Overview, Images

Australia as the face of still water

Cristea Nian Zhao, Lǐ Xīng Yǔ - Echo Li , Luyuan Zhang, Youija Lu, Yundi Wang

8 Jul–30 Sep 2022

The conversation between Ashley Perry and Siying Zhou took place via zoom on the land of the Bunurong Boon Wurrung, Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung peoples and the Bunurong people. The transcription of the conversation is interspersed with the works of the artists.

Cristea Nian Zhao

Cristea Nian Zhao comes from a background in film. She has written and directed several narrative short films and documentaries. Since emigrating to Australia in 2018, her practice has expanded into performance, video installation and text-based work. Language, spoken narrative and shared listening are crucial to her practice. Her interest is in unearthing various forms of loss from personal history and collective memory. The possibility/impossibility of mourning and reconciliation frequently lies beneath her works. Zhao recently graduated from RMIT with a Master of Fine Art.

My home is on a Swamp (The practice of belonging and un-belonging),
2022. Single channel video, 6:14min. Courtesy the artist.

Essay: My Home Is On a Swamp

about the land

Siying Zhou (SZ)

For me, my relationship with Australia land started from the day when I arrived at Sydney 20 years ago. Before that, I barely knew anything about Australia. In the first four years all my perception about Australia was informed by my experience of living in the inner-city of Sydney.

Ashley Perry (AP)

You mentioned that you knew Fred Williams paintings before you came to Australia. Did you ever think about Williams’s paintings in relation to the land of Australia when you were in Sydney? Did Fred Williams’s particular representation of the landscape give you an association with Australian land? Or, did the paintings just get seen as artwork detached from the land?


I have an interesting perception on Williams’ work. I learnt about William’s work from my supervisor Mr. Wu when I studied Visual Art in Nanjing Art Institute. Mr. Wu loved William’s landscape paintings and often referred the composition and the colour rendering techniques of Williams’s paintings in his own drawings of the South China landscape, particularly, the drawings of the landscape of Suzhou. So, for me, Williams’s landscape paintings were more of a rhetoric or aesthetic scheme for landscape representation that conveyed artistic meanings instead of a cultural significance. The content about Australia in Williams’s paintings appeared abstract and surreal in my understanding. In my first four years in Australia, my priority was to survive being an international student and the life of a migrant in the Sydney city. Access to the country or the landscape presented in Williams’ paintings was a luxury idea to afford. I didn't have a car nor money nor time. Long story short, Williams’ Australia wasn't my reality at that time.

My relationship with Australian land has naturally progressed throughout the years. The longer I lived in Australia, the more intimate it becomes. But, I never can completely remove the strangeness of the Australian land to me. For example, when I did the artist residency in Ararat, I went there, knowing nothing about this place, its landscape, its residents, and its history. I was like a naïve tourist. Despite that I had learnt about Ararat during the residency and my position had shifted inwardly, the anxiety of being other had been acknowledged and enhanced. This anxiety does not only come from the lack of knowledge about a place in Australia but also from the fact that I have no immediate social network, that I, an immigrant with an immigrant parents, can reach and ask about this place.


I think it's always interesting to see, when people visit places around Australia, around the continent of Australia, what markers are there? And who is allowed to tell the histories of a place, both pre-colonial and colonial histories? It’s interesting to think where the knowledge lies; whether it is accessible; what the asserted efforts have been made to erase or keep those histories. I listened to a recording of Julie Gough’s talk about wanting to have markers on people's fences, saying about the massacre sites. I interpreted it as a radical act to do. It seems there's so much more that could be asked for, but it doesn't even seem possible to ask in the current state of things here.


How do you feel about your relationship to the land of Australia?


It’s an interesting one. Despite that I am from Quandamooka country, I've lived most of my life down here in Boon Wurrung country. I am aware that there are things that I've learnt through the time living on another Aboriginal land. There are the knowledge that the traditional owners here would have for their culture and the histories of their land, and the specific knowledge that are passed down generationally or through invested interests in belonging to that place and understanding the place through those connections.

