Interviews

Patty Chang

Patty Chang, untitled quilt sections (work in progress).

Patty Chang, untitled quilt sections (work in progress).

Well known for her fearless performances and wildly inventive narratives, the Los Angeles–based artist Patty Chang recently began listing her fears. This led to her soliciting other people’s lists of fears as well, which are related to other lists: One explores the range of a mother’s heightened sense of empathy; another imagines useful mechanisms designed to address, among other things, mental illness, existential distress, fear, and individual agency. These lists set the parameters for a new project that departs from Chang’s solo exhibition “The Wandering Lake, 2009–2017,” which was originally organized by the Queens Museum and is now on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, until August 3, 2019. Here, Chang talks about her latest work.

IT WAS OUR FIRST SUMMER IN ALTADENA. 2017. It was so hot here. I got a reader card at the Huntington Library to go sit in the air-conditioning. I was having anxiety about the environment. At the library, I couldn’t concentrate, and my friend Danielle Abrams said, “I think you need to make a list.” So I did it that day. It ended up being four pages. Some of the fears on the list have to do with death; some of them have to do with the environment. The first page sums up everything: [my son] Leroy’s death, the death of the Earth, and the death of all species. And then they get more specific. They go to other places. A list doesn’t have to have the correct grammar; it doesn’t have to make sense. It just gets the idea down.

Around this time, I wanted to create a performance that would combine breast pumping with other actions. I asked the actor Kestrel Leah to write a list of her fears. She got back to me a few days later with a list she made over three pumping sessions. I asked if she could memorize and recite it while setting up her breast pump and pumping. She replied that she didn’t want to say something that would hurt anyone in her life. So I sent out emails to other people to ask for their fears, and I’ve been collecting these in a script that Kestrel will perform.

When I was pregnant and working on The Wandering Lake, I had morning sickness. After having a child, and while lactating, I had a heightened sense of empathy—it has something to do with how you need to take care of this new living being. I had this feeling of being closer to the surface, more permeable; my interior felt closer to the outside world. I was outside of myself and more in tune with what was happening. The hormones prolactin and oxytocin stimulate the body to turn blood into breast milk. Those hormones are also hormones that are related to feelings of love. I want to create a show and invite people to come and pump while doing another activity. This is the initial list:

PUMPING AND PEEING
PUMPING AND CRYING
PUMPING AND DRINKING BREAST MILK
PUMPING AND ADDRESSING AN AUDIENCE
PUMPING AND LISTING FEARS
PUMPING AND PERFORMING A TEXT
PUMPING AND DOING THERAPY
PUMPING AND PLAYING A SONG

I have another list of devices I want to make:

DEVICE FOR MUNCHAUSEN
DEVICE FOR SOLASTALGIA
DEVICE FOR EATING DISORDER
DEVICE FOR PROLACTIN
DEVICE FOR CEPHALOPOD
DISPERSED CONSCIOUSNESS
DEVICE FOR DISPLACED CONSCIOUSNESS
DEVICE FOR GIRL SCOUT
DEVICE FOR PERVERT
DEVICE FOR CLIENT STATE
DEVICE FOR TRAINING ONE’S MIND TO GO VISITING
DEVICE FOR REVERSE OSMOSIS
DEVICE FOR REVERSE OASIS

Whenever I’m really stressed out, people always remind me that there’s not much a person can do—that the things we are afraid of are systemic problems. Even if an individual wants to change their personal behavior, the system would still overwhelm them. So I started sewing the fears on quilts. You can still use the quilts. They’re a little stiffer because of the text. One quilt has the beginning of the first list I wrote:

DEATH
LEROY’S FUTURE DEATH
DEATH OF THE HUMAN SPECIES
DEATH OF THE EARTH
BUT THAT’S IRRATIONAL
FLOODING, DROWNING IN A FLOOD
FIRE BURNING IN A FIRE
HEIGHTS
SMOG
113 DEGREES EVERYDAY

 

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