with Hsinyu Lin
Hsinyu Lin’s feminist practice is inseparable from their art practices. They were raised by a single mother and as a child, they were surrounded by single women of all types - widows, gamblers, maids, mistresses, businesswomen, hustlers, outcasts. From these encounters they observed both the resilience and the imprisonment of womanhood under patriarchy. This experience eventually lead them to organize voidLab, an intersectional feminist collective for women, non-binary, gender-nonconforming, trans and queer people to express individual identities through arts and technologies. Their work had been exhibited at the Hammer Museum, IndieCade Festival, and Gene Siskel Film Center. They currently teaches media art at Loyola Marymount University.
Chelly Jin: Thank you so much for coming by the way. We're at the Broad Art Center at UCLA, which is the beginning of a lot of things for you as far as your graduate experience but also the start of voidLab. So, how would you describe voidLab to others and how did you get it started?
Hsinyu Lin: voidlab is an intersectional feminist collective for women, non-binary, gender non-conforming, queer, and trans people to express individual identities through arts and technologies. We organize talks, workshops, and exhibitions that is critical of dominant or pervasive technologies. I started it out of necessity. When I entered grad school I found myself surrounded by a kind of attitude that puts technical mastery on a pedestal. That isn't really my interest so I wanted to create a community where I can find like-minded people to reflect on critical issues in technology.
CJ: Has the aspect of community been crucial to your overall art practice?
HL: I think it's extremely valuable because it became a really safe and nourishing space for me to grow in the way I envisioned myself to grow. I learned a lot from other co-founders and also from running every event. We have to research, we have to read, and through constant conversations with folks from different backgrounds we naturally got deep into intersectional feminism. Without voidLab, I would never have the kind of perspective I have right now and I wouldn't really know how to engage with these issues in a deeper way. I would say community really makes me feel very grounded in my practice - the confidence to make visual artwork that is different from what I would make if I was doing it alone.
CJ: Awesome! I guess we talked your current practice in the context of community. I'm just curious: so how would you describe your experience with code?
HL: I think it was an obstacle for me in the beginning because people in my immediate surrounding were already good at it so it wasn't only about learning technical skills, it was also about learning the culture of coding, or the kind of expectation that comes along with coding that is extremely different from my past experiences. I came from film, video, and performance background. My creative process has always been improvisational rather than starting with a clear plan and this new way of making was startling to me. It took a lot of unlearning and re-inventing of habits.
CJ: Has your identity shaped your personal experience with your art. Do you think identity informs your art?
HL: Extremely. There are two aspects: in terms of my community organizing work, I struggled when I attended the middle school in Taiwan where learning was highly standardized. I had a hard time integrating into the school system but it's because of this experience I kind of always observed school and observed the system as an outsider. That actually helped me in terms of thinking about community or have a motivation for creating communities. I'm starting a new community right now called The School of Otherness. We are currently developing ways to create curriculums that reflect multi-linear histories; containers that preserve experiences of the marginalized folks.
The School of Otherness Diagram provided by Hsinyu Lin.
In terms of my visual artwork, I grew up in a really industrial part of Taipei. My mom owned an electronic manufacturing company so I hung out at factories a lot. I would play with tiny electronic parts and watch people soldering. I related to the workers as if they were my aunties and uncles. My relationship to aesthetic was established from that environment. Certain images that would be defined by the American consumer culture as kitschy or campy wasn’t kitschy or campy at all in the context I grew up in. It was just the normal everyday reality. Actually some of those images hold a lot of meaning to me because I stood close to the physical and emotional labor that went into them. During grad school, I experimented with creating images that are more polished and more reflective of American consumerism, but I don't feel like there was much of an emotional entry in those images for me. Even when I'm making work that talks about the future I always tend to lean towards aesthetics that surround the workers. I’m more interested in speculating what their future look like.
Screenshot of Morphology (2016) by Hsinyu Lin
Screenshot of Gravitation (2016) by Hsinyu Lin
CJ: So, my project is about seeking people of color and especially the Asian women and gender non-conforming individuals, so it speaks a lot about intersectional issues. Where do you see intersectional feminism playing a role in code, tech or art in the future?
HL: I don’t feel like the goal is too different from what needs to be done in art history. Collectively, the society needs to start being able to appreciate work that looks unfamiliar or doesn’t have an easy entry because art history has taught us to understand this one lineage of seeing and thinking really well. Some artists who have marginalized identities are able to fit into the grand conversation, but some other artists with a very different set of experiences may produce work that looks and feels unfamiliar. The method to engage with the work becomes ambiguous because it doesn't fit into the mainstream art history. I think it's really crucial to represent underrepresented voices but it’s not enough to do it on our own. We need help from curators, organizers, and art critics to leverage the imbalance and inspire critical conversations. I think that's important so viewers not only look at the work but also get to talk about it through an intersectional perspective. It is challenging because it's almost like presenting a new form of knowledge that takes time to sunk in. I think developing communication skills plays a big part in this. How can we reflect on this unfamiliar work in a way that is going to communicate our messages? How can we continue the movement by creating solidarity between the artists?
CJ: Any last thing that you want to say?
HL: There's something that’s on my mind recently. I interact with a lot of international students who speak English as their second language. In classrooms they would use certain adjectives or description to talk about their work, and at times I’d see the work getting misinterpreted or overlooked because certain points they're talking about get lost in translation. I think that as a community we need to spend a lot more time listening and asking questions. Because we didn't grow up in the same culture so there's actually no immediate way for us to align our symbols and metaphors. Ignoring this is a form of language and cultural violence.