I see that you are influenced by 1999–2007 era electronics and incorporating them into a modern digital lifestyle/aesthetic. Can you tell us more about this idea and what about this era inspires you?
I really love that era because people were more excited about the possibilities of technology; there was a lot of buzz about the ways it can integrate into our lives, as fashion, as pets, as whatever. I feel like right now we are as far as that from possible, as people talk about "slow living" or even "disconnectionism", ideas that are very common in modern lifestyle trends. Of course, we're also in a very dystopian age of technology, but the idea of reverting to the halcyon days of Edison bulbs, record-listening, fishing and cabin-living isn't the answer in my opinion. For me, as a child of Chinese immigrants born in the 60s, that vision feels patently false—and I grew up not too far from Walden Pond. Moreover, a disconnectionist lifestyle betrays the very things that allowed me to survive—after all, the Internet forums and chat rooms gave me community when I had none and affirmed my existence as a young queer person of color.
But also I feel that technology has evolved in a way that is increasingly fast and disposable. Part of this is manufacturing but part of it is consumer perception. By synthesizing a slow digital lifestyle, I hope we can think about ways to integrate tech back into our lives and genuinely enjoy what they bring us. At the same time I hope at the same time we can challenge tech capitalism, which encourages us to buy into planned obsolescence. Buy refurbished or recycled. Learn about open source software and how it can bring new life to your computers.
Plus, old electronics are just kind of neat.
What role does nostalgia play in your work?
Nostalgia is really en vogue in the commercial world, which is what my background in photography is in. But maybe we've always been nostalgists and it's human nature. For me, though, I'm interested in creating a vision for a world that I saw glimpses of in Japanese technology ads from the early 2000s—a vision very different from America around the same time—and wish I got to experience it, even if that world never came into fruition.
What were your earliest creative influences and interests growing up?
They all revolved around the computer.
My first creative outlet was probably ROM Hacking, which is when you have a dump of the image from a video game (a "ROM") and you modify it, changing variables and altering gameplay and level design to shape the video game into what you want it to be. It's like Mario Maker, which just came out last year, but back then some of the games didn't have any tools so you'd sit there with a matrix of numbers in front of you and you'd have to change them byte by byte in a hex editor. I'm a December baby (Saggitarius, Libra rising) and was really fond of snow at the time, so I'd change everything into ice worlds. I also enjoyed creating worlds that were transplanted from other earlier games.
When I was ten, I learned QBASIC, a programming language that was by then already out of date. But I loved how simple it was and I'd spend a lot of time generating colorful outputs or coding text adventure games. My proudest achievement was a pet simulator, where you took care of a little happy face character, sort of like a Tamagotchi.
Then, when I was 14, I got heavily into the rapidly growing Internet culture and started making memetic pages on a site called You're the Man Now Dog, this site where you'd present a juxtaposition of soundtrack, text and image, usually with humorous intent. Most of the time, the images were GIFs. I'd source them from cartoons or movies and spend time in my room finding where to cut the frames so they'd loop nicely. I got so dedicated that I'd skip school and make GIFs for my pages.
I also dabbled with more traditional forms of art, like music composition (which I did for ten years and even applied to go to Berklee College of Music), drawing or writing, but none of them really stuck.
How do you think social media is changing photography?
It's definitely changed the way we share photography and has also made us as a whole more "photo-literate". But in general photography is a means of communication that is constantly evolving and defined by the technology available. There are a lot of older photographers who will say social media has ruined photography—as an artistic entity as a whole—and I think that is a little dramatic. Having more photographers actually helps develop the medium and challenges a lot of the institutions on what we consider to be "good photography", which had always leaned towards resolution, analog-likeness (consider how we continue to uphold shooting film and images that look like film) and classical (Western/renaissance) composition.
But as a trade, maybe that's a different story. I had a teacher once who said we are, ultimately, "content creators" and I think what content means is changing a lot right now. That is challenging and forces a lot of photographers to reconsider their approach, too.
What is your favorite electronic you have ever owned?
It might be my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX150 (2008 model) camera, a tiny powerhouse I carry with me everywhere. But I have a special place in my heart for my "Tamagotchi Angel".
Which other photographers have inspired you most to develop your work over the years?
I spend a lot of time right now poring over 2000s stock and commercial photography, but the photographers that shaped my "photographic eye" the most were the 70s color photographers, like Nan Goldin, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore. Their work shifted me from looking at the camera as a means of capturing what's "memorable/photo-worthy" to recognizing it as a tool to uplift anything including the banal.
