What Is My Work About?
The diaspora and its immigrant communities embody a narrative that is often excluded from mainstream American consciousness, which compels me to mobilize an intergenerational cultural history that is often misrepresented by or erased from the dominant narrative through the lens of my family. Born into the Chinese/Taiwanese diaspora and raised in one of Los Angeles? immigrant communities, I am interested in telling stories that live as images informed by the turbulent memory of my family?s migratory experiences across the globe. Working in tandem with the fluidity of memory, my work encompasses the continuous, yet fragmented, search for a stable home.
My grandparents were forcibly uprooted from everything they knew, and fled Mainland China during the Japanese invasion of World War II, and later, the Communist takeover, and relocated to Taiwan to start a new life. While my family members ultimately settled in Taipei, Taiwan and cities across the United States, their geographic and cultural displacement compels me to think about ideas of belonging and identity as a Los Angeles native. My work as an artist derives from parts of my inherited history and lived experience – family photo albums, heirlooms, family stories, and pictures I have taken – that inform or are referenced within a painted surface. Household objects, furniture, and family portraits are often juxtaposed with urban architecture to blur the divisions of interior and exterior, collective and personal, and past and present experiences.
My concept of home has always been framed by my grandmother, aunts, and mother’s interior lives and migratory experiences, which mobilized how they have experienced history. Thus, I aim to imagine and introduce a multilayered, feminist story that complicates a collective history by emphasizing paint and materiality. For instance, “Bei Men (the new colony)” and “New Buildings (map ping)” are responses to the built environment of Taipei, my grandmother’s adopted home. Painting from city sites and using Taiwanese (Hakka) floral prints become vehicles to critically investigate both personal and collective histories of migration and colonization. Chinese architecture, high rises built during the modernization project of the 1970s, remnants of Japanese colonial architecture, tenements, posh apartment buildings, and ongoing construction all take place within the same scene where cross-cultural influences collide and manifest as new identities. Bringing together fabric, paint, and embroidery, my paintings appropriate the material and social elements of place in ways that highlight voices typically disregarded in constructing a collective consciousness.
When I think of the diaspora, I think of movement from one place to another – the movement of people, memory, and history – and the constant, unfulfilled search for an elusive home. For me, the search is characterized by its instability, as referenced in the disorienting perspectives, cluttered spaces, and awkward juxtapositions of objects and sites in many of my paintings. In “Two Pumpkins,” one and a half Taiwanese-grown squashes collide with abstracted architectural elements, as pieces of plastic and newspaper are collaged on the surface. There is no indication of depth, as forms coexist on the same plane; they are timeless and placeless. In “My Interior,” fragments of architecture from various parts of Taipei City are reimagined and entangled into one experience, while line-drawn buildings reflect the literal removal and imagining of once occupied buildings. The final paintings never depict Taipei City in reality; the paintings are new, appropriated spaces built from architectural fragments that are collaged into one another. The juxtaposition and layering of objects and sites parallel the collapse of memory – remembering, forgetting, and reimagining a moving and morphing home.
The domestic interior rises over and collapses into the public exterior in the mural-sized painting, “The Descendants,” revealing the plurality of experience within a singular surface. A portrait of my grandmother, taken in the 1950s, sits at the top right-hand corner, driving the narrative, while a portrait of Chiang Kai-shek – who retreated to Taiwan in 1949 as the President of the Republic of China – is positioned directly below her. The upside-down family portrait on the other side of the painting completes the trinity of portraiture, which is embedded within an activated urban fabric, including household furniture, fauna, and vehicles. The matriarch of her family and her home coexists in context with the global-political leader and the space that he governs, electrifying familial and female subjectivity within the male-dominated state. Two twin beds pushed together culminate at the center acting as an anchor – a space for birth, life, dreams, and rest.