I'm aware that there are things that I have sought out here, but I won't know because it's not my place to know. I think it's the same back home. Things would be passed to me about our country and about caring for the country and about how things operate seasonally and environmentally and even socially and how we deal with the animals in the wildlife and the flora. These are all important things to understand for us. I think there are places where that knowledge can be shared, but also parts of that need to stay within the community. I think each country and language group have those specific details. With colonization, there is other kind of histories and events that have happened. That leads to different experiences. The experience of colonization that we have as being an island nation, near the capital city of Queensland, is different from Boon Wurrung people, who have quite a large country and fall on the capital city of Victoria. The way that colonization has played out has shaped countries in different ways. Our country has been physically changed by colonization in terms of our island being blown up and split into two islands. The terraforming has happened and changed the land into a productive land for farming or for housing. With the awareness of all these processes, how can you go beneath that and find out what's still there from the before times and what can be there after? The questions also include: What the past is and what the future is for these places.


This is what I don't have: that knowledge about the place here that is passed down through family. I'm not saying that such knowledge can't be acquired myself from research. But I think when the knowledge is passed down through generations of one’s family, it projects a strong sense of truth and ownership about the learnt knowledge. When I learn things from books or other public information resources, the knowledge is felt distanced because it is absorbed through a series of interpretation processes and a critical examination. For example, when I read Don Watson's book The Bush, I was clearly aware that knowledge I learnt from this book was given from the position of a ‘white’ straight Australian man. I don’t own the perception about the Australian bush projected in Don’s book, but only can learn about it.

But it’s interesting to hear that you also experience being the Other by living in the different Aboriginal country from the one your family belongs.


Definitely. I've grown up in a quite small Aboriginal community. Despite it is close to Brisbane, it is quite remote. When I was a kid, it took like an hour in a barge ride or a 45 minute taxi boat ride to travel to Brisbane. It might be a bit faster now. It was a very different experience in comparison to living in Boon Wurrung country, Victoria, down near Phillip Island and in the city. There are different protocols and social issues in these places. Melbourne is an urban centre and has immigrants, migrants, settlers and indigenous people from across the world who bring their own knowledge and experiences and culture. In Melbourne, things sit relatively to the matters about how to interact and respect the land that we're on, the people from this land, and what their culture is. I try to have a space to tell our stories, meanwhile create a space for the stories that belong here. Sometimes, it's hard to navigate this because things operate differently in different places. Working out what's the right thing to do, learning through doing and trying things and working with different people are important. It's always a process.


I can see a dilemma for Australian immigrants because the more the immigrants celebrate their achievement of placemaking and making a contemporary Australian culture with the culture that they represent and carry, the harder the pre-colonial history of a place can be accessed and seen.


I think it's hard. As an Aboriginal man from Quandamooka Country, I think indigenous people haven't had a chance to actually go through the protocols to welcome people to the country. When immigrants/migrants come to our land, we are pitted against one another. But there is the history that the unity can be found in the relationships between the Aboriginal communities, and the migrant communities. I was up in Queensland two weeks ago. I heard about our mob used to trade fish with the Lebanese communities. That took place in the really early period of the colonization, like in the late 1800s. It was when economies and markets were formed. The forms of solidarity could have existed within the trades regardless the persecution within the “White” Australia that different migrant groups had experienced. The similar situations happened up in Darwin between the Aboriginal communities and the Chinese communities. But it's hard when we never have been positioned in power to welcome or actually and actively have a say in the policies about immigrant/migrants/refugees. In relation to the refugee crisis around the world, there would be situations where a lot of indigenous communities would want to take refugees, and particularly the climate refugees from our close indigenous families in the great ocean. I found it’s interesting that in these situations we can voice our opinions, but we can't formally act actively and do stuff about the situation. I wonder what futures could be, if we had a say, be able to welcome people and actually have our voice heard. I'm mindful about the reality where the Aboriginal people is pitted against immigrants in particularly by the ‘right’. Having the naturalization ceremony for people to become an Australian citizen on Australia Day, the day is hurtful and troubling our communities because it was when the colonization had started, is to let the ‘right’ pit immigrants against us. It’s important to challenge this and people sit in that.

