Unveiling Cultural Identity
Andrew Thomas Huang is most well known for his collaborative work with Bjork on her most recent record Vulnicura but now, through what he describes as a “common trope,” he explores the veil and its various cultural and symbolic connotations, as a “reaction to questions about [his] own identity.”
The exhibit at the MILK Gallery in New York City is constructed in what Huang describes as his version of a “pop-song” in saying that the film is divided into three verses, a bridge and a finale. This purposeful structure is described by Huang to create an order of events that allow the exhibition to exist dually as a video art installation as well as an unfolding filmic narrative. His motive for the film was born out of inspiration from traditional Chinese lion dances. However, his fear of “romanticizing” his heritage as an American-born artist results in what he refers to as an alienating “horror-film” feel to it. In doing so, Huang’s aesthetic becomes clear in its intention to seduce and entertain like a theatrical movie while using the challenging conventions of video art to create an unnerving, confrontational spatial experience in the gallery. In the case of “Interstice,” suspense, foreshadowing and pathos become overtly clear as the viewer follows the narrative of a god-like leader shrouded in mystery, essentially “veiled” in a second skin to prevent from the true nature of the mysterious creature from being revealed to his followers. In deeper thought, Huang goes as far to say that the piece is a metaphor for the Internet age and the idea of cultural binaries as it questions the power of anonymity and consequences of truth telling.
“When I was in art school, I realized that I missed everything that I was doing when I was an adolescent getting into filmmaking. Or video making, I should say. I made my own short film when I was in college, just on my own, outside of the curriculum. It was really FX-heavy. I wanted to make something beginning to end, that I could take to festivals and have as a reel.” Huang describes the gravitational pull he felt towards the medium of digital film even through his pursuit of a fine-arts degree. The medium had a certain nostalgia to Huang as it was reminiscent of his early influencer Jim Henson and the time he and his classmates in Middle School were taught “how to sculpt with foam and how to do a lot of the techniques [The Jim Henson Company] did in the actual studio.” He goes on to say, “I think the older I got, the more I became keenly aware of the escapism factor of it,” Huang says of his love for cinema and how this is what ultimately drove him to channel his creative prowess into filmmaking. This is ultimately an insight into the transcendence of “Interstice” and its almost dangerous allure to the viewer, it’s foreboding irresistibility in hypnotic chants and goosebump-inducing physical movement.
Does Huang consider the cultural zeitgeist in his creative process? Well, yes and no– he considers it inescapable but just as necessary as any other aspect of the process. Given the longevity of the creative process for this particular work, Huang marvels at the correlations he has found between cultural trends and Interstice in saying, “I’ve had this idea again for 2 or 3 years and this particular fashion week, I saw so much red everywhere. It’s just funny; I’m actually not that bothered by it.”
Read Andrew Thomas Huang’s Artist Statement below:
“Demon-chasing was the purported reason for lion dances, as explained to me during my childhood whenever the spectacle took place at large clan reunions in the crimson and gold community halls of LA’s Chinatown. The mechanics of eradicating evil, according to my naive understanding, occurred somewhere between me, the spectator, and the gyrating anatomy of the beast itself; between the action of the dislocated limbs of the half-hidden dancers and the trailing silk veil that obscured them.
Nostalgia for this tradition spurred me to craft my own contemporary filmic ritual centered around a veiled dance. In my attempt to appropriate signifiers from my own ancestry, however, I found myself resorting to orientalizing tropes that merely romanticized my own heritage. The tension of a veiled dance conjures other more familiar images, such as the “Dance of the Seven Veils” from Oscar Wilde’s Salome. This western depiction of a seductive “eastern” dance reveals itself as hackneyed and problematic in its design to exoticize the concealed body while teasing mystic access to some hidden divinity. The danger of this artifice raises the question whether or not seeking embodiment through one’s ancestry is possible without romanticizing it? How can we who are culturally displaced invent tools and rituals to exorcize from ourselves the illusions projected onto us?
Probing the illusive boundary itself, Interstice presents the veil as a self-contained magic trick: a shapeshifting second skin loaded with potential energy to manipulate identities and temporal-spatial dimensions that would otherwise be rendered immeasurable in its absence. Interstice is an attempt to pass through the veil that obscures our collective vision to reach a space in-between. An interstitial space.”
Interstice: An Installation by Andrew Thomas Huang will be on display at Milk Gallery) through April 3, 2016.
Pieces are available for sale at the Milk Store.