a studio outside of my also-cheap apartment. I'm grateful for the small but tight community of artists and makers that exists here. I do not think that the Midwest and I have been or ever will be a right fit for each other--simply put, one of the few things I miss about New York is regularly seeing people who look like me and who get me and my work, without having to say or explain much, just from having had similar experiences growing up--but for now it's good. A lot of my best people are here.
4. What's your dessert of choice and why?
A few parts to this:
I like flan even though it only takes okay because it is an appealing bottom-heavy shape that dances when poked.
In China there is a dessert that is a cold sweet soup with dates and white 木耳 (mu-er, wood ear), a kind of fungus/mushroom. I always liked this soup, and the white wood ear is very beautiful, like some kind of coral or crystals.
When I was a child I had such a sweet tooth and disliked savory foods so much that my grandfather (who is from Shan Dong, the province in China where they make all the "flour foods" like buns and noodles and dumplings), would make special dumplings for me that had pure sugar filling. These were meant to serve as food but really they were horrid confections. I loved them.
Thanks Catalina! Everyone STAY TUNED for more Artist Insights!