Youjia Lu

Youjia Lu is a video artist and researcher. She recently completed a PhD at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne, where she received a Melbourne Research Scholarship and the Academic Assistantship Program 2019-2020. Her research explores how to evoke an immediate experience of an indeterminate Self through digital video art practice. Her ongoing artistic experiments test video’s capacity to digitally manipulate time, create illusory superimposed images and induce strobe effect in projection space.Lu has presented her PhD research ‘Indeterminate Self’ at conferences such as the Visual Science of Art Conference in Italy (2018) and Belgium (2019), Digital Cultures in Germany (2018), European Society for Literature, Science and the Arts in Greece (2019).

Youjia Lu, Super(im)position: enduring (non-place), 2020. HD video, 3:52min. Courtesy the artist.

(Strobe light warning: viewer discretion advised)

Video medium manifests a ghostly ‘()’, the (non-place); it channels the otherness of an event in space and time, a ritual or paradise.

I filmed this video while testing one of my video experiments ‘Super(im)position’[1] in my apartment. The domestic backdrop and duality of virtual/actual space in this work echo the current interrelationship between time, space and ourselves in an uncanny way.The screen enacts an ambiguous veil between our embodied presence and the presence of video-mediated space and time, offering distance and intimacy. Video medium captures and encapsulates a (virtual) space and time in which the event we observe was (actually) taking in place. It demarcates a (non-place) where nobody is present, yet everybody is given presence.

Enduring [2] the (non-place)ness of space and time, the paradise is yet to come.

[1]Super(im)positiondenotes an editing method I have developed for digital video and moving images. It is a rapid intercutting that is generated by deliberate ‘gaps’ on the timelines of two (or multiple) video tracks resulting in an optical illusion as if the two (or multiple) tracks of video imagery coexist in a superimposition.

[2] ‘Enduring’ means long-lasting, existing over time.

about self


I can see that your identity is mostly informed by your relationship with the land of Australia. In my case, the identity of immigrants embeds a sense of displacement and disconnection to the land. Immigration and migration give people an opportunity to reinvent a self. At the same time, they also make people to be haunted by question “Who I am?”. The subject of Self has been in the centre of the Western culture and philosophy. I naturally entered this discourse after I migrated to Australia.

A person’s name would be the most quintessential form for self-representation. I have seen that many Chinese adopt an English name when they migrate to Australia or other English-speaking countries. I am always intrigued by what the intention might for these people to take on a new English name when they migrate. Would it be that they generously want to be a new person, or that they just make things easy for others, or that they actually seek acceptance from the country where English is official and dominant language, or all above?

When I came to Australia, I had no intention to change my name. But it is almost impossible to keep my original name here, because very few here can read Chinese characters and Chinese language is not recognized in any formal and legal documents. With an intention to keep most of my name, I made a name by referring to the PinYin system. PinYin is the phonetic system used in China for pronouncing Chinese characters. PinYin system is made of English letters but does not indicate the pronunciation of English alphabets. So, it turns out, event thought my name has a presentation in English letters, I still often get called wrongly. When I introduce myself to the Chinese speaking community here, I have to reveal the Chinse characters of my name to them. The name in PinYin would not make much sense as one’s name. The troubles that I have had with my name in Australia remind me constantly about an instable, incomplete and unrecognized self.


It's interesting. I often think about the notion of switching the way that one talks, behaves, presents on account of a particular space or setting.It must be a psychological thing when it happens. When one is trying to present professionally, what does that mean in terms of appearance or the way you speak or what to wear or not to wear? I've never been trained to pick up on specific ways of speaking or grammar or behavioural ways in certain situation. I might do it subconsciously. But I don't want to police people in the same way as how I'm policed by other people. I sometimes get corrected about the way that I speak in certain situations or sudden behaviours that I have and inform a more Western, or European mold of how to exist in the world.