My grandmother’s process of trying to forget her past and of simultaneously remembering the traumas of war and displacement spilled out in the forms of dementia, storytelling, and silence. Similarly, my work reflects the ruptures and conflicts of remembering, and mobilizes material objects to ground elusive intergenerational, unfixed histories. Painting is the process in which I can freely question, explore, and document a history too old to be my own – one that I never lived – in a way that I can make the unreal and imagined suddenly tangible. Drawing from lived experiences and interpretations, the act of painting parallels the process of recording. Thus, I am moved to apply the lens of my inherited cross-cultural history to make paintings that house and historicize an identity in the making. These “mobile homes” explore personal and political ideas of belonging, and rely on one painting after another to build a constant and ever expanding narrative of my lived history. As a child of immigrants, my work politicizes the personal, and marks my active intervention in the grand American narrative by pluralizing and reimagining the American identity.
b. 1991, Los Angeles, CA
2015 Mountain School of Art (MSA^), Los Angeles, CA
2013 UCLA School of Arts and Architecture, Los Angeles, CA
Bachelor of Arts, Art; Art History Minor
SOLO AND TWO-PERSON EXHIBITIONS
2014 “David Bell & Iris Yirei Hu: The Floor and the Cane,” Commonwealth & Council, Los Angeles, CA (two-person exhibition)
2014 “Fourth Wall,” Fourth Wall, Los Angeles, CA (solo exhibition)
2013 “Where Do People Live Who Never Die?” Dave Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (solo exhibition)
2013 “In Search of Relevance,” Dortort Center, Los Angeles, CA (juried by Dr. Marla Berns, Director, Fowler Museum)
2013 “Juried Exhibition,” UCLA New Wight Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (curated by Aram Moshayedi, Curator, Hammer Museum)
2012 “Scholarship Award Exhibition,” New Wight Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
2012 “EMMEFFAY #5: A Senior Exhibition,” New Wight Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
2012 “Juried Exhibition,” New Wight Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (curated by Kimberli Meyer, Director, MAK Center)
2011 “Juried Exhibition,” New Wight Gallery, Los Angeles, CA (curated by Clara Kim, Senior Curator, Walker Art Center)
2013– baumtest quarterly publication, Los Angeles, CA, www.baumtestquarterly.com (co-founder and editor of printed journal of art and writing)
2012 Graphite interdisciplinary journal of the arts, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (head editor of critical essays)
2011 Graphite interdisciplinary journal of the arts, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA (head editor of blogs & reviews)
HONORS AND AWARDS
2013 Winter Project Award, UCLA Department of Art
2012 Resnick Scholarship, UCLA Department of Art
2012 Spring Project Award, UCLA Department of Art
2012 Howard and Norma Lee Scholarship, UCLA Asian Languages & Cultures Department
2011 Winter Project Award, UCLA Department of Art
Emily Anne Kuriyama, “David Bell and Iris Yirei Hu: The Floor and the Cane,” Young Cloud, August 28, 2014. http://youngcloud.info/blog
Lilly Estenson, “baumtest on Rose Rose Violet,” KChung Radio, Los Angeles, CA, June 21, 2014. http://archive.kchungradio.org/2014-06-21/Baumtest-06.21.2014.mp3
Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month Calendar and Cultural Guide, Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles, May 2014. http://laheritagemonth.org/iris-yirei-hu/
Geoff Tuck, “Where Do People Live Who Never Die,” Notes on Looking, July 19, 2013. http://notesonlooking.com/2013/07/thursday-july-25-iris-yirei-hu-where-do-people-live-who-never-die/
SELECTED PUBLICATIONS AS AUTHOR
“Vessels,” baumtest quarterly: monumental, November 2014, 48-49.
“Code-switching between Sound/Art and Quito/Los Angeles: An Interview with Jorge Espinosa,” baumtest quarterly: Talk And Talk And—, June 2014. 40-55.
“Where Do People Live Who Never Die?” baumtest quarterly: Of No Known Address, March 2014. 65-71.
“The Struggle is the Destination: Interview with Audrey Chan,” baumtest quarterly: A Germ Grows into Life, December 2013. 38-55.
“Living Transculturalism through Site-Specific Painting, Pedagogy, and Plant Life: A Conversation with Sarah Dougherty,” Graphite journal, Issue 3: The Archival, June 2012. 29-46.
“Visualizing Orientalism on Screen: The World of Suzie Wong and Lost in Translation,” Graphite journal, Issue 2: The End, June 2011. 54-60.
“In Dialogue with Melanie Ouyang Lum: Contemporary Art in China,” Graphite journal, Issue 2: The End, June 2011. 42-51.
2013– Educator, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, CA
2013 Teaching Assistant, UCLA Summer Art Institute, Los Angeles, CA
2012 Education Intern, Teacher Programs, J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA
2011 Summer College Intern, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
2014 Lecture/Presentation, Louis Vuitton Young Artists Program, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Los Angeles, CA, October 16.
2013 Lecture/Presentation, Summer Art Institute, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA, July 18.
2013 Lynda and Stewart Resnick Collection
2013 Private Collection