OtherPeoplesPixels Interviews Ya-chu Kang

Bamboo, recycle chairs, sisal rope, oyster shells, natural cotton fabric, Cyanotype made with discarded cooking pots, kitchen tools, found objects collected at the seashore and shapes from the children

YA-CHU KANG's interdisciplinary practice includes a wide range of processes and media, including plaster casts, photography, sculpture, video, sewing, basket-weaving and performance. She seeks to raise awareness about the economic, environmental and emotional effects of globalism through installation, collaboration an object-making. Ya-chu earned her MFA from Tainan National University of the Arts in 2005 and her BFA in Sculpture from National Taiwan University of the Arts in 2002. She is currently participating in a cultural exchange project between Taipei Artist Village (Taiwan) and the Silpakorn University (Nakhon Pathom, Thailand), which will result in a two-person show in April 2015. With collaborator Christian Nicolay, she will create a floating sculpture called Inverted Smoke for the 2015 Yuejin Lantern Festival in Tainan, Taiwan. She has received a Culture Research Travel Grant from Lung Yingtai Cultural Foundation to travel to Peru in January 2015 to study traditional textiles and sustainability. In February 2015, Garden City Publisher will release her book Textile Map: An Artist’s Trips of Weaving and Dyeing. Ya-chu lives in Taipei, Taiwan.

Out of Breath No. 1

OtherPeoplesPixels: How do you choose what process to use for a given project? Do you have a favorite?

Ya-chu Kang: Usually, I will imagine an installation view in my mind. After that, I start thinking about what kinds of materials and techniques will be perfect for the idea. I am most interested in the meanings and histories of the materials and techniques I choose. A work which combines different processes and media has more potential to elicit dialogue.

I love sculpture and sewing. For me, sculpture is a form and sewing is the method. If I really need to choose a favorite, I will say sewing. Sewing has a lot of possibility. I enjoy the sound of the sewing machine—it is like the sound of train. Therefore, my mood is like traveling while I am in studio working instead.

Transparent Border
Light boxes, acrylic board, tracing paper
Photo location: Chateau de Chine Hotel, Kaohsiung, Taiwan

OPP: Many works over the past decade—Bag Shelter (2008), A Carrying Pole (2008), Transparent Border (2012), and the Bag-Self Portrait Series (ongoing), to name a few—relate to traveling or being nomadic. How do these works relate to globalization and your interest in "the relationships between environment and human bodies?"

YK: The world is shifting all the time. The cultures in different countries could be very different and still have some similarities. I am very interested in traveling and the cultural difference around the world. We can’t ignore the relationship between environment and the human body when talking about culture. Human bodies are the container of our souls, and the surrounding environment is full human bodies. We must care for our bodies, and environment is the main factor that influences our physical condition through diet and clothing. Bags, luggage, baskets and clothes are the carriers of the culture around the world. Thus, our immediate environment is changing all the time, and it presents the effects of globalization everywhere. Different containers have different meanings in my work, but I am most interested in the visible-invisible things carried inside those bags, baskets, suitcases and outfits.

Boom and Bust
2:00 minutes

OPP: Tell us about 4Hands, your ongoing collaboration with Christian Nicolay. I'm particularly interested in your 2013 exhibition Boom and Bust, which contains both solo and collaborative work by the two of you. Could you discuss the metaphor of the balloon as it is used in this show?

YK: We were invited to do an exhibition by Art Experience Gallery in Hong Kong after our video Recoil screened in ART TAIPEI 2012. Recoil represents the human body’s reflex and reaction to external energy by expanding and blowing up balloons. The tension created between the balloon and the human body reveals the different responses from man and woman, western and eastern.

The main theme of Boom and Bust is the ups and downs of the global economic cycle. We now live in a highly globalized era. The politics and economics of countries are inter-dependent. Financial crisis cannot be contained; rather, it will certainly spread around the world. We kept the concept of the balloon as a metaphor for the global economic bubble; popping the balloon is like bursting the bubble. Boom and Bust attempts to mirror the vulnerability in such economic entwinement. We adopted a simple and humorous approach to this serious topic. In between absurdity and reality, we live in a world where the rational and irrational interact, fragile but unbreakable. We filmed participants from Canada, Taiwan and Hong Kong popping the balloons in front of their faces and edited their reactions, one after the other into a mélange of explosions. The repeated popping of balloons reflects the economic bubbles in the stock market that lead to a period of accelerated investment and over-borrowing and then an inevitable crash. The balance of opposing forces can be found everywhere in nature just as market systems accelerate and then slow down, constantly fluctuating like a heartbeat, expanding and contracting. Using the material of balloons and people’s reactions to popping them represents these forces and reflects their unpredictable and fragile natures.

Reservation-Part 2
Working process
Collaboration with the students from ChengLong Elementary School (Yulin, Taiwan)

OPP: Could you talk about the large-scale cyanotypes you made with students from ChengLong Elementary School in Yulin, Taiwan? How did this collaboration work?

YK: This is the ChengLong Wetlands International Environmental Art Project, organized by Kuan-Shu Educational Foundation to raise awareness of environmental issues for the community at ChengLong village. The theme in 2013 was “On the Table,” which encouraged students to think about the ecological link between humans, food and the environment. I invited them to play with me and learn some new techniques for making art. We first played some games with discarded cooking pots, kitchen tools and objects before we made the Cyanotype. Then the students knew how they should position themselves when they laid down on top of the fabric. The Cyanotype photographic chemicals were applied to that fabric and allowed to dry. I helped the students find better positions on top of the fabric like dining around a round table together and was the last to lay down. We were still for about 25 minutes, exposing ourselves and the objects under the sun. Then we rinsed the exposed fabric with water, fixing the image permanently. The students were all very exciting to see their own bodies captured on the fabric and had so much fun, even though it was pretty hot. 

The Loop
Sculpture installation: ready-made daily baskets, bamboo, coconut leaves, wire, dirt

OPP: Recent projects The Loop (2014), Faces to Faces (2013) and Cradle Umbilical (2013) draw on the tradition of basketry, one of the earliest-known crafts of human civilization. What do these vessels, created from organic materials like straw, bamboo, coconut leaves, branches and reeds say about our contemporary world?

YK: The contemporary world now is very far away from a natural life system. Humans think we are the best creatures and that advanced technology can replace everything. New construction and policy decisions often destroy traditional cultures and the natural environment. However, we should not ignore the natural cycles and what the ancient, traditional culture taught us. Every one of us is part of this universe. There are so many plastic and synthetic materials replacing natural materials in production nowadays. Meanwhile, plants continue to grow depending on the weather and location, which can present the effects of culture around the world. Using the traditional wisdom and knowledge from weaving with organic materials is a way of raising consciousness about how contemporary life is changing us. It is a way of inviting people to think about our contemporary world, bringing the mentality of Cradle to Cradle design into our daily lives.

To see more work by Ya-chu, please visit yachukang.com.

Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based, interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2012-2013 Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Recent exhibitions include solo shows
I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For (2013) at Klemm Gallery, Siena Heights University (Adrian, Michigan) and Everything You Need is Already Here (2014) at Heaven Gallery in Chicago, as well as Here|Now, a two-person exhibition curated by MK Meador and also featuring the work of Jason Uriah White, at Design Cloud in Chicago (2014). Most recently, Stacia created  When Things Fall Apart, a durational, collage installation in the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center. Closing reception guests were invited to help break down the piece by pulling pins out of the wall.