Panel Discussion on “Choice”

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Link to the artwork: Online “Choice” Gallery  

Information about the exhibit: www.4Choice2013.com

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On Saturday, January 12th, 2014, I spoke with a panel of artists I admire, on the topic of Choice and the decisions that women make today. The talk included comments on the topic by Laurie Toby Edison, Bernadette Howard, Priscilla Otani, and yours truly, moderated by Tanya Augsburg, Ph.D.  The Northern California Women’s Caucus for Art hosted the event, at Arc Studios and Gallery in San Francisco. Here is the statement that I made. 

“A Choice”

My piece for this show, “Waiting,” was about a personal choice I made three years ago. Three years ago, I was engaged to a wonderful Chinese boy from a great family, but I made a choice not to get married. Since that decision, I became a pseudo-marriage counselor. Close friends, as well as people I hadn’t spoken to in years, came out of the woodwork to ask me about my decision not to get married. Reactions ranged from slight disapproval to admiration, everyone had to something to say. I expected this; what I didn’t expect, was so many women, young and old, approaching me with their own reservations about marriage.

For example, a good friend of mine I hadn’t seen since college, who was engaged to be married in two weeks, called me up and told me how despite how much she loved her fiance, she wanted to call off the wedding. We then went on to commiserate about much bullshit weddings were, how as women, we had to transition from being our own person to someone else’s “wife,” and how- no one ever tells you that the prospect of marriage means giving up your previous identity to make room for this new role. Everyone expected you to be overjoyed to plan a wedding, to change your name, to have children. No one wanted to hear about doubt. Before we hung up, she told me she could never call off her wedding because her parents would never talk to her again. Two weeks later, I attended her wedding. She was a beautiful bride, the wedding was perfect, and I couldn’t have been happier for her. When I tell this story, people ask: why did she choose to get married if she didn’t want to? Haven’t we progressed past forcing women to get married?

But I was happy for her because she made a Choice. Whether or not it was the right one— only she can decide, but she was able to make the right choice for herself, and I respect and support whatever that may be. Even now, as people approach me in hindsight to tell me I made the right choice not to get married, I am amazed, because I still don’t know if it was the right thing. When it happened, I felt tremendous pain, and faced the disappointment of many loved ones, and it hurt like I made the wrong choice. I also know that even if I had chosen to get married, I may have felt that pain too. Or maybe I wouldn’t have.  I don’t know, and I will never know. But it doesn’t matter, because I made that choice.

Choice comes with consequences, good and bad. No one can tell you if what you did is “right” or “wrong.” In my opinion, the cognitive act itself is separate from moral consequences. What I am grateful for, though, is the right to exercise my own free will. What I am thankful for, are those who respected me enough to allow me the freedom to make that choice, and supported me through its consequences. During that same time, I also decided to quit my cushy job at Google and become a painter. As you can probably imagine, that was also an unpopular choice with my family. But I figured they were already disappointed in me, so it was a good time to do everything all at once.

In this piece, I imagined what it was like for the women in my family, and the women before me, to make the choice to get married. The red hooded figure in the center is dressed in a traditional Chinese wedding gown. She is faceless and nameless, without an identity to her future husband until she is officially his wife. More likely than not, she didn’t choose to get married. Her husband was probably chosen for her. But her state of being is not judgmental, resentful, or sad. She is calm and anticipating. To show this contrast, I chose a smooth, cool gray and mixed in warm tones reminiscent of the sky. It is neutral and serene, maybe even hopeful. She is suspended in time, in space.

Within her figure, however, I chose deep, blood reds and created textures to show her inner turmoil. Her crooked, clammy hands reveal her apprehension. Despite her inability to make the choice to get married, she exudes an elegant boldness as she waits patiently and calmly for her new life to begin. To me, this painting reminds me of the ordinary, nameless women who made brave choices so I could have the freedom to make mine. It also reminds me that it is my responsibility to speak for women who can’t make their own choices, and that- even today, not everyone has that choice.

For those of us who have the freedom to make our own choices, it is important that we continue to use our voices and fight through Art, through sharing our experiences, whatever it may be— to give voice to those who don’t. Even more important still— to support and respect the choices that others make for themselves. We are not here to judge right from wrong, to shield them from the consequences. We are here to support a Choice.

  –Cindy Shih


Social Practice Art as a Necessary Product of a Global Means to Connect

 

In the United States, it appears though social practice art is no longer fashionable, and issues like identity and feminism have fallen out of favor. Despite this, social engagement in the United States is more important than ever, as our government systems continue to erode and our country struggles to understand our role in the world economy. Social practice and representational art that communicates and connects to a view is harder to measure than reducing Art to a particular style or a personal brand. However, if you listen carefully to the voice of emerging artists, the global tide is beginning to change. Social practice art is making a comeback.

