Mya Rae Nelson interviews Vivian Chiu
Congratulations to our TFS at ACC Award Winner Vivian Chiu!
Vivian Chiu was born in Los Angeles and emigrated to Hong Kong at the age of three. Her interests in creating objects and the visual arts led her to attend the Rhode Island School of Design (BFA ’11 Furniture Design) and Columbia University (MFA ’19 Sculpture). With an aptitude for problem solving and a sensitivity towards materials, she creates sculptures that attempt to formalize coincidental happenings in repetitive labor intensive processes.
Here, Vivian talks about invisibility and how upbeat pop songs keeps her going:
First, how was the experience covering the ACC show in Philly?
It was such an amazing experience to be at the ACC Conference. I have never attended an ACC Conference and was extremely excited to meet artists I have heard about since I started woodworking. I also have work in the exhibition “Making a Seat at the Table” at the Center for Art in Wood and am glad I was able to have conversations with attendees and participants of the show. There is nothing more fun than shop talk with women who have had similar experiences and can teach you new techniques and ideas.
Your work has an origami – Escher-like feel. How does geometry play a role in your work?
I am interested in the integration of contrasting ideas into a single object. As much as I am interested in geometry and systems, I am interested in organic forms and chaotic processes. I attempt to combine the two and create organic forms through geometry and vice versa. I am also interested in ideas of visibility/invisibility, perception and disorientation in relationship to queerness and being a minority in America. I hope to challenge viewers through camouflaged visuals and ideas in my sculptures.
Can you talk about your design process.
I rarely go to the computer nowadays and I also rarely sketch. I mostly doodle and just start. I have what we call in Chinese “itchy hands”. I don’t like to spend too much time overthinking form or concept. Generally it starts with “what if I do this?” and then I figure it out from there.
As you’ve gone from making some furniture to all sculptural pieces, what do you like more about creating these types of works?
After graduating from RISD, I wanted to make work without the limitations of function and decided I wanted to make more sculptural work. I soon realized that I had no idea what sculpture was so ended up moving to New York to work with Ursula von Rydingsvard and then attend Columbia University for their MFA program in Sculpture. I have still kept wood as my primary medium and I can’t say I know exactly what sculpture is but I’m getting closer!
As a woman in still a male-dominated field — congrats on Making a Seat at the Table! — how do you see your gender and/or background as coming into your work?
I have been exploring facets of my identity conceptually so gender does come into play in my work. I look to the history of minimalism and try to unground and queer ideas of the past. Also thinking about the woman’s body and the woman’s hand in relationship to labor has been a source of constant inspiration to me given I have a family history in factory work and had grown up around women in a factory setting.
When someone is circling one of your pieces, what do you imagine them saying?
I imagine them saying “What? How? Why???“
Have a favorite woodworking joint?
I absolutely hate glue ups and I’ve recently actively avoided joinery in my work. Now that I’m teaching at VCU Craft/Material Studies program and having to make samples for my students so I’d have to say something like a three-way lap joint. Something that really shows off the an end grain design detail when finished.
What do you listen to — if anything — when you’re in the shop?
To be quite honest, Top 40, upbeat indie pop or upbeat 80s music. In the shop I turn my brain off and just need a good beat to keep me going for as long as possible. I usually have a playlist about 10 – 15 songs on repeat and just work until I need to eat.
What is your next big wood challenge?
I am hoping to continue the trajectory of work I’ve been doing since graduate school and for the first time I have access to a drum sander. I’m going to try to taper thin pieces of plywood so that I can stack them into more organic and twisting forms. In combination with photography I hope to create new larger sculptures that reveal and conceal the female body and manifest psychological narratives that are both specific to my experience and universal for a larger audience.