Jiemei Lin Mural Release [interview]
"En Root, a hostel in Chattanooga, has been hosting artists residencies along with ARC (Artist Residency Chattanooga) for backyard murals. Artists are given a two week stay to work on their mural while getting to explore the local Chattanooga scene. Their most recent artists Jiemei Lin (Mei) and Joe Hedges participated in this tradition with two very diverse pieces. Joe worked primarily with trompe l'oeil painting techniques combined with elements of nature, technology, and nostalgia. Mei is investigating compacted ideas of feminism and rule breaking from her more structural childhood studies of Chinese methods of art. I was honored sit down and talk to the both of them about their practice and life. Here is a bit of our conversation." - MH Curator Claire Bloomfield
MH: How long did it take you to complete your mural?
JL: Two days.
MH: Do you often do mural work?
JL: I have involved with about 5 mural projects in my life, this one is my first one to finish by myself. yay!!
MH: Most of the work you create are portraits of girls. Are these ever self portraits? Are you ever trying to convey a specific story behind them?
JL: No those are not self portraits, however, a lot of people believe they are, I like to make people guess. I was very bothered by the fact that people always ask me “who is she?” I don’t really think that’s an important question to my art. She can be you, she can be me, she can be anyone. I always believe that I do not have any power to decide who the girl was, just like our parents and this society and humanity in general - they made us, they are never able to control the fact who we are.
MH: We talked about the pressure put on women and how we are expected to act in a particular way. In what ways are you addressing this in your art?
JL: My work explores the challenge of being female with a multicultural background in a Globalized world by creating different conversation between media, such as painting, drawing, ceramics and digital work. The purpose of my work is to remind the audience that women throughout history have fought patriarchy, everywhere and in every age. My sources [from history] include Asian patterns (fabric, dye and embroidery), vintage photographs and Italian paintings from the 12th through the 15th centuries. Sometimes by replacing the male figures in historical scenes with female figures, I, as an Asian female artist am “reverse appropriating” in hopes of imagining a different possibility of reality: one where the female figure features prominently.
MH: Do you consider yourself a feminist?
JL: Yes. There’s a very interesting fact about being feminist in Chinese language, which is 女权主义者(women’s right supporter or feminism supporter), you probably think that phrase will be open to everyone. However, most people in China still believe that only women can be feminist. Recently I found that there are huge number of Europeans who define that Feminism as a women-only action. Which is really interesting, I do believe that men should be open to call themselves Feminist-- we need support from everyone after all.
MH: You mentioned your love for Japanese Manga as a child. Do you have any favorites that you remember or still reference?
JL: That is a really good question, I just realized that this famous manga Sailor Moon was one of very first female superhero mangas, which is super Feminist --especially since it has one of the very first lesbian couples. However, I strongly disliked Sailor Moon when I was young because I felt the body image from this manga was pretty odd and false. Sailor Moon’s 2-meter-long legs definitely brought a lot of young girls unreasonable expectations to their bodies. My favorite manga was called “NANA”, was a story about a punk rock band and two girls both named Nana. Another one was “Chobits”, about an AI robot falling in love with human...I don’t think manga references my work at much at this point, however, I did learn a lot of art skill from reading manga.
MH: Are there any events or moments in your life that significantly influence your practice today?
JL: I have a very unique name in Chinese and that fact always reminded me of staying unique and original since I was young.
Making art since I was young.
Watching my father to go to grad school and hanging out on college campus.
Reading books and talking about books with my mother.
My grandfather’s PTSD from the war and cultural revolution.
Moving to the US and realizing that being weird is actually great.
Meeting my partner Joe Hedges and collaborating and critiquing since we met.
MH: What are some of the traditional art methods you have studied that influence and inspire your practice? You mentioned studying under your grandfather.
