with Wendy Tai
Chelly Jin: Feel free to describe yourself, maybe for individuals who may not be aware of your work.
Wendy Tai: I am an artist-educator currently residing in Hong Kong. I waver from making playful, interactive pieces, to introspective, 'serious' sculptures and installations. For the latter, I'm currently interested in exploring ideas of life and death within the context of modern day medical practice. My sculptures and installations tend to be more conceptual, where I contemplate the tension between the clinical and the human through the manipulation of clinical imagery, materia medica and natural elements. However, for this p5.js sketch, since it is my first time learning how to code, I approached it with more playful intentions in mind.
CJ: How would you describe your art practice?
WT: I used to make fun, interactive installations. However, the death of my mother affected me deeply, and led me to create calmer, more introspective pieces. I draw a lot of inspiration from the field of medical humanities, particularly in investigating the various alternative forms of 'healing', such as traditional Chinese medicine. I'm also influenced by the spiritualism in Buddhist and Taoist philosophies.
Peaks, 2015 from Wendy Tai.
Peaks, 2015 from Wendy Tai.
CJ: To talk about your work: “Peaks” (2015) is incredibly powerful visually, and especially more so with the story behind it. Did you want to say a couple words about the work, its creation, and conception?
WT: The path I take when I walk to work is lined with trees; one day, a lot of branches had fallen to the ground after a storm, and I thought the crooked lines looked like veins in the human body. I had also been meaning to create more pieces using salt as a medium, since the material holds so much historical meaning and is a vital element to biological life. Eventually, I envisioned a 'cardiographic' landscape of these various elements as a metaphor for our emotional interconnections.
CJ: Your work seems to create wonderful environments; what brought you to creating installation work as your main medium?
WT: I started as a illustrator and a painter. At some point, I wanted to go beyond the canvas and explore different media, so I shifted to sculpture and installation. I still draw, and recently I've returned to drawing for creative release... making an installation takes so much planning and sourcing for materials, and drawing is wonderful in that it is instantly gratifying.
CJ: How does your individual identity and background play a role in your art practice? Or does it?
WT: When I was still a college student, I made a lot of artwork that explored my cultural identity; I grew up in both Hong Kong and Canada, and there were times when I felt culturally confused. Making art about it helped resolve some of the confusion. However, I think now I'm more concerned with making art that expresses a philosophical view of life and death... and how one approaches, or manages, illness and death. That goes beyond any one particular cultural perspective. I don't mean to sound morbid, and I actually don't think my visuals are morbid either - I just think these are important questions, and I hope to address our attitude towards illness and death in a more open and mindful manner.
CJ: Do you think your experience in the art world was influenced by being an Asian woman? And how so?
WT: Only in the sense that I have a heightened awareness of race, gender and their implications on power, but that is not restricted to the art world as it applies to every aspect of life. I always notice the diversity (or lack of) of artists represented in a show. One time, a gallery director told me that before she met me, she saw images of my works online and thought they were by a male artist. That led me to think about how materials speak, how textiles are often considered to be more 'feminine' and stainless steel and glass more 'masculine'. Participating in this p5.js project is my first time being part of something that explicitly focuses on a particular racial or gender group.
CJ: Your bio states that you create interactive installations and work; what draws you to interactive mediums?
WT: I enjoy inciting a reaction from viewers; I'm also a fairly social person, so when a piece is interactive, it is a conversation starter.
Disabled Chairs, 2012 from Wendy Tai on Vimeo.
CJ: From what I understand, please correct me if I’m wrong, but this is one of your first times working with coding as a creative medium (specifically, using p5.js) — does coding bring a new meaning to interactive art to you?
WT: I've wanted to learn how to use Processing for years; I have Casey Reas and Daniel Shiffman's textbooks sitting on my shelf. But I never got around to learning properly because I learn better with someone teaching me in person, and I didn't have the discipline. So when I was invited to participate in this project, I thought it was a great opportunity to finally make some progress coding since there is now a deadline to meet! It's wonderful that I've received so much assistance from Chelly Jin as well, since I don't think I would have had the stamina to try to figure out everything on my own, so I thank her immensely for her guidance.
Having completed this sketch, I think coding has led me to rethink what 'interactivity' is; I enjoy that it can be easily accessed by anyone with an Internet connection; on the other hand, I miss interacting with a real person. As I mentioned earlier, I make interactive installations partly because I'm a social person and I like conversation; I miss out on that when I make an interactive digital piece.
CJ: Before the project started, you stated that you had always wanted to learn Processing but never got the chance. Where did the interest in code come from?
WT: When I first graduated from college, I worked as a Research Assistant at the School of Creative Media at City University of Hong Kong. SCM is heavily focused on new media, and I was introduced to the huge creative possibilities that coding can lead to. I was intrigued by coding's potential, but I didn't really know how to incorporate it into my own artistic practice. I think with this p5.js exercise, I have a better idea of what can be done.
Additionally, since space in Hong Kong is limited and hence expensive, making artwork on the computer seems to be a more 'practical' artistic medium to explore. That would solve the issue of where to store my artwork once I've made them!
CJ: To feed off the previous question and now with more code practice since then, how was your experience with coding as an fine artist? What were some moments that you might have found difficulty in coding and your experience in trying to push through them?
WT: There were many frustrating moments, haha. Trying to get the circles to behave as I wanted them to took a lot of tutorial-watching on Youtube, and even then I still couldn't figure it out. Maths is my weakness, and to have to explain, in numbers and functions, how I want something to look like is very counter-intuitive for me. I felt that I could have achieved much more just using analog paper and pen... but that would have defeated my personal challenge of learning how to code! I hope that eventually, I'd be fluent enough to code something generative... we'll see.