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Women Artists Take Over Artpace with a Trio of Exhibitions Tackling Gender, Race and Identity 

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click to enlarge Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Dark and Lovely, 2014 - COURTESY OF JENNIFER LING DATCHUK
  • Courtesy of Jennifer Ling Datchuk
  • Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Dark and Lovely, 2014
Jennifer Ling Datchuk

Is the red curtain the main focal point?
I am trained as an object maker so there will be objects ... I always thought of the curtain as the main focal point of the show; and then how the objects on both sides of the curtain relate to one another. Thinking about thresholds that we cross daily and the experiences we have to navigate. So, that time when you’re a girl and then you walk over and become a woman, and how girlhood has been taken away much sooner in our lives and we’re not allowed to be girls for a certain amount of time. How as a woman walking into spaces that are all male, confronting power. And then a person of color when they walk into all-white spaces. This is what the curtain is kind of representing. And as you walk through the curtain, there’ll be porcelain beads dangling from the hair, and written on the porcelain beads are affirmations, sayings, words of encouragement that I’ve been collecting from Instagram and communities — anything from “Be Brave, Be Bold” [to] “You Have as Many Hours in the Day as Beyoncé.” I realize some of the ones I’ve gotten have come from RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Excellent, which ones?
“Be Brave, Don’t Be Bitter.” They’re pretty good. Some from Finland, someone sent in one that said “One Potato at a Time.” And I love how they’re cultural references. I’ve gotten some really beautiful Korean ones. We are all in this together and we all need help as we cross different thresholds in our lives.

So, have you started making the beads already?
I have about 3,000 beads that I had made in China last summer. This is something that I always dreamed about doing. And I started getting these beads in China before I knew I got this residency. I love that it somehow got put out there in the world that this needs to come together.

So, you’ll knot the beads onto the strands?
I’m really inspired by the hippie beaded curtains from the ’70s, and when you went through the curtain you’d hear that clang of the beads. But it’s really rooted in materials too. In the ’70s, ceramics, pottery, or textiles were really rooted in women’s crafts, and they were seen as less than. They weren’t considered art. And a lot of those techniques and skills, both with pottery and textiles, were learned in community centers, churches, after-school centers. And they really become places where women could gather … the whole sisterhood and camaraderie of making. But I think of the women’s rights movements at that time and how, in some ways, these things were taught to us to kind of pacify us and keep our hands busy — instead of burning our bras or protesting or picketing. Really what this was inspired by was recontextualizing those materials and kind of breaking down hierarchies of materials, too, that are really still prolific in the art world.
click to enlarge Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Girl You Can, 2017 - COURTESY OF JENNIFER LING DATCHUK
  • Courtesy of Jennifer Ling Datchuk
  • Jennifer Ling Datchuk, Girl You Can, 2017
And what about the color?
I never work with color. I’m blue-and-white forever. It’s something I hold close. The red felt the most visceral. I think the red really captures the anger I feel as a woman today. Of how we still haven’t come much further. A lot of this is about my anger — and kind of navigating power structures.

What else can you tell me about the objects?
I’m kind of asking questions about the role I play in feminism. I’m an intersectional feminist, but I’m still a woman that can’t leave the house without putting makeup on my face. I’m kind of complicit in these power structures within beauty and identity. [There’s a] photograph of me wearing prosthetic butt underwear with a tattoo on my back painted with skin bleaching cream. Skin bleaching cream is a multimillion dollar industry. Even Asian women who are white and fair still want whiter skin.

Is the tattoo visible once it’s painted in skin bleach?
You have to do it a lot. I’ve done it a few times. [I’m also] thinking about how a lot of people get Asian tattoos on their back not understanding or researching the iconography or the symbols that they’re using. I collaborated with a Los Angeles painter and she came up with this pattern, referencing blue-and-white Chinoiserie. We’re all appropriating within this, not fully aware of how complicit we are in perpetuating colonization.

So, this photograph will be on the wall?
It’s a framed photograph resting on a shelf, so even the photograph and frame feel like an object. These blue-and-white objects I’ve been collecting, like the Asian girl carrying a heavy load. Even the back of this Buddha [has] all the different patterns. And you can always tell it’s an Asian person because of the slits painted for the eyes. I’ve been making these brick purses. I worked with this purse maker here in town, Lizzy Gladstone from Sun Nation. These are bricks made from handkerchiefs, boyfriends’ T-shirts and crocheted doilies. It’s something about feeling safe and secure, like having this weight and this weapon on you, and that I can take the purse strap off and throw it, if I need to.
click to enlarge A sneak peek of the focal point of Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s Artpace exhibition - BRYAN RINDFUSS
  • Bryan Rindfuss
  • A sneak peek of the focal point of Jennifer Ling Datchuk’s Artpace exhibition
And when you say it’s made from those things, are those actually inside there?
I coated it all with porcelain slip and packed it and then fired it. They burn away, but it still leaves the detail of the doily and the handkerchief lace. It’s like the emotional weight of the materials. And they say “Girl Power.” As a young girl we’re taught to be delicate like porcelain teacups, and I feel like we need to be bricks. Bricks are a foundational material. This is actually referencing a brick size that’s called “Queen.” I thought that was a really wonderful name for a brick. These will be hanging on the wall with a photograph of myself and a friend modeling them. In many ways it’s about reclaiming this power in this way. It’s understanding feminism. The photograph of my friend and I, it’s a very touching, sincere photograph of how we’re there for each other — women supporting women. I’m really interested in the history of porcelain objects. These are plates made by Lenox China, it’s a company in the United States. They’re plates celebrating the White House confederacy, and these are made in the ’70s. I worked with a metal fabricator here and we water-jet cut out some of the central images. This was Stuart, one is Jackson, and [I’m] putting them on rapper hip-hop chains. And I have two young badass Latina girls modeling them. So, removing their power, cutting their image away, the absence of their image, and then turning the pieces into almost like tokens, like the prizes from reclaiming the space.

When you say they’ll be modeling them, that’s during the reception?
It’s a photograph. I think it was important to see this plate on the body and see that negative space cut out. I [also] made a porcelain grill to wear and I have a photograph of it on my teeth. So, it’s the same, it’s this idea of fronting, of flaunting this power through this lens of pop culture. For the show, they’ll be on display in museum cases with the photograph next to them. I worked with a photographer to help me shoot these.

Who’s the photographer?
Lane Pittard. I love her work. She’s really great and we’re on the same wavelength. And that was something I thought about too, even the people I was working with — small businesses, Leo Barrios helped with the wooden shelf, Lizzy Gladstone from Sun Nation, and working with women. I think that was something I really wanted to make an effort and point to — is to collaborate with more women in San Antonio.

It’s cool that it’s an all-female group here, too.
We were talking about this, too. During the opening, we have to do our talk and we want to really make sure we don’t get marginalized in the conversation, too, because we’re all from different places, and our work is really concerned about the representation of women. It’s been really great conversations between the three of us. It feels like it’s the best girl band you could ever be in.

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