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Spotlight: RAiR Wang Chen

Submitted Photo Still shot of the instillation, "In the Woods," HD video with sound, six min., 2021, by Wang Chen.

Copyright © 2021 Roswell Daily Record

Artists build connections

Roswell Artist-in-Residence Wang Chen installation exhibit and talk “In the Woods”

By Christina Stock

Vision Editor

Multi-media artist Wang Chen is in a unique position of being able to see similarities between two countries that seem to be so different: The United States of American and the Republic of China. The artist goes by the full name Wang Chen and — while painting is a preferred medium — is known as a multi-media artist, combining paintings with digital video and sound clips. Additionally, since arriving in Roswell, Wang Chen incorporates clay into sculptures that frame the video art pieces and become part of the videos themselves.

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As a child, Wang Chen grew up in the city of Hohhot, capitol of Inner Mongolia. With a population of more than 3 million, it compares in size with Los Angeles. The cultural metropolis is a haven of architectural symmetry, an industrial, thriving city and a bridge between Mongolia and China.

Wang Chen’s first encounter with art was in Hohhot’s school at age four, though the classes focused on traditional Chinese painting style. “I was into Chinese painting, I had no idea about other art,” Wang Chen said. Classic Chinese painting and its fundamental technique is the base of art education in China, Wang Chen said. It is a very precise technique that goes back thousands of years. A student is only permitted to show creativity and one’s own style after graduation. Wang Chen showed as an example the motion of painting bamboo. There is only one way.

Wang Chen’s mother, however, had wanted to become an artist herself, but had to switch to architecture. She encouraged her child to pursue the arts and made it possible for Wang Chen to study in the U.S.

“I’ve been here for 10 years, I came here for school,” Wang Chen said. “The first year I got here, it was weird. It’s really exciting, but really confusing. You have the freedom, creativity — it was not like when I was learning Chinese painting.”

Wang Chen said that after graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting and Printmaking from Virginia Commonwealth University — and receiving a Master in Fine Arts for Photography and related Media from Rochester Institute of Technology — living in the U.S. became comfortable.

Asked how the subject of a residency came up, Wang Chen said, “I was asking my director. What am I going to do after school? (She said) You can work as an artist, keep on researching. Because I had no idea about residencies, she told me there is a longer one.” Most residencies are for several weeks or maximum a couple of months, while the RAiR program offers “the gift of time” — an entire year.

“I did not apply when I left school, it was 2018,” Wang Chen said. “I was not going to rush, I wanted to wait when I am ready, and I applied the next year. I prepared and applied and got in right away.”

The artist had never encountered a rural lifestyle in the U.S., or in China, “I was really excited,” Wang Chen said. “I flew to Dallas, shipped my car to Dallas and drove from Dallas to here. I was coming from the train track the back way and was passing all the farms. That got me. I’ve been to really small towns, but not farms.”

The first night at the RAiR compound was almost the last night for Wang Chen, after being welcomed by insects, including scorpions. There were no insects like these in Hohhot or New York City, where Wang Chen had found a second, or rather third home after graduating from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Asked about the work created in Roswell, Wang Chen said that the installation is named “In the Woods,” a metaphor on the artist’s feeling towards today’s reality. It originated from reading Dante Alighieri’s poem “Inferno,” which begins in a mythical dark wood. The art pieces, videos and paintings that are fused into the videos have been created during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic fear, and also reflect the artist’s concerns in the light of today’s news that shows racism, issues of sexuality, of fear and the global reaction to the chaos.

Wang Chen’s work is bright and colorful, but shows a utopian and dystopian barrage of creatures in a surrealistic and exotic landscape. Merging videos that originate in the artist’s first love for painting and drawing, which then get transferred to video. The creatures are neutral in their sexuality, painted virtual eyes open in frames and video, each entity having a different character within the immersive video installation.

Wang Chen said about her work process in Roswell, “It is more about expressing myself, my life experience. My work is not dramatically or steadily shifting, but the topics shift. There is also definitely a factor transitioning to countries. For me, I feel like China and the United States, they are really similar. Transitioning myself, it affects me so much. My talks, especially doing this one, my topic is about my gender, my identity, sexuality. Here, it all started with COVID and what affected me: Looking at politics, the power structure here and also in China. Usually, when I start — from project to project —there are many drawings involved. The drawings really shifted, the more I look at (the) drawings, there is less sexuality but more anxiety happening.”

According to the artist, this became the point, creativity and imagination, our culture of escapism facing reality on a global stage.

Asked what the artist’s plans are after the exhibit, Wang Chen said that the next exhibit will be in fall in Los Angeles, California. With Chaves County and New Mexico COVID-19 restrictions easing up, Wang Chen said, “I rented a house at Berrendo, I’ll continue to prepare the whole exhibition until fall and then it’s going to be winter, and I don’t want to move back to the city (New York City) in winter. I probably be staying until spring. I know several of the upcoming artists. I am excited for them, but at the same time, I want to meet more locals.

“I already had so much fun, there is so much entertainment (hunting scorpions.) That gave me lots of stories to tell my friends,” Wang Chen said and chuckled.

Wang Chen has exhibited both nationally and internationally, including at The Immigrant Artist Biennial and ZAZ 10 Times Square in New York City, Crosstown Art Center in Memphis, Fogotgrafiska Museum in Stockholm, Sweden, The Maracay International Film & Video Festival in Maracay, Venezuela and Jiye Art Museum in Suzhou, China.

The artist’s talk will be on Zoom on June 25 at 5:30 p.m. The login is: zoom.us/j/5756246744, meeting ID is 575 624 6744, or call 1-346-248-7799.

The installation “In the Woods” will be up until Aug. 8 at the Marshall and Winston Gallery, Roswell Museum and Art Center, 1011 N. Richardson Ave.

For more information about the artist, visit wangchenstudio.com.