By Lisa Williamson
Chen Wang is a recent graduate of the Rochester Institute of Technology (MFA 2018 in Photography and Related Media) and a current Artist-in-Residence at Crosstown Arts in Memphis, Tennessee. Wang is steadily growing her national and international success with exhibitions and screenings throughout the United States (Wisconsin, New York and California) as well as Sweden, Greece, England and Venezuela.
Wang’s work is a cross-cultural commentary on sexuality and identity that invites the audience to join her exploration. Taking a seat on a virtual roller coaster, the audience is in a runaway car undulating over hills and hovering over heavily collaged amusement park rides that blur the lines between two and three dimensions.
Lisa Williamson: You are here at Crosstown to finish your piece Sin Park. In just the four-and-a-half minutes I’ve seen, my stomach is still doing somersaults.
Chen Wang: Oh good! I want the audience to feel that this is a place of struggle. This is my struggle; Sin Park relates to my identity. I’m from Hohhot (Inner Mongolia, China), and I didn’t know anything about different expressions of sexuality until I came to Beijing when I was 17 or 18. My family is very conservative, very traditional. There is no way for females to talk about sexuality with their family or with the public. Living here for 8 years is really different. Nontraditional lifestyles are not a big deal; you can be whatever you want. Sin Park is the physical and mental change I’m experiencing while transitioning between two cultures. I am a different person here, and when I go back to China I will have to perform as a traditional female.
That IS a roller coaster. It induces a lot of anxiety just hearing you talk about your awakening and subsequent struggle.
Sin Park is a human hell. The theme park seems like an amusement park, a fantasy of pink neon landscape. It has the illusion of enjoyment and happiness, but if you look at the faces the drawings are rough and the faces are bloody. The structures are overwhelming. For me, it’s creating my world and expressing my wishes while illustrating my current situation.
How has the inclusion of video as another medium pushed your other disciplines?
I was doing performance while I was in painting and seeing how video could be incorporated. I like that I can do the costumes, drawing and performance with one medium, and the medium can express all my ideas efficiently. I look at the costumes as extensions of my drawings and try to incorporate them subliminally. I am also extending the video around two more walls and including sculpture so the audience is participating in the work.
Tell me more about the costumes. You display them on the wall for the installation, but they appear in your videos gyrating with exposed sexual organs.
The costumes are about cuteness and violence. I use yarn instead of fabric to give the illusion of childhood innocence, like a fluffy toy. The sex organs are meant to create a new understanding of gender and sexuality. I haven’t decided yet whether they will interact with the audience or not, since that changes the work and I want to leave the magic.
You are doing very brave things in your work. What does your family say?
Thank you, but I don’t think I am very brave. My family is very proud of me, very supportive. For Rabbit Hole they helped me sew the dolls for the installation. It’s hard for me to talk to them about what my work is about, so when they ask me I say something like, “it’s about mass media.”