GPC would like to warn readers this profile discusses themes of transphobia and homophobia.
Stephanie Wu has been making art since they were 14 and since decided they are not going to be a model minority. Brilliant in colour, powerful in imagery. Loud, proud.
Wu’s main voice in their artwork comes from their positionality. They respond to architecture and designed places based on their relationship to current public spaces. They made the realization that most public physical spaces do not welcome the community of queer transgender people of colour (qtpoc), not in the way the community needs it to.
I relate Wu’s practise to Nicholas Bourriaud’s practise which Bourriaud related himself to Jean-François Lyotard’s. Bourriaud wrote in his book Relational Aesthetics, “[learn] to inhabit the world in a better way, instead of trying to construct it based on a preconceived idea of historical evolution. Otherwise put[,] the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real…” (Bourriaud, 13).” Wu’s installations reflect action in the reconstructing and deconstructing of archetypical spaces, exploring the concepts of luxury paradise and public.
Stephanie Wu’s assemblage is a social criticism on the high demand for oppressively curated holiday spaces like luxe resorts and tropical beaches. Wu reimagines private spaces in new light as hyper real images of palm trees and coastal beaches. The digital component in Wu’s works reflect the limitless imaginative of designed vacations, hosts perfect for the individual, but is juxtaposed by glitchy realisation. A great sense of fabrication in the set-up of the physical components, the inflatable pool and beach chairs, instill a fragility to the ‘perfect’ vacation spot.
Here Wu builds an aesthetic of bright colours, rgb derogative. Colour palettes semblance in pixilation, yet the colour overloaded sensory experience in line with the thematic goals creates a disturbing environment. Steph in a place making way provides space for visitors to sit at the beach, where they can try their best to relax, a real interrogation of the desire for princely vacations within oneself.
Enacting relational aesthetics Stephanie provides a space for queer trans people of colour (qtpoc) in physicality.
They create images responding to the imagined paradise of ‘the promised land’. The term’s etymology comes from Christianity, Catholicism and Judaism. The story goes that God gave the gift of a promised land to Abraham to live with his descendants. The contemporary interprets the phrase as the space you go to be happy.
Using it as the title to suggests irony. Where the meaning of ‘promised’ is to indicate a place of prosperity and happiness marked exclusive. Using it as the title also suggests a change. That beyond the promised land could be a place to find tranquility and community for Queer Trans People of colour who would not be welcomed in the promised land.
PROMISED LAND, Stephanie Wu (2016), detail.
Promised Land was included as part of Beyond this Promised Land. A curatorial project, by Belinda Kwan, to infuse Wu’s work with Danika So’s. Both So, a photographer, and Wu are qtpoc but also grow up in suburban neighbourhoods. Wu hosted in this set-up, provided by Belinda Kwan, a creative journaling workshop. Equipped with comfy cushions, Wu invited other qtpoc to a physical public space that Wu elicits to be welcoming and promising to them.
Wu’s practise is catalyst. They represent a relational aesthetic in practicing artmaking as a thoroughbred between viewer/participant and art rather than taking centre stage as the main maker.
It is difficult to translate mental health terminology to Chinese. It is difficult to communicate to ‘your’ Chinese mom.
Mental health terminology and qtpoc political terminology are made by a community themselves. Each community is trying to find concrete words to describe their experiences. But when the tools don’t exist to communicate there is a grind, and a frustration appearing in anger and force.
Two giant white gloves extend from the ceiling to a backdrop of the tessellated phrase, in orange and pink thumbnail,
“I am not cool and Edgy because I am a queer person of colour.
“I refuse to be silent because I have no choice.
“White silence = white privilege = white supremacy
“(and same goes for White queer ‘allies’.)
We Met Online: Finding Each Other, Stephanie Wu (2017), Gifs detail.
Accompanying the installation are a set of gifs.
The full animation seen on Stephanie Wu’s website. Visually comparable to a bright stop sign, Wu creates an assemblage of experiences dealing with intersections of mental health issues, cultural appropriation and false-allyships. Wu uses neon colours, for its brilliance and energy, to support the words and stories it conveys.
Taking the time to look up the different online articles and references in the gifs, it’s clear there is no lacking in the perspective of the qtpoc community. The gifs, linking together different stories of the qtpoc community, is a digital presentation of the frustration and anger of these people trapped in a 2d projection.
The piece reinvents meanings and key words, Ally, white, Asian, safe, under an over-arching narrative of finding community online. How it is only online. Public space has not been capable of supporting qtpoc to find each other.
Artwork is public and makes an interrogation between viewer and art. Wu’s positionality as a queer genderflud person of colour allows them to criticise elements of public spaces that are in fact places of exclusivity and luxury. Wu’s catalyst approach to artmaking allows them to draw attention to issues in society, the lack of visibility and attention towards Queer Trans Persons of colour. Wu work asks us, how can we do better to support Queer Trans People of colour?
Contact Stephanie Wu via email.
Profile by Bertha Lee
5th Mar, 2018
Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Les presses du reél, 1998.