Anne Wu

Anne Wu was born in 1991 in New York City and grew up in Fujian, China, and Flushing, Queens. She has received a BFA from Cornell University and a MFA from Yale University. Anne has exhibited work at Real Art Ways (Hartford, CT), The Shed (New York, NY), The New York Public Library (New York, NY), BHQFU (New York, NY), 67 Ludlow (New York, NY), and Public Address (Brooklyn, NY), among others.
January 26, 2022
Tell us about your practice.
I make objects that draw from my neighborhood, my mother’s house, and my upbringing. They often reference familiar architectural elements, such as railings, gates, doorways, and other aspects of the built environment. I have been describing my recent sculptures as pieces that trail off mid-sentence. As directional objects, they lead elsewhere and nowhere simultaneously. Lately, I have been thinking about absence and arrival.
Can you tell us a little bit about your process? You’ve mentioned how photography plays a big part in this.
While my finished works usually take the form of sculptures and installations, I rely heavily on drawing and photography in the studio. I use drawing to imagine the feeling that I wish to convey through a three-dimensional object, sometimes before deciding on material or infrastructure. It’s a very liberating step in the process that helps me think through questions of scale, affect, and composition. In contrast to that, photography allows me to engage with real-world references—I think of it as note-taking. I used to go on very long walks with just my phone as a way to be very intentional in my observations of the world around me. I would take photos of recurrent architectural structures, geometric patterns, decorative motifs, and unusual or otherwise haphazard construction solutions. It was a way for me to feel connected to my immediate environment and understand its logic and language.
Your practice often plays with materials in unexpected ways. Do you have a favorite material to work with? Or anything you haven’t yet tried but would like to?
If you look at my Google history, you’ll likely find many iterations of, “How to make X look like X?” While these questions can be thought about in terms of mimicry and imitation, I think they are also related to a deeper interest in translation and transformation. How do you make something heavy feel light? And vice versa. A material I always come back to is plaster, in various forms. This can be pure plaster, plaster mixed with paper and clay, or, more recently, a joint compound. I find it to be a very malleable and open material. It feels both structural and decorative; skeleton and surface. I enjoy the way that it affects color. Sometimes, it absorbs the color immediately, intensifying its hue. Other times, it mutes the color, almost giving it a sense of time, like something that’s been sitting out in the sun for years.
You’ve described your work as an “investigation on collective taste,” particularly in your own neighborhood of Flushing, Queens. Have you seen this change over time —if so, how’s that reflected in your work?
In terms of architecture, Flushing is a complicated place and has many layers. There are some areas with huge old picturesque houses, some with buildings that resemble those from China in the 90s, and some with brand-new (mostly empty) condos. It’s like a living timeline. As a resident, I notice changes as they happen in real-time, but as an artist, I can only speak to elements that I feel I have had enough time to think about (for instance, the first photos of stainless steel in my phone are from 2017). In that sense, the parallels in my work only appear after a period of reflection. Perhaps a few years from now, there will be elements in my work that reflect something happening today.
In your recent commission at The Shed, you worked with Mr. An to fabricate the work—what was the collaboration like? Was there anything that surprised you while working together?
The whole process was new and surprising. Since Mr. An isn’t an art fabricator, there were many unanswerable questions when I first approached him with my proposal, especially in terms of technical feasibility. At the same time, it gave me a lot of freedom when I started sketching each structure since neither of us knew if my designs were going to be structurally sound. I was able to run with my ideas and stretch them farther than I originally planned. There was also a slight language barrier that made our collaboration meaningful to me in a different way. It isn’t part of the project officially, but as I talked to Mr. An in my elementary-school-level Mandarin and followed up with carefully constructed text messages, I felt a sense that this too belonged to the work.
What has been inspiring you lately?
There are a couple of events that have been on my mind recently. A few weeks ago, my mother sent me a video of her performing cupping therapy on one of her patients. Around the same time, my building had a plumbing issue that caused my bathtub to flood. I’ve been thinking about these two instances together in relation to blockages and the unseen circulation beneath surfaces. Eventually, I imagine that these ideas will find a way into my work in some form or another.

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