By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Travel and adapting to foreign cultures has its wonderful moments and devastating moments. That’s what filmmaker/interactive artist Ying Liu — coming to Seattle on Aug. 25 and 26 — found out on her first day in America, specifically, Austin, Texas.
Ying Liu’s work, which continues to grow and evolve, involves her filmmaking and the wide-flung discipline known as “performance art,” where the artist, in person, remotely, and/or on video, interacts with the audience. She adds audience participation (to the point where the audience is fully part of the show in some cases); cell phones (her own and others); dance; drama; and virtual reality technology.
But her American experience began with some less-fancy technology, and a harsh jolt of reality.
“I did not have a cell phone,” she remembered. “I had to use the payphone outside the 7-11 by the campus, to let my parents know that I had arrived. I tried to get change from the cashier after purchasing an Arizona tea, but he refused to give me more than 4 quarters.
“Having barely said hi to my parents, the phone call got abruptly disconnected due to lack of funds. I couldn’t help but burst into tears there on the street: would my folks be concerned wondering what just happened, if I couldn’t call back and explain? While I was crying, a car pulled up. Two women inside rolled down their windows and asked me why I was crying.
After I explained, they gave me a small sack of change and drove away.”
This wild up-and-down emotional moment, she reflected, taught her that in this country, changes can happen extremely rapidly, and that the individual has a certain degree of approval, as an individual and not part of the whole. This was very different from her experience growing up on China’s Zhoushan Island.
Not that Ying Liu’s disrespecting her background at all. She remembers the slow-moving ships going back and forth between the island and Shanghai — supplanted, eventually, by faster-moving ferries, and eventually, the Donghai Bridge. A small cinema showed Hong Kong action movies, and she grew up watching as many of those as possible.
“I was especially fascinated by eccentric characters, and the open and humble attitude of heroes who can basically make friends with anyone, even panhandlers,” she said. “I think that really has shaped me as a person and as an artist, and has driven me to hybridize my work beyond strictly filmmaking, and to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds.”
She majored in Film Production at the University of Texas at Austin, but she needed a minor.
“Performance Art” looked to her like a typographical error in the school’s catalog, and she registered just to see what that was all about. A video and performance artist named Michael Smith taught that class.
She became so fascinated by Smith and his teachings that she took the class three times over. She also studied the work of another performance artist, the late Stuart Sherman, and put together an 80-minute piece derived from Sherman’s poetry, which played two nights in New York City.
After graduation, Ying Liu moved to Bed-Stuy (Bedford-Stuyvesant) neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., where she still resides. “In the neighborhood,” she joked, “I am known by many names: Speeding Ticket and Slowdown (because I walk very fast), Tokyo, and Chinese Lady from China.”
“I have been using my experience and knowledge of filmmaking to navigate territories that I don’t have professional training in, including choreography and theater,” she said. “A woman who has never been a mother before can learn to become a great one. That is how I feel. I like to take on new mediums and skills.”
Ying Liu brings “Show and Tell with Ying Liu: Tiny, Trivial Thoughts – and Tails,” to the Northwest Film Forum, 1515 12th Ave. on Aug. 26. A workshop, “Ying of the Hill: A Site-Specific Theatrical Workshop in and about Capitol Hill,” precedes it, on Aug. 25. For more information, go to nwfilmforum.org/events/show-tell-ying-liu-tiny-trivial-thoughts-tails.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.