Locally though, I'm really inspired by my friends who work in all sorts of media, like Leena Joshi (poet and video artist, http://cargocollective.com/leenajoshi); Minh Nguyen (arts organizer, http://root-loop.tumblr.com/) who runs Chat Room; Noor (photographer); my ＲＯＯＭＷＡＶＥ friends Neon Salt Water (interior designer and creator of 3D spaces, http://neonsaltwater.tumblr.com/), Úna Blue (photographer, videographer, interaction designer, http://una.blue) and Joe Waine (designer and musician, http://jwaine.com/); Kelton Sears (http://trashmountaingifs.tumblr.com/), probably the only other person who loves GIFS more than I do; my frequent collaborator Paulie Rodriguez (photographer and arts curator); Evan Collins (architect and designer, http://y2kaestheticinstitute.tumblr.com/), who I admire for his diligence in running Institute for Y2K Aesthetics. And of course, I can't forget Saem Fēnd (noise musician, artist and arts curator) and Ramona Xavier (graphic designer, producer and musician; https://vektroid.bandcamp.com/), whose combined wealth of knowledge in art and music are extraordinary and a huge inspiration to me. I'd also like to mention my Canadian inspirations, Vancouver-based fellow GIF artist and photographer Nolan Sage (http://www.nolansage.com/) and the Ontario-based scanner photographer and general film medium expert, Derek Boswell (https://www.flickr.com/photos/brickartisan/).
What got you interested in making GIFS?
I went to a trade school for commercial photography and quickly found I felt the medium was missing something, especially when most photographs are viewed on non-static screens now. In photography there's the notion of a "decisive moment", something that I always found to be flawed and limiting. You'd see a lot of photographers, like Richard Avedon or Duane Michals, trying to break out of it but you are still using a single frame to represent a non-static event. Meanwhile, video is great, but it is more experiential, guided by editing, so it's more demanding.
On a quantum level, things are moving all the time anyway, so I think GIFs are a little more honest. I like exploring that movement.
What projects are you currently working on?
I'm trying to do some more art organizing on the Eastside. I'm also the caretaker of 17 plants and I'm exploring ways to share my home as a co-working facility. I also am interested in creating online communities away from corporate social media.
If you could live anywhere where would you build your dream home? And what would this home look like?
If I could live anywhere, I'd probably live in a top floor, west-facing apartment somewhere in Wilburton or Spring District, Bellevue. It'd be great on a rainy evening to look out my window and see all the lakes, skylines (you get both Bellevue and Seattle), trees and mountains.
Plus, a Factoria-residing friend of mine told me he thinks of Bellevue as Seoul from like five or ten years ago with the way it's changing. This sounds like a hyperbole, but Bellevue is for sure changing in a lot of ways. Considering its demographic shifts, rapid urbanization and transit-oriented development, it is on its way to become an Asian-American city. A lot of this is happening along the Bel-Red corridor ("Spring District"), where Tsinghua University has just opened a campus (the first ever Chinese university to do so in the US) and many of the strip mall chain stores have been replaced with Chinese appliance stores or Indian groceries.
And logistically, I think the Link rail opening in 2023 will make a huge difference too and make commuting to Seattle easier. By then, it'll feel less like a suburb and more like a continuous extension of "mega-city".
As for the home itself: all white with shiny white tile floors and huge windows. I'll have a Sony Aibo as a pet and a lot of tall plants. Maybe a palm tree patio. Definitely a home photo studio, too, and maybe a computer lab if there's space.
This changes, but I think right now it's Fucking Åmål, a film by Lukas Moodysson that captures the angst of being isolated, young and queer in the late 90s. I also love Aki Kaurismäki, I just finished watching his Proletariat trilogy and The Match Factory Girl might be one of my favorite movies ever. Also, holy crap am I excited about Tetsuya Nakashima. Please give any of his work a watch, maybe start with Kamikaze Girls.
What are you looking forward to about 2017?
I'm not sure, I think it's too early to say. Definitely not the Emoji movie.
What are you most excited about sharing with our guests during the exhibit coming up Thursday, January 12th 2017 at Standard Goods?
I'm excited to watch the interplay between my work and the store setting around it. And I'm just excited to be part of this community in general and I'm looking forward to seeing all the faces of the Standard Goods family.
- Also I made a mix for everyone!
Join us for Capitol Hill Art Walk, Thursday December 12th 2017, as we celebrate our 1 year anniversary at Standard Goods. We are also excited to be featuring Sofia Lee! Visit the event page to learn more.