I think that it's interesting that how an experience of Self in terms of the places that we exist can be very different. Going back home (Quandamooka country), I navigate spaces in community and around family and on the country. It is very different from the way of navigating social spaces down here. When I'm at work or working on art projects or even just existing in the city, I notice the differences - the way of talking, pacing or even just planning or organizing things to happen. I think about how Self can exist dualistically, or differently in different places.

I think there is a psychological impact due to this way of navigating the world. It’s like what you have just described that seeing your name written phonetically is such a different experience from seeing it written correctly. Things like characters can be easily dismissed. But you do notice them. When it comes to the language of naming, it concerns language words and Jandia. In my country, the spoken language was almost lost entirely. We make hours of work to recover it. But only parts of that are recovered. We do have the recordings for few single words that have been written down. So, you see the phonetic way of reading it. But, I'm not linguist. I haven’t studied linguistics. I don't have the knowledge to be able to read phonetics perfectly. I'm always wondering if I'm reading certain words correctly.


I wonder when you participate in international projects and present your work internationally whether you think about what/who you represent.


I have always struggled when I present works in other places. I am troubled by the questions: What I'm there for? What the purpose is for me being there, or for my work to be in that situation? Who I'm representing? Sometimes, it's easy when I am placed in a space where the presentation of the work, the write-ups about you, your bio, and what gets put into a speech, are produced through interpersonal conversations. In these cases, I could position myself in a particular way. I can have more control or agency to contextualize my work or my experiences or myself. But sometimes, it would be tricky to do that. The option that I have a control on my work could be rejected by an organization. The position that I bring on things isn’t always the favourite position to an exhibition or the organizers. The opportunity to bring myself in or my community in a different way could challenge what the larger purpose of something else. I think it would be easier to have a conversation where a person can actually ask questions. You can expand or try to understand where they're coming from and make comparisons. Any miscommunications can be clarified, at least more clarified than just representing through texts or through the formal kind of capacities.


I felt like that a narrative of Self is always attached with the presentation of an artist in the West society. There is a public expectation on an artist for the information such as, who you are? what you represent? what's your identity? An artist needs to provide a bio in every exhibition and grant application. Building a profile to the public is always in the package of being an artist.


I think you're right. For me, I tend to not use the word, indigenous because I see Indigenous being a category of person, that's more global. Aboriginal people here would be indigenous Maori would be in New Zealand. Maori people have different histories and experiences and cultural specificities. And within those brackets, there would be specific language groups and cultures. We're indigenous through the experience of colonization. I'm mindful that when you position yourself, positionality might change when you're in different places. For you, as an immigrant to Australia, when you present work overseas, the cultural context shifts and changes the work. I guess it’s the same for me. If I had shown in Canada, or Torres strait Islands, and I just to put indigenous in the description about myself, that would mean someone else. People would assume me as the local indigenous people had an understanding about the cultural specificities and histories there. But the fact is I wouldn't, or at least not to think in a capacity as someone who is from these experiences. In considering what points we get entered, I think our positionality should be placed in context.There are times when your experience needs to create space for someone else's experience. There are times when we can be in a space where the story needs be ours, but then there might be another place where the story or the conversation needs to be cantered on another issue or someone else's positionality and histories.


I find it really hard to talk about Self. but it's such a ubiquitous question. There is an English expression: Be yourself. I find it is such a false advice and reveals a paradoxical logic. How can I be myself while Self remains ambiguous?

Yundi Wang

Yundi articulates her experience in societal norms, morality, and interpersonal relationships through making art. These artworks are usually presented as videos, sounds, performances, writing, strange sculptural objects and photographs. When making videos, Yundi composes footage through observation; observing the accidents in the playing (with footage); playing as manipulating them through a process of digital cut and paste, collaging, and using metaphor. Yundi collaborates with others in order to learn, to fight, and to grow together. Some recent exhibitions include Not a Musical, with Evelyn Pohl, George Paton Gallery, 2020; falling back to, Blindside Satellite, 2021; Blank Space Narration, performance with Echo Li, Das Boot Art Fair, 2022.

