Excerpts from my thesis (2019):
In this two person show I had three connecting medium sized galleries. I filled the first room with small sized abstract paintings, the second room with paintings that started to show hints of figuration, and the third room with a row of cellphone paintings and two small portraits staring back at the viewer.
What I didn’t tell anyone however, was that most of the paintings are decoys.
At the time of this exhibition I was living with my parents in Beijing. We had turned one of the spare rooms into my studio. By “my,” I mean that for the first several months my mom would simply walk in if she thought “she needed something from the room” or “it needed some cleaning,” with or without me in there. We argued, bargained, negotiated, shouted, and threatened. I ended up putting an emotional latch/lock over the sliding door, in place of a physical one. The room belonged to me through violence.
I was in my studio for a lot of time. I was making paintings based on images of muscular men I found and collected from tumblr. There was no way I would ever let my parents see those. Just like the studio, those paintings were for me alone. But where did all the time go? The desire to see their own child’s inner space would not concede, as my parents’ love is unconditional but at the same time tethering. If not seeing the space was absolute, at least please let us see images. I spent at least half the time in the studio making abstract paintings that meant little, but not meaningless. They generated this buffer, a false promise, so that my mom could be proud of something I created and share it with her friends, that my father could hang my work in his office and show it to his co-workers from Holland.
I never really talked about this to anyone in China. When I showed my paintings to galleries and curators I showed everything. However, sexuality was never the topic of discussion, even though it was so heightened in the paintings of men. I think there was a basic understanding of it being off limit, probably coming from me never responding to hints towards it. My guess is that it was the same with my parents.
Anyway, C5 gallery wanted to show my works as a mini-retrospective as the time of my leaving Beijing for graduate school approached. We somehow decided together the arrangement of progressing from abstraction to representation, but still I kept the most overtly erotic works from the show.
I wrote both the English and the Chinese versions of the gallery text, English first, then translating it into Chinese.
In translation I toned down the force of my wording, and made the meaning of my sentences even more obscure. The differences between the two languages reflected how I sit in either one and did not belong, how that English provided me the safety and force to be comfortable with myself but ultimately being a mode of colonization, while Chinese contained so many layers of past experience of hurt, shame, repression but at the same time holding the most intimate space.
I requested that my parents only see the show after I left Beijing. I think they went to see it right after seeing me off at the airport. Before seeing the exhibition they already had friends telling them how much they loved the show, how they spent hours reading the text I wrote and looking into the paintings to find deep meanings. My parents spent an entire afternoon at the gallery, and probably went back several times on different days. They tried to devour and decipher everything.
The funny thing is, even though they might not get the specifics, I believe they might have gotten some truth/real meaning out of it, in the places not painted, between the lines of the things left unsaid.