Tanja Wessels, Alice Kok
Macau artist, Crystal Chan presents her first solo exhibition in New York
Macau artist, Crystal Chan is presenting her first solo exhibition in New York, deconstructing prejudices against the nakedness of the human body and recording memories that, with the fast pace of modern life, tend to fade
To live in New York is to face a daily explosion of ethnicities. Three years after choosing the city as her home, Crystal Chan is still undergoing a process of identity deconstruction, finding in art a means to position herself as a woman and Chinese. Various, mobile, and alone, the poetry of Fernando Pessoa, gives the artist words to embody the feeling of detachment towards life and the world. Crystal Chan has made her own body a space to explore the experience of sexuality, nudity, seduction and solitude.
I am my own landscape is the Macau native’s first solo exhibition in New York. At Gallery 456 of The Chinese American Arts Council, in Soho, very close to Chinatown in Manhattan, the exhibition will be on display until February 9, a combination of watercolour, black and white photography and video projection.
“I started painting in watercolour in 2015, the first year I lived in New York. Awareness about feminism in the city inspired me to take a closer look at myself,” Crystal explains. “Watercolour, as a medium, has an oscillating nature that blurs the images I portray. The genre is also not obvious; therefore, I portray nudity in a vague way and represent seductive postures that suggest, but do not confirm.”
A year after her arrival in the city that never sleeps, where she recently completed her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), the local artist continues the idea with black and white photography.
“My idea was to represent my body as a landscape and make its shapes and genitals resemble mountains and streams. They are part of nature and can be seen without embarrassment.”
Crystal points out that nudity in art can be seen in works ranging from classic to kitsch. But from a personal perspective, nudity is what she carries with her always.
In the corner of Gallery 456, Crystal projects a video that puts the paintings in the context of their own mobility.
“With the video and accompanying text, I want to express that my body exists and lives in an environment that is constantly changing,” she reveals. And much like her work, it has evolved and is always moving in new directions.
The Chinese American Arts Council provides a platform for Asian artists to show their works to the public in New York.
“Those responsible for the organization were very pleased to meet an artist from Macau, something not very common in the city. They recognized my work, which relates to my identity as a female-Chinese artist and addresses issues such as sexuality and the body,” she says.
Crystal is especially happy to have a chance to show her work to a Chinese audience in New York.
“I hope that, in some way, the context of where I come from and my work will be able to bring more attention to the position of Chinese artists in the artistic landscape.”
In Crystal’s artistic manifesto for I am my own landscape, a title that the artist took from a poem of Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa and one she had already attributed to another solo show, at Albergue of the Santa Casa da Misericordia, in 2015, the artist wrote: “Like him [Pessoa], I consider that my life is, in a way, ‘Various, mobile, and alone’. I often remember the past with a bitter taste.”
“Nostalgia does not always cleanse the past. A certain kind of sadness remains adrift, violently disturbing. These emotional fragments are difficult to reconstruct, to take shape. Some things are very subtle and silent, but they remain over time.”
Painting is the medium chosen by Crystal to deal with the feelings that wash over her. She paints, but not to show a specific event; on the other hand, the works approach states of mind and emotions that linger and, through the surface of painting, “the noise of reality dissipates and becomes an illusion, transposing the fine line between the tangible and the intangible. I am interested in how painting is both narrative and gestural. It is suggestive and elusive, just like memory,” she says.
The fear that pervades is the possibility of forgetting; Crystal understands her work as a path towards building connections between new and old places.
“In a world of new media and more mobility, we risk forgetting how to feel. Things and images are valued only briefly and can stimulate immediate sensations and responses. But most of the time, they do not last. I want to paint a state of mind that reminds me of an event that has touched me repeatedly and that has stayed with me for a long time. (...) My work is an act of imagining the past, with the purpose of grasping what disappears and what remains,” she notes.
The city where she was born and carries the centuries-old bond between West and East, taught her that the mixture of cultures, arts and people served as the basis of the new generations, now as familiar as living in multiple geographies and communities.
“In this context, the female body and the Chinese body were both substituted for mysterious objects in Western fantasies of the ‘Other exotic’.
“Growing up in Macau, between the gambling and leisure industries, I regularly encountered commercialized views of Chinese femininity and sexuality. In addition to cultural objectification, who I am is also linked to the very personal relationship I have with my family, my mother and sisters. Who I am was defined by what they tell me to do and with what I position against,” she says.
Crystal wants her works to be seen, heard and have an impact on society. She also seeks to cultivate artistic education in Macau, a place she feels doesn’t “encourage” people to know more about art and its importance to society and culture. But for now, she seeks to discover herself far from here.
“I still want to see and do more before I stay in one place. Macau is always my home and a return will always be part of my life.”