Artpace: Walk us through your exhibition
Wu Tsang: The main work in the space is evidence of a performance I did called You Sad Legend including a sculpture made of 200 bronze swords along with a drawing on the floor made with my collaborator, boychild. Also in the space is a series of prints I made with Hare & Hound Press in San Antonio. The work is all connected to research I did in China and Hong Kong about a famous Chinese revolutionary poet named Qiu Jin and her intimate friend Wu Zhuying who was a calligrapher. This project is a love story about their relationship. It’s a story about two people who wanted to be together at a time when that was difficult, and not because being gay was difficult, but rather their life circumstances didn’t allow them to be together. It’s a very tragic and fleeting missed love connection that was transformative for both of them in their lifetimes.
I became interested in working with the poems they wrote to each other because they’re poetic and beautiful. The poems were originally written in traditional Chinese. Each poem was translated through a series of collaborations, so they are all very unique and specific to the communities I was working with. The poems and prints are all mistranslations, residues of events, collaborations, or community interactions. The language speaks to the historical relationship but also to the present moment and exploring queer identity in China and in our world.
AP: Why are you interested in exploring these ideas and how does it relate to your personal background?
WT: Ten years ago I went to China for the first time to get in touch with my cultural roots. I’m half Chinese—my dad was born in China and immigrated here—and growing up in white America I always had this very confusing identity around being Chinese, or Chinese American, or Asian, because the external world was often making me feel a certain way, like Asian, or exotic, or an “other,” or even just misread me as Latina or Japanese.So the experience of having a very hybrid identity or passing as different races or genders has always been a part of my personal experience.
In this case, my first trip to China was very personally significant because it was the first time I confronted the question of my authentic origin. As a result, I became very interested in different mythologies of origin stories and in my case my origin is tied to Wu, who was Qiu Jin’s partner. I found my queer family in their story and in that sense this project is very deeply personal. It is also about exploring queer identities in a very open way, pushing past language or identity categories and thinking about how desire really circulates or functions between people and their relationships with each other. So what’s inspiring to me is their story really comes through across time and translation; it’s like poetry—somehow it still speaks—you can really feel concrete desire being expressed between them, and that reminded me that it’s a universal story a lot of people can relate to.
AP: What is the role of performance in your practice?
WT: Performance is definitely the center of my practice. I’m a performer in a non-spectacular way. Sometimes when we think of performance, we think of actors on a stage, but the way I think about it is more like social performance, acting out different versions of myself based on the context of my environment.
My collaborator, boychild and I have been working together for the past 2.5 years. Our relationship began as a film collaboration where I was the director and she was the actor, which evolved into a performance collaboration called Moved By The Motion that we performed at Artpace. It’s based on the two of us playing these roles—I play the voice and she plays the mover—and we have this call and response dynamic where I’m narrating through words, compelling her to move a certain way, and she’s reflecting back to me in her own language of movement. We each have these different languages we express ourselves through. Our conversation is ongoing and therefore it’s really exciting for me to be able to do a performance here at Artpace as part of this project. It‘s really an articulation of us responding to this moment of where we are in time—the interactions we’ve had in the city with people and the landscape all feed into the process of how we articulate our ideas.