Yundi Wang, Raven, 2020, poem. Courtesy the artist.

about romance


I am a romance guru.


Haha. Please help me! I must admit that there is always pressure on me when it comes to romantic relationships. I don't know if it comes from that I am being a female or a Chinese. In Chinese cultural communities, a good marriage is often addressed as an important achievement for a woman, sometimes it is the only mattered achievement for a woman. A good life for a Chinese woman is thought to be a stress-free and financially secured life achieved through her marriage with a wealthy or powerful husband. In this view, a woman like me who is still single in the 40s and still trying to get a higher education qualification and still building a career, often receive the pity gaze, and is seen as a failure. I guess it is the reason that I am happily living in Australia.Although this view is widely accepted within Chinese communities, it was rejected in the Chinese society till the late 90s when China began fully to embrace the capitalist economy and the desire for a rich material life. So, as a person who was born in the 80s and taught by my grandmas about the importance of independency, I have subconsciously been critical about the value of a marriage to a woman. But I guess, as finding romantic relationship has never been the priority in my life, I have to admit that I am not good at dealing with any romantic relationship. They really confuse me.


This is something that I struggled with a lot when I was young. At that time, I was trying to work out things, such as what life choices were, or what you could make within your gender roles and within the culture that we came from, or and how those things impacted us. For me, when I was younger, around between 18 to 22, I was unsure about going to a relationship for knowing that I wasn't earning much money to be able to support a partner. I was questioning what our life would be while I was an artist or becoming an artist. I am worried that if I could earn the enough money to be able to equally contribute to a lifestyle with a partner or a future of prospects. I think part of my concerns at that time came out of the ambiguity about what was the artist lifestyle and how viable the artist life was. When I make a minimum wage and an income that's just livable as an artist, how could I not put the financial burden on someone else?


Of course, you don't want to be a burden to the person whom you love. You don't want that the unequal financial status between you and your partner contribute an unbalanced power dynamic between you.


Exactly. How that plays out for me would be very different how that plays out for a woman in a relationship. I think many things including dependency and expectations between a couple are up for them to negotiate. But when the cost of living is becoming more expensive, it gets trickier to navigate the negotiation. How you share that expense and what lifestyle choices you make will impact on your relationship. These are something that I was concerned about a lot for a long time. I avoided relationships for this reason. More recently, I have been in relationships with other people and felt more comfortable to sit in this situation.I am able to earn more money now and feel more self-sustained. At the same time, it also means I have to work so much to keep up my current financial status. I have noticed that it's been a long time that I haven’t spend much time with my partner. It's a very hard balance strike.


It can be exhausting to match your income up with your partner. It would psychosocially impact on self-perception. I can tell you one of my experiences. There was a time when I was close to a guy. I don’t think we were dating but I sensed a tendency that our relationship could become romantic.But one thing he did stopped me to imagine a future with him. That was that every time we went out to eat, he insisted to pay for both of us. Even I clearly told him that I would like to pay for the food that I had and do Go-Dutch, he insisted to cover the full bill. His weird insistence really made me felt a bit patronized and belittled. Sometimes, I do get advice to be more acceptable and be happy if someone would like to pay things for you. But I don't think I have the personality to accept that. I might have too much of pride.


I think it’s like a double-edged sword. It shouldn’t be the case that just because someone's happy to pay for you, you should accept that. Your friend should consider what you felt about his generous behaviour. He shouldn’t assume that you just took his offer. What you felt and what made you feel comfortable should matter.I think his behaviour is kind of chivalry and outdated. It doesn't fit the kind of contemporary expectations that people have in relationships. That the man wants to pay for the whole meals can be considered very sweet, conventional, but it also dated. Navigating the space together is about finding those spaces that are felt comfortable for both of you. If that can't be found, maybe it's just not meant to be like or maybe that needs to be worked on.


