While the World Stands Still: Conversation with Artists Tiffany Chung and Kim Yasuda
Asia Society at Home
HOUSTON, May 3, 2021 — Asia Society Texas welcomed artists Tiffany Chung, featured in Asia Society Texas’ recent exhibition New Cartographies, and Kim Yasuda, artist and professor of Public Practice in the Department of Art at University of California Santa Barbara, for a special conversation in May 2020 on art during a global time of uncertainty sparked by the coronavirus. While the world shifted and slowed around us amid stay-at-home orders, Chung and Yasuda reflected on their own creative processes, how they have adapted in response to the pandemic, and what they envision the future holds for artists.
A collaboration and exchange
Chung discussed how she and Yasuda, her former professor, had hoped for some time for an opportunity to collaborate – an opportunity that the pandemic provided. In response to being at home, unable to visit galleries and studios, and to make sense of the world around her, Chung began writing prompts based on the form of haiku, which start with the phrase “While the World Stands Still...” The haiku are about the inspirations she found, which reflected the intellectual and creative processes of Chung's practice. In response to Chung, Yasuda developed a project for and with her students called “The Soundscapes of Lockdown,” which embody her emphasis on combining her artistic and pedagogical practices. The poetic response used video, audio, photos, and words to highlight the unfamiliar sounds of silence, what Yasuda described as the “intonations of our own isolation.”
Following the collaboration, the artists discussed their work and how it helped them process the ongoing pandemic. “Even when we still haven’t quite grasped our new realities and understood the emotional impacts, we are witnessing global history in the making. And in fact, we’re writing it,” said Chung.
She acknowledged how her past work has always been about reaching outward globally in terms of scale, expanding past her own personal experience to connect with wider context. Given the pandemic, with everyone in their own space yet “all in it together,” she believes there is additional importance on Yasuda’s work on the individual. In turn, Yasuda reflected that her own work has more recently embraced valuing where one lives and works, focusing on the immediate hyperlocal context of her surroundings. She expressed interest in seeing how Chung’s global geography, both physical and metaphorical, have the capacity to inform the local.
How the pandemic has changed things
The first months of the pandemic informed much of the following conversation. Chung noted that, with the new logistical complications and risks associated with travel, more and more artists are thinking of how to localize their artistic practices. “It is time to invest in local communities,” she said. “The unprecedented challenges brought about by this pandemic really usher in new forms of collaboration and push us to just begin with whatever means we have.” She pointed out that Chung and Yasuda’s own collaboration sprang out of that very limited situation.
On how to adapt and grow from the current circumstances, Yasuda discussed resilience. She viewed resiliency as a form of learning from the past and seeking local wisdom: discarding the trappings of
technology or consumption while turning back to what is available, what is free, what is sustainable, and what is regenerative as a guide. She also touched on how artists and students might be better suited than most for the uncertainty of the current times, despite the difficulties of everything being put on pause. “If there are anyone who are better trained for uncertainty, failure, and precarity, it’s artists,” she said.
Embracing a new normal
It was particularly poignant to both artists that a return to normal life might not be possible. “I think our world is forever altered,” Chung acknowledged. “Nothing is the same anymore.” She said a new definition of normal may be required for artists when, for instance, in-person studio visits would be effectively paused for a long time and replaced by remote studio visits. Yasuda reflected that the video visits could offer a whole new dimension to what has been considered professional, redrawing the lines of personal and professional lives for artists. At the same time, she recognized that it would be difficult to balance the benefits of offsetting expenses from no longer having to travel and the precious ability to be immersive and to be together in person.
Chung, in the end, saw the shift in the world as an opportunity. While people might not be able to travel the world as they once could, the new circumstances could present a chance to understand one another better, and to connect with and care more for each other. She expressed hope that her own artistic practice would reflect that, both now and after the pandemic.
Yasuda agreed. “There are many ways to be an artist, many ways in which we enact our creative selves in the world.” She said that the world needs artists, and therefore artists – and institutions – would need to reexamine their roles in the world, as well as the right venues for their art. For instance, Yasuda suggested, it might not be in a museum, but on a balcony in Italy.
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What the future holds
Reflecting on the art during the pandemic, Yasuda said, “This is really asking us to ask: What is essential?”
Though it remains unclear whether people’s changed behavior because of the coronavirus will continue or whether people will end up welcoming back the way things had been before, Yasuda said the pandemic may provide a chance for people to reexamine their lives. Artists, especially, are presented with new opportunities to “shapeshift,” she said, to engage with the world in a new way and to create meaningful exchange.
“I think there’s going to be a kind of more heightened consciousness for the roles of artists going forward of their critical role. The world desperately needs people with an imagination and a sense of possibility and open mind,” said Yasuda.
Business and Policy programs are endowed by Huffington Foundation. We give special thanks to Bank of America, Muffet Blake, Anne and Albert Chao, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Nancy Pollok Guinee, and United Airlines, Presenting Sponsors of Business and Policy programs; Nancy C. Allen, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, and Leslie and Brad Bucher, Presenting Sponsors of Exhibitions; Dr. Ellen R. Gritz and Milton D. Rosenau, Presenting Sponsors of Performing Arts and Culture; Wells Fargo, Presenting Sponsor of Education & Outreach; and Mitsubishi Corporation (Americas), Presenting Sponsor of the Japan Series. General support of programs and exhibitions is provided by The Brown Foundation, Inc., The Hearst Foundation, Inc., Houston Endowment, Inc., the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, McKinsey & Company, Inc., National Endowment for the Arts, Texas Commission on the Arts, Vinson & Elkins LLP, and Mary Lawrence Porter, as well as Friends of Asia Society.
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We are dedicated to continuing our mission of building cross-cultural understanding and uplifting human connectivity. Using digital tools, we bring you content for all ages and conversations that matter, in order to spark curiosity about Asia and to foster empathy.
About Asia Society Texas Center
With 13 locations throughout the world, Asia Society is the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and West. Asia Society Texas Center executes the global mission with a local focus, enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach.
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