JL: I have been using some skills I learnt as a kid from my grandfather such as how to use brushes and how to manage negative spaces. Those are two important things you are supposed to learn from East Asian Art, just like you need to know how to hold and pencil and perspective from Western Art. When you use a brush you have to be free and relax. I am always a very relaxing and carefree person while art-making. That method does help.
MH: You choose a blue pallet for your mural, possibly derivative from blue willow tea cups and tiles patterns. Can you tell me more about why you are gravitating towards ceramics?
JL: I recently realized that my blue is indigo and it is a color of fabric dye for women’s fashion from my home state for thousand of years. There was a friend who told me that my work reminded him her grandmother, who was always in indigo dye clothes, when she passed away, she was covered by a huge indigo blanket. When he looked at my indigo series of work (including the mural), he thought of his grandmother. It was such a big compliment.
The reason why I like ceramics because you have no idea what will happen when you fire your work, I am sure that because I am such beginner that’s what happened.
“Indigo and white” is a phrase in classical Chinese creative writing that is used to mean clear, open-minded and transparent. “Indigo” is also my grandfather’s fake identity/name he gave to himself for safety concern when he was an activist in 50's. The phrase was a reflection of my grandfather’s core values: clear-mindedness, openness, honesty and transparency.
Sorry, I was supposed to talk about ceramics.
MH: Mei, you mentioned going up in China and your parents both being academic professors. At the same time, you attended art high school where you studied five days a week traditional Chinese art methods. This inspired some of your early drawings to be much tighter and prescriptively planned out than your current work. In what ways has living in America changed your artwork, practice, and life?
JL: Yes, definitely. However, I am always a pretty free drawer, but very tight when I working on an art project. You can see, I might have not treated drawing seriously enough. I am a planner (I like to make plans!!!), however I am terrible at following the plan. That’s why I have been following my heart.
One really important thing about America is that being an artist feels much cooler here, people give me more respect as a creative individual. There are also soooo many museums and galleries in the US with big diversity. I have been seeing more, learning more and experiencing more, not only in the Art World, but also in life.
BTW I am a citizen now!!
MH: What is your perfect Sunday?
JL: Staying at home or going to a pool in summer. Reading a book I am really into at home or by the pool. For some reason, some of my favorite street food just randomly magically shows up and I eat street food while reading that book. Joe, Lucy (my cat) and Harley (Another cat) are also there with me. They probably all read books. Harley and lucy read those tiny cat books.
MH: What other projects are you working on?
JL: My solo show!!!
A digital media art class to teach in WSU,
And a design workshop for faculty members.
Indigo and White
My grandfather was an activist in both The Republic of China and the early People’s Republic of China. He was arrested twice and had to change his name due to safety concerns. For his new identity my grandfather chose the name “Qin”, which means Indigo. My grandfather’s younger brother, who went through the same trauma, became “Bai”, which means white.
“Indigo and white” is a phrase in classical Chinese creative writing that is used to mean clear, open-minded and transparent. These names were a reflection of my grandfather’s core values--clear-mindedness, openness, honesty and transparency.
My full name is Lin Jie Mei 林介眉, Lin 林 is my family name. Jie 介 is my generation character, as well as a symbol of the first feminist move of my life; girls are usually not given generation characters as women are expected to marry and become members of other families. However, I was given a generational character, because my grandfather believed in gender equality.
All my artworks are implicitly or explicitly feminist. They create conversations, identify issues and critique social injustice. That my grandfather fought against thousands of years of tradition in order to name his youngest granddaughter was very encouraging and surreal in the same time. However, it is also troubling that he was the one in this position of power in order to provide this feminist gesture--rather than my mother or grandmother who could only defer to his judgement. This begs the question: can my grandfather be a feminist or is that a label reserved for women?
Since the moment I was given my own generational character, as a woman, artist, immigrant and minority, there have been many moments I felt deeply connected with my grandfather, his brother and their decision. Somehow, we all live through lives to lives to give each other new identities for hiding, while reminding each other that we still live with open minds, honesty and transparency.
There is nothing to hide.