This is a wise view on the relationship. I don't know if your gay identity brings you any anxiety in the case of dating. For me, I came to Australia in my early 20s. I didn't have any experiences of dating before. So Australia is the place where I started to think about developing a potential romance relationship with someone. But as a Chinese immigrant, I am troubled by the notion of “yellow fever”. I am quite suspicious if a white guy approaches me in a romantic way. I often wonder if this person likes me because of my Asian look or my Chinese culture heritage.It is a weird psychological thing. I also can be very sensitive about how people see me. If I went out with a white guy, I would feel I was participating in the stereotype for Asian girls that a White boyfriend is seen as their trophy. Have you ever been troubled by these thoughts?


Yeah. Definitely. I think I can always see parallels and crossovers in the gay community. There is this space where men are looking for other men in terms of their interests, who they're attracted to, or who they feel a connection to. Within online dating apps or other spaces, all the prejudice are embedded.I think it's a tricky space to navigate. I've received messages this one time when I was in Sydney. The message literally said: you should have your f-king hair. You look disgusting. This is someone who I would not be interested in. But I wonder who would go to this space and actually tell someone things like this. That is my worst experience that I've had in this space. But I know other gay men have experienced racial attacks, criticism and being confronted with someone’s open-up profile, such as:no offence, but no Asians or no etc. What the actual f-k! that people are navigating the world in that way. My white passing privilege makes me be impacted by some of these issues, but not all of it. It makes me not be the frontal. I can see these issues in that community, but I can't get them to be resolved. Since the last time when I was in the dating scene, about 12 years ago, I've seen changes. But there's still a problematic space and not safe for many people.


I wonder for your family in Queensland, do they have any saying about the family members dating white people?


It's more like sympathizing to anyone who dates anyone in our family. It is like that you're coming into a crazy family, a big Aboriginal family. There are a lot of cousins, a lot of uncles and aunties. There also are a lot of names to learn and a lot of different family dynamics to become familiar with. Anyone would enter a space that's so complicated, so beautiful at the same time. My partner has one brother. His dad has one sibling. In comparison, my dad has seven brothers. Each of them has their own families. Then, from my grandparents, I have many second cousins. It’s so complicated. It can be really daunting for anyone to come to my family.

Grandma spoke about when grandpa and she got married in the 50s. A young woman was marrying an Aboriginal man. It was tough. She pushed back lots of rejections and discrimination. She believed that the man whom she loved was the most important thing. It was her love made her to push through these things. She knew it was not going to be easy. She understood that there was always going to be a space where there was a part of his life that she would never understand, and there would be a part of her life that he didn't understand.


It sounds like your Aboriginal family is very tolerant and acceptive to people from other racial or cultural communities.


Definitely. When the elders back home have rallies, they are in support and put things together to make a day to celebrate. I feel supported by my community in that space. I don't go home and feel there would be problem with my sexuality. Some conservative Aboriginal people might not acknowledge that the history is full of the examples of non-heterosexual relationships. I feel very grounded because our community has a creative space and are supportive. I feel really lucky.

Lǐ Xīng Yǔ - Echo Li

I am an Artist based in Narrm born in Suzhou, practice spans multiple disciplines: performance, writing, video, etc. I am obsessed with love. The endless chasing of my overwhelming emotions is political and linked to love and cultural loss. In thinking and returning to dynamic forms of love that address a struggle I have with attempting to balance personal and political spaces my eventual arrival is at a place of understanding that, in love, nothing is ever balanced. Personal in a sense of infatuation. Political in the knowledge that I live in a space of intense emotions affected by the hybridity of cultural identities destabilization as a state for exploring a desire to live with intensity. The dislocation and lovelessness, I belong in the back-and-forth movement of places. There are nostalgias, stories, and humour coming from these places, I carry them and sees them as the politics of identity.

Pop Culture 爱情故事 and Its Political Aftermath. 2021. Single-Channel video, 9:28min.

Luyuan Zhang

Luyuan Zhang is a Chinese multi-disciplinary artist based in Melbourne. Zhang works from the perspective of a queer, immigrant artist. They work within the mediums of installation, video, and performance. Zhang‘s work has a comedic approach, presenting slapstick humour with deadpan irony, using sugar-coated bullets aimed at provoking understanding and criticality towards contemporary social phenomena.

