Interview: Kerry Ann Lee, Culture shock funk
Meet Kerry Ann Lee, immensely talented Kiwi artist, who plays with identity, language, and culture in her mixed-media installments. She’s here in Shanghai for three months as part of the Wellington Asia Residency Exchange (WARE), developed by the Asia New Zealand Foundation and the Wellington City Council New Zealand. She has just featured two new pieces at the island6 Gallery at Moganshan. Kerry Ann chats with Shanghaiist about punk rock, the language barrier, and buying the cheapest art materials in Shanghai.
One of your pieces, Electric Warrior, features life-size recreations of familiar Shanghai trademarks and domestic items – brushes, soup dumplings – made completely out of wire. Explain!
This piece was inspired by my time in Baoshan Villa, where I live now. I wanted to represent the small actions that people take to make themselves comfortable in a completely exotic environment, balancing the foreign and the familiar. The wire, for example, was inspired by all the construction work being done around Shanghai – the foreign element. The objects themselves are largely familiar. I was first thinking of doing full body armor, as a form of personal protection in a foreign environment, but then I liked this evolution – doing small, fun, playful objects, making sense of your surroundings, instead of insulating yourself from them.
Did the wire have anything to do with the “warrior” portion of the work title? It seems rather harsh.
Not at all. Making this piece was like therapy to me, fashioning familiar things with a slightly industrial material. The name “Electric Warrior,” actually comes from (British Glam Rock group) T-Rex’s album.
You just came from New York’s Chinatown, exploring similar themes of cultural identity and integration. How has Shanghai built on that?
New York was just an amazing experience. It had everything that you could find – restaurants, bars, clubs – you could feel at home immediately because of the electric mix of cultures. You could feel like a local. New York was also interesting because you find pockets of completely foreign elements existing next to each other. I could hang out with the Chelsea art crowd one moment, and in the next, in Chinatown, I couldn’t speak the language (Cantonese) and couldn’t necessarily integrate myself in the inner workings of the neighborhood. Shanghai is similar to that “foreign” element – but increased exponentially!
Chinatown was just a pocket of foreign culture, but here, I’ve immersed myself completely. I am now totally challenged by the language (since I don’t speak Chinese), and people’s reactions to me. They have, in equal parts, accepted and ignored me. Shanghai, though, is starting to look familiar. I’ve met a huge range of interesting people, I’ve able been able to do everything from walking around in great neighborhoods to attending punk rock shows. I’m also integrated enough to know how to buy the cheapest wire (for Electric Warriors)! I’ve just integrated any challenges into my art, playing with the ideas of home, space, and identity, symbols and words.
Is there a message you’d like to deliver, to entice viewers to visit island6 Arts Center?
I would just say come along. The gallery is open every day, there’s a lot of quality work in the show, not to mention it’s quite a special thing having a Chinese New Zealand artist working and exhibiting in Shanghai right now.
Kerry Ann is featured in Placebo, island6, 50 Moganshan Road, Building 6, 2F(November 21-December 22)