For seven years before becoming an artist, I worked in the tech industry. While the work was not inherently creative, I learned to collaborate and generate ideas, to implement projects globally, and work in an environment of “organized chaos.” Like the Internet, the tech industry is open and generative. People are no longer confined by their location, and are free to collaborate and execute ideas on a global level. Most of us were frustrated with bureaucracy and the status quo, but we were no longer satisfied with voicing our concerns. We were determined to use our resources, build stuff, and fix it.

I plan to bring this attitude to the Art world, because I believe we need fewer restrictions and voices, and more hands to create change. I am discouraged by the status of social Art in the United States, but I am no longer satisfied with merely complaining about it. I am determined to not simply be a voice, but to be the hands. One way I believe I can be a part of the movement to mold and shape the status of Art, is to start by bringing back social relevance, because one important way Art derives meaning is through its connection with people.

In fact, contrary to what it may seem in the mainstream, I believe we’re on the cusp of a global, post-feminist movement. This is evidenced by growing list of successful international female artists such as Hung Liu, Wangechi Mutu, and Lee Jinjiu rising into the art scene and demanding global attention. In their own way, each of these women were able to rebel against their own pressures imposed on them, build upon the work done by generations of women before them, and create their own identity.

I am inspired by these women, and the fact that women across the world are finally being seen as individuals, not just a faceless, mass movement. I am excited to be join this movement because we now have the motivation and the means through technology, to connect with women across the world. I refuse to believe that Feminism was a passing fad because it is far too important to be disregarded. I believe we owe it to the generations of ordinary women who have paved the way, simply by existing, by suffering, and letting their brave voices be recorded and heard. These women put the wheels in motion, and it is now our duty to listen to those voices from the past, use technology to connect and collaborate globally, and finally, use our hands to create.

–October 10th, 2013


Guys! I had FOUR shows in October!

Yeah, wow…I totally killed it in October.  I wrote this big long blog post about how awesome it was, how much of a learning experience it was, and how absolutely exhausting it was, but WordPress decided to erase it. Maybe I should put more naked people in it next time.  🙂

Anyway, here were the shows (in no particular order):

  • “A Time to Reflect,” 33 Gough Gallery. Exhibition Dates: October 9th to November 27th, 2012
  • “From the Darkness Creeps,” Big Umbrella Studios. Opening: October 12th, 2012
  • “Provocations,” SF Raw at 1015 Folsom. Opening: October 25th, 2012
  • Student Exhibition at Fort Mason Building B, October 30th to November 14th, 2012

Thanks to everyone who made it out to see my work. I am so, so, incredibly grateful to have such amazing, supportive friends here with me throughout this crazy process. I just hope that I can continue to build on these small successes and just keep getting better.

Here are some photos from my shows this month:

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I was a featured artist at SF Raw, “Provocations,” October 25th, 2012. That show was a blast! Check out my photos from the SF Raw “Provocations” Facebook Album. 

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Solo Art Show. 33 Gough Art Gallery, “A Time to Reflect” October 9th – November 27th, 2012

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Group Show. “From the Darkness Creeps,” at Big Umbrella Studios. Opening Reception October 12th, 2012

Here’s a write-up they did for me!

Student Exhibit, Fort Mason Building B. (My piece is on the bottom left)

Project: Post Art All Over San Francisco = Complete. 


My First Juried Show!

Conventional wisdom says that, to be considered a “serious” artist- you need to put yourself out there and enter your work into some juried shows. So, despite its impracticality of costs and effort, I went ahead and submitted my work to the CCSF annual show.

Well, I got in! Today was the opening reception, even though the pieces have been up for a week or two now. I guess they had to choose the most convenient time for unemployed artists and teachers’ lunch breaks, but the most inopportune time for anyone else— ever. So I took some pictures of some of the pieces for my lovely friends and family who have been SO incredibly supportive and awesome through my transformation to “serious” Artisthood.

Upon entering, there were three really impressive pieces. One that was called “Urban Dating” which featured a pig’s head on a woman’s body, holding a guinea pig. Not sure what the commentary was, but it was strikingly askew and well-framed.

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In the entrance was John Wehrle’s Bio and his method in curating the show. Apparently, there had been close to 100 submissions and about 30 were chosen. He mentioned that he leaned toward paintings and two-dimensional work, and a solid grasp on technique as well as a unique concept. Must have been a tough process, there were some great pieces there.

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There were a good number of people milling about, I’d say about 30-40 people at any given time. Pretty impressive, for a Monday afternoon opening reception.

