Velleity brings together two different sequences of photographs to create one complex body of work. Additionally, this body of work incorporated text, which I refer to as ‘murmurings,’ to reflect on my experiences as a Chinese immigrant who has lived in the United States for ten years. Navigating different cultures, social expectations, and realities leads to moments of isolation and a struggle to communicate with those around me. I find this cultural navigation taxing and through this work, visualize this preposterous journey, ponder my displacement in the world, and escape my former reality. Conjuring a open space of play and introspection, I reflect on my inner caprices, seek to expose social complexities, and wrestle with the challenges of universal communication.
I was born and raised in Taishan, which is the largest city in China that most immigrants to the US are from. When I was a kid, I already knew I had to go to the United States, and that I had to work in a restaurant as a chef, a waiter, etc. At first, I had pictured life like most Chinese immigrants: become a chef, open a restaurant, buy a big house, then go back to China to get married. Day by day, I found that many people stay working in restaurants in Chinatown for twenty, thirty years, or even for a whole lifetime. I feared this kind of life, and I didn’t want to sacrifice my dreams for the sake of stability. Bringing unconscious desire into consciousness reveals the contradiction between past, present, and future. It's a challenge to myself, being a Chinese immigrant in U.S. My skin color, language, history, tell me I'm Chinese, and my passport tells me I'm a citizen of the United States. But I prefer to say, "I'm from Cleveland.”
My body of work, Velleity, is separated into two series: Window and Moment, accompanied with ‘murmuring’ texts in the book.
Window: Driving frequently back and forth from Cleveland to Rochester; there is a rest stop called Angola, which crosses Interstate 90 from both directions. Every time I stop there, I look out the window and take the same yet different—picture. These similar windows create visual confusion: it's impossible to tell whether I’m coming or going. The pictures of the window speaks to a memory of the past and the longing for the best yet to come. I don't know how to face my (past )history because it’s difficult to connect it to my life now. I used to belong, but I can’t go back. The window is a representation of a disconnection of history. In this process, I find myself a part of a sad fantasy, full of contradictions: maybe I can do it. I asked my first question: does the scenery outside the window change, or have I changed? It reminds me of the 2016 Christmas break, when I went back to Cleveland to work part time in a restaurant as a waiter. I realized that I had a hard time communicating with other Chinese immigrants; we speak the same language, but that does not mean that we can understand each other.
Moment: These photographs are a metaphor for my wandering exploration of an emotional change that I struggle to connect with my own history. I seek, discover, and then collect, releasing waves of emotion in this process: I transform the ups and downs of mood into images and their presentation. These emotions, as well as my images, are subtle, and it’s difficult to explain how they came into being, how I shot them, but their presence makes me feel like I’ve found a way to express myself. Each images’ color, line, shape, subject matter are different, even taken in different cities. After a lot of shooting and self-reflection, I found that they were all actually the same pictures: they are an atmosphere and voice of my inner emotional expression. The emotion manifest in the different color, lines, and shapes in my every single image. These images are of moments collected both in nature and in the city, and represent the quiet I have achieved in the exploration of life as I realize the complexity of my desires, history, and voice.
I asked myself a second question: Did I learn to forgive and move on? It reminds of my life experience in the United States: we speak different languages, come from different places and countries, but we can still become intimate friends.
Later, I started to mix these two series of photos, using their formal properties to place them on the shelf in my installation. I’m interested in how one image can affect your reading of another. I was using the form of painting to design which image should juxtapose the next. This way of using images and understanding is integral to the work of Jason Fulford. He states: "When you embrace the fact that pictures are inherently ambiguous, the possibilities open up in terms of using images as language. "(Jason Fulford). I create an ambiguous scene that passes through time and space. Every photo is a fragment of my inner feelings. I use formal elements such as colors, lines, shapes to express the ups and downs of emotion, distance and time. This process of taking photographs helps me understand my attitude and observation of the changes in my life as a person. I keep an open mind to create this project with this process. I know more about myself than I used to, as I realize the complexity of my desires, history, and voice. It is an intimate exchange with the audience.
My body of work, Velleity, is accompanied by a book full of murmuring texts. I have been writing for many years. The process of negotiating the subtle relationship between emotional presentation and word choice has made me reconsider the otherness of communication between people. This concept and process is integral in the work of Irma Blank. She states: “All of my work is: whether the signs I make are rigorous or free, small or large, they all express different aspects of myself. I write and recount, yet it also provides an escape because I simultaneously declare something and deny it” (Irma Blank). As non-native English speaker, my use of English has caused me a lot of trouble and people have made jokes about me, but I am un-phased In these texts, I have boldly used my English pronunciation problem, my "broken English," to create abstract illustrations. Their lack of apparent meaning speaks to the complexities of universal communication. The murmuring, deconstructed writing brings in my voice, but the text is taken apart, broken. The idea of broken English is taken literally in my process: my sentences, words and punctuation marks are broken apart and re-arranged visually to aesthetically convey a contradiction between visual and emotional perception, and reflect the difficulties of communicating one's innermost thoughts to others.
In this work, I have engaged my personal feelings and emotions with image and language as a way of abstractly interpreting my expectations and disappointments in the life in the United States, in all of its helplessness and longing. Velleity is not only a way of sharing a personal journey, but also a way of exposing social complexities and wrestling with the challenges of universal communication.