My cut paper explores the tension and contradiction between our obsession with urbanism and desire for nature.
Despite the fact that we often turn to nature when we crave serenity and balance, we have a competing penchant for overdeveloping land and building new structures, diminishing our opportunity to actually experience the peaceful retreat that we crave. My work reflects on what we do to the environment with our super machines and technologies and what nature does back to us in reaction.
I am drawn to nature as a modern fantasy – a thing that we have become so removed from that it exists almost in a dreamlike space, apart from our everyday experience. I am intrigued by this remove, how it leads us to disconnect our actions from their effects, and the consequential ripple effect that has on the natural habitat.
I create all of my works on xuan (rice) paper, which reflects my Chinese heritage and my earliest encounters with art making as a child, which began with Chinese calligraphy, painting, and drawing. In one sense, my practice is a natural extension of those earlier forms; I think of cut paper as drawing with a knife and, like calligraphy and painting, cut paper draws on the same interplay between solid and void, immediacy and permanence to create a visual form.
My cut paper practice is also a nod to my ancestral roots, and is very much informed by traditional Chinese paper cutting. Historically, paper cutting in China was a pastime done communally by generations of women. The works, which were often created in multiples at the same time, responded to the women’s everyday lives and often depicted images of farm and village life. Though these works required skill, unlike the recognition given to calligraphers or landscape artists, the final product would always be anonymous.
Like these women, I too am reflecting on my contemporary experience, it is just vastly different from the world they encountered. Unlike them, I am able to create something that expresses my individuality, and reflects my social and political views in my work through one-of-a-kind, concept driven works that elevate a traditional craft to a fine art practice. It is important to me to acknowledge the roots of this practice, while at the same time reinventing the art form, and creating something that is radically different and distinctly contemporary.
With these works, I also drift from the traditional practice by incorporating technology into my process. I first create a template on my computer, which I make by layering hundreds of images together into collage form. I then use that composite image as a guide as I cut the final work. While I do use the computer during part of my process, and often source images from the Internet, it is very important to me that the actual cutting is done by hand. With the advent of technology we have become so removed from craftsmanship that it is almost inconceivable to many people that one would create such intricate and labor-intensive works by hand.
People often ask if my works are cut by laser, but in fact, a laser could not create something nearly as precise and detailed as my final works. I am very interested in our acquiescence to technology, and our societal lack of belief in our own skill. To me, there is so much value in the return to craftsmanship, and the need to handle and work with materials directly.