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John Wehrle is the tall gentleman in the hat, with paint drippings all over his white shoes. 🙂 (Love that!)

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I was blown away by this watercolor by Evelyne Picard. She was there, and gave me her card and told me to “like” her page on Facebook. It took me aback somewhat, but I appreciate that artists are understanding the power of social media these days. Which reminds me, I need to get some cards made…

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http://www.evelynepicard.blogspot.com is her website! Why not promote the fellow artists?

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My piece was in the corner upon entering from the main area. Looked nice over there!

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Impressive photo-realist oil piece of an intersection at Excelsior.

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It was a tiny gallery, probably about 15 x 15 sq ft of space. There were about 30 pieces total:

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This one’s for the books! (And my Mom!) Thanks Adam Turner for coming by and taking this shot. And thank you, thank you for all of your support, friends. It’s really amazing to feel so much doubt and fear for pursuing something unknown, and at the same time, so much love and gratitude for everyone around me.

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Love, Cindy


2 Galleries in 5 Blocks = Worlds Apart.

As we approach rainy season in San Francisco, art openings begin. April brings a fresh, ripe set of shows that finally caught my eye. On Saturday, faced with the unsurmountable choice (hint: sarcasm) between tailgating at Oakland A’s exciting opening day and about a dozen art reception openings, I chose to attend receptions for two galleries on Market Street: Varnish Gallery around 1st and Market, and the Luggage Store Gallery at around 6th and Market. I’ve heard of both before, in fact, I think I went to a swanky New Year’s Eve party that a bunch of tech people threw at Varnish for a few years back- and I heard about Luggage Store Gallery being a great gallery featuring up and coming SF artists back when I was in LA. Anyway, I guess my point is that I went to these galleries because I had some connection to them, not because I felt particularly adventurous. I assume most people go to art shows because they have *some* connection to them.

First show at Varnish was called, “The Have and Have Not Group Show,” curated by artist Lee Ballard. This show opened on Saturday, but will be up until April 28th, 2012. This one received a lot of fanfare, most notably from Hi-Fructose Magazine, featuring a nice collection of images of pieces in the show. The gallery is a cozy space tucked away in a small alleyway near Yank Sing and Golden Gate University, but it was jam packed with impeccably dressed, rockstar artist types with PBR (ah yes, SF hipsters)  and a glass of wine in hand. Image

Coming from the back door, the first thing that caught my eye were Brad Isdrab’s robot looking dudes:

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Definitely enjoyed their prominent display near the back of the room, guarding the pieces on the wall. They reminded me of those wooden proportion models I have in my studio, the kind you use to study anatomy, except these were whimsically primitive and fun.

Next, I saw Scott Campbell’s pieces, which were toward the side wall. These caught my eye because I actually own a piece by Scott Campbell I bought years ago at Nucleus Gallery in LA, I was happy to see that his work was at a reputable gallery years later.

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Next, I checked out Jon Wayshak’s pieces along the back. I was blown away at each of his elaborate illustrations. It had a decided comic book style, but his technique was more artistic and his compositions were exquisite. The pieces were both comical and horrific, the style both organic and polished. These blew me away.

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My favorite piece of the show was by Rick Berry, who I scrambled to look up after the show. His use of color, lines, and movement capture a mood and aesthetic I can only hope to achieve one day.

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All in all, great looking show with impressively high caliber pieces. No crazy adventurous, avant-garde installations- but I appreciated that. Sometimes there’s value just seeing great mixed media work without all the conceptual weirdness. There were a lot of pieces here where a serious collector would say, “Yes, that looks like it has tons of value and I would buy that,” which is more than what I could say about some other galleries. I also appreciated the fact that the show’s theme was apt, relevant to our current society, and the show highlighted the immense talent in contemporary mixed media artists today.

Next show was at the Luggage Store Gallery, called “Me and My ____.” This one was in a markedly different space, upstairs overlooking the shadier side of Market Street. I’ve been to this gallery before, but they seemed to have done some renovations to it that looks great:

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Most of the work were installations, and the space was great for it. I’ll save the critique and go straight to pictures:

This room was transformed into a crazy surreal experience of rapper saints and milagro-inspired decor.

 

This show had a decidedly different clientele, mainly grungy looking art students and musicians (possibly). I really quite enjoyed the passion the pieces conveyed, and the courageous compositions and subject matter. The space was great for cutting edge installations, and walking into each space transformed your surroundings and perspective.

Overall, very cool space, tons of great installations that made you chuckle and reflect- but seemed a bit esoteric and insular to the conceptual art aesthetic. I imagine that to most people, this gallery would be cool to check out but the work is not particularly accessible to most.