Brooklyn-based Taiwanese artist Hai-Hsin Huang works in painting and drawing to express life's underlying banalities and absurdities. Through a lens of humor, she interprets her own experiences of cross-cultural migration in an effort to unearth the ridiculousness and hedonism inherent in human interaction. Her most recent body of work, A Museum Show (2016-2017), focuses on the experience of major cultural institutions, where museum patrons are equally as compelling as works of art on display. This summer, Huang is an artist-in-residence at PILOTENKUECHE in Leipzig, Germany.
Hallie Ayres, who is currently assisting BRIC's Contemporary Art program, recently conducted an interview with the artist.
Your subject matter is very humorous. Could you talk a bit about what inspires you to immortalize in paint such awkward situations and encounters? Are these circumstances that you actually witness, or do you imagine them? And why focus on the awkward?
I mostly paint scenes I witness and then exaggerate. I think part of the awkwardness probably comes from my untrained painting skill... but somehow that works with the subjects I choose. The focus on the awkward comes from my frustrating life experience as a foreigner. Lots of times things don't work out as I had expected. I've found that nothing is as romantic and ideal as expected once you execute it, from cable service to dating experiences, etc. A sense of humor is the most important strength to survive, in my opinion. Life is full of tedious things and maladjustments. However, I'm trying to show audiences the uncanny beauty of single moments, the humor and tragedy that is in us, life's grandeur as well as the frailty of humanity.
After moving from Taipei to Brooklyn, did you notice that your artistic practice changed a lot to incorporate that awkwardness of being a foreigner?
I actually didn't make much work when I was in Taipei. I was young and scared of making anything, especially painting, even though painting and drawing are now my favorite things in life. I had never been trained, so I had never seriously considered painting. Young, cool people were making digital works about 10 years ago, and art education tended to question young artists: "what's the reason you're making this work?" It was a lot of brain work; I felt that I needed to read and research a lot before making anything. After I came to Brooklyn, I saw much more painting than I ever had before, and it was an eye-opening experience. I got the impulse to pick up some brushes myself, so I think New York is the reason I became a painter.
What is your studio practice like? Do you work quickly or slowly?
I like to work like I'm on an office lady schedule. I wake up early and go for a run, make coffee and food, and then I'm in the studio until dinnertime. I work really quickly on paintings: I finish a 50x40" painting in one or two days. But I have to find a trigger before starting a painting.
I love your museum series. You strike a really excellent balance between the absurd and the banal. Could you talk a bit about the process of constructing that series?
I started my first museum painting around late 2013, and I didn't plan to make a whole bunch of them in the beginning, but I just painted and drew what I saw in museums, especially in the MET. I go there whenever I have time or I'm bored, and it always inspires me a lot, not only the art collections there but also the audiences and tourists from all over the world. It's a lot of different energies, and it's just really fun to watch. I think it's the best place for observation. Little by little I found that I have quite a few works about museums, so why not have a "museum show" for myself?
Right now you're doing the PILOTENKUECHE residency in Leipzig, Germany. How is that going? Are you working on anything (stylistically, theoretically) in particular?
I've been collecting some weird, industrial, and sci-fi visual elements in Leipzig, but I haven't come up with a solution to paint them. So I'm currently assembling them on long drawings in the style of folding books. I'm trying to mix them with my layered experience of being a foreigner, and I'm going to do a pop-up show with a few of the artist pals I've met here about the foreign lonely hearts in Leipzig.
Doing residencies and moving around a lot is difficult for painters especially, but I'm learning to be able to work under any circumstance. It's always challenging in the beginning, but the advantage of being an artist is having this freedom, and there's always some surprise waiting at the end of a tough process. And Leipzig really is awesome. It's small and raw, and there's great energy in their arts and lifestyle. Some people say it's a new Brooklyn, except that you can't buy delicious and filling meals in Brooklyn for 2 euros!