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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.