Sweet Child O'Mine- Fay Ku and her Gang of Innocent Violence

Gilian Sneed
03/01/2008

Gillian Sneed is an associate editor at NY Arts and Fay Ku is a New York-based artist. Her work is on view at Kips Gallery in Chelsea March 6-April 5

Gillian Sneed:  In the Floating Worlds exhibition, both you and Japanese photographer Kanako Sasaki explored dream-like/childhood worlds and you both have discussed a sense of displacement from your family’s culture and history. How do you use your work as a way to establish connections to your past?

Fay Ku:  I can’t separate the past from the present, and therefore I don’t need to get back to the past. My family moved to Oklahoma (briefly) from Taiwan when I was three, then Texas, and finally Maryland. I was raised in an all-white, suburban community in America, and my parents remained very Chinese, but isolated. For me, both the American and the Chinese worlds were complete mysteries that no one could help me figure out. This led me to view the world, both worlds, any world, as signs and coded behavior that needed to be de-coded, understood.

GS: So how would you say that your formative experiences and your relationship with your family and your two cultures—Eastern and Western—influence your artistic vision?

FK: Of course, culture is a part of it, and its outward trappings, are clues to one’s underlying psychological realities. It’s odd. The first time someone pointed out to me that the faces I drew were all “Chinese” I was completely taken back, but it wasn’t a conscious decision. It’s especially strange because I grew up with so few Asian faces. Even so, I do feel very aligned with Chinese philosophy and art history.

GS: What is the significance of the imagery of children for you, and how do you subvert the innocence of that imagery?

FK: Well, children are innocent, but they are also in a sense psychopathic because they have no empathy. There is less of a filter when you are a child. I do exploit the fact that people like cute things, and violence is usually easier to take when you are at the same time enchanted with these small, precious people. Also, it may be easier for people to empathize when it’s children enacting these terrible things. However, in my newest work women have started to take a more dominant role in the narratives.

GS: What is your new work about and how does it differ from the work of the past couple of years?

FK: What’s most noticeable is the shift in scale. By this I mean the figures fill up the space more, they are bigger. When the figures are larger, both the viewer and myself are closer to the action. The paper size I like best is large enough to completely encompass the viewer. I noticed that in the past, the figures were smaller, the narratives more action-packed. The work was also less personally-driven, more derived from pure imagination or outside sources. I also noticed that the children were getting older. Now, the women in the newest works are more like the protagonists, and the children are almost secondary. Before, when the grown women appeared, they terrorized the children, and the children’s fear was the primary focus. Later the women and the children began to collaborate. Now the women are the main focus, but I have a feeling I may go back and forth between the two. It is strange sometimes how one’s artwork can inform the artist of developments going on within herself.

GS: Would you describe your work specifically as about a female experience, or a Chinese-American experience? Are such labels helpful for you, or do they pigeonhole you?

FK: As for everyone else, labels are really not descriptive. I mean, I am Chinese-American, but my experiences are atypical, like everyone else’s. It’s as helpful as saying, for example, that Jackson
Pollock is a white American male artist. Sure it’s true, and I’m sure it’s also true that you can even read this in his work, but what does that label really mean? What is true is that the paradigm is different for me than it is for Pollock—it’s his paradigm that functions as the lens through which most of the art world seems to look.

GS: What are your artistic directions for the future?

FK: I am planning to not show for a little while and just concentrate on putting together a solo show. It’s not good for me to show too much, and lately I have been. I was just awarded the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant, which is really great because I don’t have to worry about showing work, in order to sell work, in order to live—now I can just concentrate on doing work.