Compliment Project, 2020, Single-Channel video, 11:07min.
Stock video and sound effects. Email replies from artist names in alphabet order: Archie Barry, Briony Galligan, Charlie Sofo, Debris Facility, Emily Floyd, Helen Hughes, Helen Johnson, Jan Bryant, Kay Abude, Loser Unit, Leslie Eastman, Marian Crawford, Michael Vale, Mel Deerson, Manon Van Kokswijk, Nicholas Mangan, Tamsen Hopkinson.

about success


I have been thinking about success in the context about social recognitions. I once asked a Chinese migrant who has been practicing Beijing opera singing for few decades why people repeatedly sung the old opera pieces that were telling the stories in the past, and if people were still creating new Peking operas with a contemporary content. He told me yes. Then in his explanation, he said that “it is not that hard to create something new, but it is always hard to make something popular.” His reply makes me think about the connection between social recognitions and the idea of success.


I think it’s interesting that you looked at the expanded cultural field. The example from the operas raises questions: What is success? How is success monitored? Does it come from the external recognition? Or do we identify and affirm success for ourselves? Is success informed through what we're doing or through receiving opportunities or support, or through the efforts of reaching an audience? There are many ways. For me, what the person is looking for is the best way to define them and their success.The critical perspective is to ask if they are doing the things that they need to do to achieve their goals.


I think that success is also something to do with personal choices to the questions, such as: Are you making the works that you happy with? Or are you making works that you think other people like? Would you choose to be honest to yourself and be faithful to your own creative instinct, regardless of if people like that? If you do, then you have to be ready for taking the consequences of this decision and facing the risk that the value of your works might not be recognized. Or you can choose to fit your work into the trendy subjects, and shape your practice based on others expectation and gain as much as social attention as possible. I think the former reflects the traditional perception about an artist, or about the artist’s struggle. In this view, the artist’s faith and loyalty to their creative interests are often regarded as a key element to artists success. But lately this view has been criticized and changed. The qualities of a successful artists include being clever, diplomatic, and social. The artists ought to have good interpersonal skills and sensitives about the social trends and opportunities. It is up to individual artist to choose which kind of artist they want to be.

When I first came to Australia, I struggled to find subjects in my art. In China, my art education was mostly skill-based training in painting, sketching and drawing. Turning ideas into artwork was quite new to me. Back then, many people suggested me to make works about my Chinese identity. I was aware of many Asian artists made successful careers by making works about their non-Australian cultural identity.But as an international student, I was not interested in making works about me being a Chinese. So, I simply chose to be unproductive and look for my interests. But I couldn’t deny the pressure I had, seeing the other artists gain lots of social recognition quickly. I often wonder if I made a different choice and did something about my Chinese identity, would my artist career have been different?

Even when I studied my maters at the Victorian College of the Arts, I made myself not to think too much about what other people thought and just focused on what I wanted to do at the school. I had a good time there because I did almost everything I wanted to do. Now I often questioned myself if I should have reached out more because lots of topics that I had worked on, experimented with and contemplated are now seen in other artists works and make these artists widely recognised. What's your thoughts on social recognitions?


I've always followed my interests, after considering what I've produced. I've asked people for advice about positioning my practice or dealing with certain things. I always try to approach what is offered in that space critically. I'm mindful that they're not coming from the same experiences from me.They don’t make the work that I make. There's only so much they can offer in that space when they offer suggestions. It's hard. When you take feedback on, and keep others’ suggestions in mind, you need be mindful and remind yourself that certain feedback is subjective. They should not be seen as gospel or a definitive answer. These things are one person’s input onto the work that you're producing and the way that you're approaching your practice.

