Astra Huimeng Wang (b. 1990 Hohhot, Inner Mongolia, China) is an artist based in Los Angeles, CA. Wang received her M.F.A. in Studio Art from San Francisco Art Institute and B.E. in Biomedical Engineering from Beijing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics. Wang’s work has been shown at Make Room, Los Angeles (solo); Pennsylvania State University (solo); Simon Lee Gallery, London; Christie’s, New York; CFHILL, Stockholm; WOAW Gallery, Hong Kong; Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra; and more.
THAT: Tell us about your practice.
AHW: I love fiction. I care about human desire. I’m fascinated by decay, be it that of youth or civilization. And I make art about those things. My practice involves painting, drawing, sculpture, performance, installation, video, and quite a bit of writing. My solo exhibition with Make Room Los Angeles which opened last week consists of mostly large scaled paintings, with a few drawings, one sculpture, and one installation.
THAT: In addition to your painting and sculpture works, your practice has included quite a bit of performance work — how do you approach one versus the other? Does one influence the other?
AHW: They certainly influence each other. I don’t usually use the word multidisciplinary because I think every artist makes work about what they are fundamentally drawn to, with whatever medium, which may or may not shift over time, and so do I. In grad school and the first two years out of school, I wanted my work to have a certain level of intangibility, and the ability to grow over time. These things are still very important to me, and very present in my work. Even in painting - the material I use to paint with has a particular nature, where the process itself is quite physically intense, and certainly has performative elements to it. And I like that a lot.
THAT: Literature is something that seems deeply rooted in your work, particularly in this new body. How do you see the intersection between your work and the literature you read?
AHW: There are a lot of depictions of gatherings and ceremonies in my paintings, and a lot of motifs. These motifs come from a variety of sources - it can be from a wedding album that I found at a flea market, a mass-produced table decoration for the dentist's office that I found on Taobao, or an Orientalist illustration from a British magazine from the 19th century. And this is how I translate textual fragments into visual elements. I tell stories about the hidden clues in Western literature, with paintings, drawings, and sculptures. In particular, how the Orient and its people are being imagined, fetishized, and alienated in the Western literary tradition. This has been the subject of my research for the past few years. Also, most of the titles of the work in my current exhibition come from different novels. They often seem funny, but in the novels, with context, these texts can acquire an entirely different meaning.
THAT: How did you come to use flocking in your work? What draws you to that material and process?
AHW: The history of flocking can be traced back to about 3000 years ago when the Chinese people invented this technique of applying natural fibers to fabrics coated with resin glue. It became so popular because people noticed how dramatically it could transform the look of a surface or an object. I was initially drawn to the material for the same reason: its language of theatricality. In one of my earlier projects, a three-day performance, four people were having a dinner party in a 10x10 feet box-like movie set, with red velvet curtains on three sides, and they were surrounded by cameras, a film crew, and a large audience. It was in reference to a scene in Luis Buñuel’s The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, where the rise of a red velvet curtain behind the dinner guests revealed that they were actually on stage. The red velvet which suggested a departure from reality became very symbolic to me, and I started to experiment with flock to create these velvet-like textures in my paintings and sculptures.
THAT: What has been inspiring you lately?
AHW: I’m currently obsessed with dance notation systems. They are absolutely fascinating.
THAT: What's next for you?
AHW: Besides developing a new body of paintings and sculptures for my next show, I want to finish a novel that I started writing in 2020. And I want to direct an opera.
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