OCTOPUS CHICKEN: A CONVERSATION WITH COLE LU
Addoley Dzegede meets with Cole Lu to talk about language, communication, and a super sad true love story. Addoley Dzegede: So, I wanted to ask you some questions about your exhibition Super Sad True Love Story (SSTLS). I’ve noticed that you often use text written by authors other than yourself. In approaching SSTLS did you have any hesitations or worries about incorporating text from your own personal archive...for instance, the video [Ex Factor] with Catalina [Ouyang] when she is performing extractions from your I-messages with your ex? Cole Lu: So, whenever I use text from other authors, I usually extract it because it fits with whatever I want to convey, not just plagiarizing their text, because I combine it with my own so it creates an alternative fictional dialogue in a way. If you think about the history of appropriation in art —not just objects, texts are the same too— it’s utilizing the technique of erasure to alter the pre-existing text to [create] the new text. [The 2010 Gary Shteyngart novel] Super Sad True Love Story, overall, fits with my show, but I didn’t use the story at all. I just extracted part of it —the title of it—and how it hyperfocuses on the apparatuses that we use to communicate. Apparently it’s a story of a middle-aged guy falling in love with a young Asian girl, with that obvious fetishization of Asian females, and that’s why I asked Catalina to be the main image in the video. But I wanted to make it sincere, based on my own experience, so I extracted my own super sad true love story. I went through something like over 3000 texts in my archive, in my old phone. It was like an emotional rollercoaster at the time. It was horrible. I extracted those that could show the progression of the relationship, but also without being overly personal with life details, without putting my ex-partner on the spot because ... it doesn’t matter who she is, in a way. AD: You said you didn't want to call her out too much because it didn’t really matter who she was, but it’s interesting to think about how you can shift to think that way when your whole reason for being here in St. Louis was that person, and then how over time she becomes less important. CL: Yeah, it takes a while. I actually wrote a letter to her. I think right after I graduated. I think of it as a blessing, how she made me decide to come to St. Louis, and then I fell in love with the space and the place and the people here. So it was actually a thank you note for her (laughs). AD: I am curious whether or not you think that the personal aspects of SSTLS are a result of you moving your studio into your apartment? You know, like working in a domestic setting and thinking about home life. CL: It definitely changed a lot because I think the scale of production, and the materials chosen, are all because of the space and the resources that I have. I don't have access to a woodshop and a huge printer. It's a common issue for artists post-grad school. Your studio has been taken away, and you have to come up with an alternative strategy. 13 ALLTHEARTSTL.COM FALL 2015
AD: So I’d like to talk a bit about language. I’m really impressed by your range of language skills, but also fascinated by the slippages that come up. It highlights how much work communication takes, how much can be said and resaid, but still slip from your grasp in unexpected moments. I’ll always remember when we were in Chicago for the CAA (College Art Association) conference in 2014 and we were out eating noodles, and I can’t remember what we were talking about, but at one point you meant to say the word “dissection” and instead you said “octopus chicken,” and it’s a joke that we still have to this day, using an emoji shorthand even [ ]. But it was so fascinating to me that you completely lost the word you wanted in that moment. So, in terms of language in your work, can you talk about how being multilingual plays a role in the way you think and work? CL: I think that it's really interesting. I remember someone approached me with a question the other day and was like, "do you do translation in your head before you come out with a sentence?" I used to think of it that way, but now it's more like I have the meaning, and then I just speak it. It's more like choosing the language, and then you go into that system, instead of having a language constructed—in let's say Mandarin or Japanese or Taiwanese—then translating it. It doesn't work that way. It's more like a response toward meaning. And sometimes, with your memory of some vocabularies, it can easily get mixed. Sometimes that's why the "octopus" and "dissection"--(laughs)-- happens. I don't know why. I think I was watching Grey's Anatomy at the time, and then I was like, craving Spanish food or some seafood, and then it's just a weird mix in my head. I just slip into weird languages, even during daily conversation. I'm like what the hell did I just say to that person?! Same thing happened even to my mother language. I went back to Taiwan a couple months ago. I had massive communication issues. I was thinking about doing an artist proposal, [but] I can't translate my entire show into Mandarin, because it's so specifically a response to the English language. So when you translate it into Mandarin, meaning gets lost. I tried to translate it a little bit for [conveying at least] the main concept of the show, but if they are not bilingual, if they don't know English, it's not fun. And that is actually making me face a really severe, really difficult problem: I can't apply for grants or make any proposal with Mandarin, because my writing in Mandarin got bad. AD: Oh! (laughs) CL: I mean, I can write, but it will almost look like a Google Translate. It's weird. And sometimes I feel sad about it, like when I talk to my mom. At the beginning, I didn't even know how to use the Mandarin term of "installation art."
Cole Lu (photo credit: Courtesy of the artist)
AD: Yeah, because you learned all of that vocabulary here. CL: Yeah, I didn't have that vocabulary built before I moved here, that art vocabulary, in Mandarin, so I’d say, "well the thing I made is like you put a lot of things in the room, and that entire room is the work," and she'd [Lu's mother] come up with, "Oh! You are talking about installation." I'm like, "oh yeah, that's right!" (laughs) AD: That's so crazy. CL: And I couldn't even find the word "aesthetic.” It was insane. I was just thinking about the word, I was looking at my mom through Skype, I'm like, "you know ‘aesthetic?’ ‘critical?’” and she's like—she stared at me. She knows "aesthetic" in Mandarin. I didn't know it at that time. I forgot about the term. I didn't know how to describe it. Then she needs to use the dictionary or Google Translate when she's stalking me (laughs) on Facebook, or whenever we are talking or she'll hold her iPhone and say, "wait, what?" and then she would just put it in and say, "oh! You mean this." AD: It's interesting because it constantly makes you think about meaning. Like what does it really mean? How can I describe that? CL: Exactly. Cole Lu is Assistant Director at Fort Gondo Compound for the Arts, and Co-Director (with Jose Garza) of the Transversal Project. Lu’s projects include curating the debut exhibition at Insurance, a gallery in the new Granite City Art and Design District in Illinois, leading a zine workshop at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation, and an exhibition in conjunction with the Teen Museum Studies Program at the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis. Super Sad True Love Story was on view at Beverly in winter, 2014-15.