Interview: Ethan Chan
Luca Curci talks with Ethan Chan during THE BODY LANGUAGE 2022, at THE ROOM Contemporary Art Space.
B. 1997, Kenosha, Wisconsin. Ethan Chan is an artist working in sculpture, installation, and performance art based in Los Angeles, CA. Using unique materials including Happy Meal toys, bubble gum, train sets, and sauce packets, his work references a love for all things kitsch, cookiecutter, and plastic; and in its transformation, attempts to place itself at the intersection between globalism and Americana.
Luca Curci – What is art for you?
Ethan Chan – Art at its very least, I think, is the one tool that expresses what words can’t do alone. At the end of the day, it’s all just fun and games. I think the best kind of artworks are always the ones that start out as just play; that comes from a very personal place for the artist, then can somehow be manipulated or changed to become universally meaningful (to the point where anybody can get something out of it).
LC – What are you currently working on?
EC – Currently I’ve been working a lot with sauce packets as a material. Since finishing undergrad, I’ve been working on this ongoing series of wearable condiment-costumes tailored to fit my proportions, the latest of which are modeled after 60’s-70’s classic American heroes. I’ve been buying into the self-portrait-nature of these costumes (with them being made to fit me specifically) and I’m fascinated by the idea of a “one size fits all” American dream and how that affects not only me as a Chinese-American, but all others who don’t fit the stereotype of the standard conventional American. These themes have also led me to work on a performance piece in which I wear the costumes, which I plan on showing in another upcoming exhibition in South Korea soon.
LC – Where do you find your inspiration?
EC – I’ve been head over heels for Chinese Performance Art in the 90’s ever since I read about it in textbooks in college. I still consider it to be my favorite movement in art history. Personally, I like art the more conceptual and idea-driven it is (as opposed to work that’s more aesthetically pleasing). It’s a great reminder for me, personally, that art can be present wherever I want it to be. It was very inspiring, and to see what artists in a completely different culture and background than mine had accomplished; works like Zhang Huan’s 12 Square Meters, showcasing what one person can endure, or To Raise the Water Level in a Fish Pond, which shows what people can accomplish when they work together, is incredibly moving and very poetic.
LC – How is your creative process?
EC – I typically spend about 90% of my “studio-time” just sitting and mulling over ideas I’ve been thinking of; I constantly rework the same ideas I’ve had in my head over and over until I feel a little confident in the idea, which is when I actually make something physical out of it or put together a team to document a performance. I believe most of it is just sitting and thinking a lot about art though.
LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
EC – Usually, that’s the sad part for me. I think all of the fun is in thinking about the art and physically putting it together, and when it’s done it’s back to the drawing board to make something new.
LC – What do you think about the concept of this exhibition? How did it inspire you?
EC – I love the title “Body Language.” I’m a very big fan of the theme because it’s so vague; almost all art is, to some degree, self-portraying, and with the theme being about how you use a body to communicate opens up to so many different kinds of answers/interpretations. There are multiple ways in which one artist alone can convey the idea of language, so the idea of multiple artists (all from different backgrounds and fields) doing this excites me!
LC – Can you explain something about the artworks you have in our exhibition?
EC – The photos in the show are three stills from a performance that occurred for 3 days in the desert, the city and the suburbs; I chose one still from each location. The performance was called Fighting the Loneliness (of Social Displacement), in which I dressed up in these costumes I made out of sauce packets that were modeled after classic American heroes, but they were all tailored to fit my body specifically. Wearing them, I was documented putting together scenes that mimicked fictional film setups (following the costumes). Between the cheesy staging and costumes constructed solely out of condiment-packets, the photographs were made to look as kitschy and gaudy as possible, questioning “What looks more fake: the questionably staged scene, or a person of Asian descent in the costume of an American Hero?
LC – What is your idea about ITSLIQUID GROUP?
EC – As much as I have understood, it’s a group that isn’t attached to a specific site, but rather has connections with many different locations and events, who reaches out to artists and designers from all over, to showcase their work to new crowds and audiences.
LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us? And would you suggest a collaboration with us?
EC – Very much so! It’s a cool and interesting opportunity, and I’m happy to have been able to take part in it. I would suggest it. I think the fact that the group isn’t stuck to a single location or a single type of showcasing is what makes it great. The opportunities are vast with a group like this.