I haven't pursued any forms of success doggedly, in a way that I could if that was what I was searching for. This would be the naïve side of me, if I think I could achieve the success in the formal definition by following a particular formula or making a particular type of work or approaching in a particular way; If I am not be critical on people who are doing that or produce the works that I see being successful, and if I think I can be successful by making the same works as they do. My question is what sits well. For example, I like the work that I make. I feel comfortable and confident in the works I make.There are issues within that, but I can work through them. For me, the bigger issue around my practice is having the money and time to fund the works rather than whether I'm reaching enough audience or whether I'm reaching the right people or financially profiting on the works. I think financially profiting on the works would feed back into the practice. I am aware that the type of research I want to do isn't going to be financially profitable. So, I'd rather do the research that I want to do and I know not going to reach some incredible market; and be happy with the research that I'm doing and the works that I'm making, than I make the works that might potentially bring in some money and put forward the money into works that I really want to do later. I don’t know.

Another thing is that I don't come from a very well-connected family. It is not like that I'm coming into this space and feeling grounded because I'm able to boost my practice in a commercial way due to by family connections, being comfortably in the middle class and being connected with other professionals who have excessive income to spend on purchasing artworks. There are things I see other people have when they enter into the art world. I wonder why they have that. That seems to be working for your practice. But, by seeing how the Melbourne art scene works, I know that I wont get to that same level spot as these people do, because I can see that you're brought that support in with you. That kind of support come from an external space of the artworld and from the person’s pre-existing networks.


I think a lot of immigrants like me share a similar position. I am aware that some migrants and immigrants are from wealthy families. But there are lots of migrants like me who do not have a financial privilege. When I entered Australian contemporary art world, I didn't have any social connections. I slowly built my network and art community throughout the nearly two decades of working and living here. But such network can be so fragile. After the two-year-long lockdown life of the COVID in Victoria, lots of my social connections are collapsed. In the current post-COVID lockdown time, I often tell myself to rebuild a network and a community.But it is a time and energy consuming task as I am in the middle of catching up the works that I didn’t get to do during the lockdowns and balancing my paid job and my art practice.Again, it leaves me to decide: Should I stay in my studio and make work? Or should I going to spend the time attending to the openings and socializing with the right people?


For me, because my practice isn't suiting a conventionally successful art practice, as it might stand currently, the question is what I overhaul to start to make different works and try to become successful.


My question to you is that knowing that your art practice doesn't really fit the particularly artworld, how do you find channels to exhibit your works and navigate the space of audience and the discovery of your art community?


For me, it's been a mix of applying for things or getting approached for projects. I had a show at the start of 2020, it was a show that I had known about for about six months. It had the works that I had been working on for a number of years. It was just felt right to me. All the things I showed in that exhibition were resolved. I felt confident in the work in that space because I had time to sit with them. They were resolved to a point that I felt comfortable doing the work. Sometimes when projects are still felt fresh, they are going out into the world. There are things that I don't know if I'm 100% happy with and how they're siting.It was nice to have a show where everything had been done and I know exactly where the works are placed and how they are presented, instead I have to make compromises.

To be 100% transparent, there are people who I look up to, and I who I really respect. If I was to get information, or in search for affirmation about my practice and what I am doing, there are particular people who I would approach. They include friends of mine, past lecturers and the curators in the industry, whose research and work I really respect. That would be another space where I would search for a level of success and the affirmation for myself about the work that I produce.

Online, Exhibition, Mobile

Blindside Mobile is a curated online platform for projects in the digital space by Victorian-based creatives.

Image: Luyuan Zhang, Compliment Project, 2020.Single channel video. 11:07min. Stock video and sound effects. Email replies from artist names in alphabet order: Archie Barry, Briony Galligan, Charlie Sofo, Debris Facility, Emily Floyd, Helen Hughes, Helen Johnson, Jan Bryant, Kay Abude, Loser Unit, Leslie Eastman, Marian Crawford, Michael Vale, Mel Deerson, Manon Van Kokswijk, Nicholas Mangan, Tamsen Hopkinson. Courtesy the artist.

This program takes place on the land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation. We recognise that sovereignty was never ceded - this land is stolen land. We pay respects to Wurundjeri Elders, past, present and emerging, to the Elders from other communities and to any other Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders who might encounter or participate in the program.

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Working on unceded sovereign land of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, Blindside pays respect to Elders, past, present and emerging.