Posted on September 15th, 2010
The festival is officially underway now. Chun Hua Catherine Dong is busy painting grains of rice black in the project space at Latitude 53, gratefully accepting the help of any who offer as she tries to empty half the bowl of white rice, filling the other with black. It’s an overwhelming proposition. Staff and visitors take their turns for a few minutes at a time, sharing with Chun Hua Catherine for as long as it amuses them before getting up and moving on to more “productive” – and less daunting – tasks.
While watching her perform early this afternoon, I heard her talking with gallery visitors about her name. I thought I heard her say that she asks Chinese-speaking people to call her Catherine, and asks English-speaking people to call her Chun Hua. I thought that sounded funny (funny ha-ha AND funny strange) so when it was my turn to sit down and paint rice I asked her about it.
She told me that she meant it as kind of a joke, but that she does say that to people, mostly to challenge them. She said that most art institutions she has corresponded with in North America automatically change her name to Catherine Chun Hua Dong, even though she has made a specific decision to use Catherine as her middle name and to use her whole name. Galleries have told her, when asked, that in North America, “we” prefer to put English names first.
In my own art, in almost every project, I hope to challenge the viewer. Sometimes physically; sometimes just conceptually or philosophically. But I totally “get” asking people to put themselves out there; even just a small gesture to show that they’re on side, that they’re willing to be a bit vulnerable in solidarity with the artist. Or to demonstrate their interest in learning, their openness to the project. So I told her that I would call her Chun Hua, and I spent the rest of my rice-painting time trying to learn how to properly pronounce the “Hua” in Chun Hua.
I have to say that aside from my affinity for her politics of language and communication with which I’m already aligned, I’m drawn to Chun Hua Catherine’s performance. Personally, I really enjoy taking on tiny repetitive tasks, and where I lack the gross hand-eye coordination for things like video games, I have great fine motor skills and my favorite fidgeting activity involves rolling things into tiny tight bundles. This, compounded with my fascination for tweezers, means I’ll be spending a lot of time with Chun Hua Catherine this week!