Phone calls at the same time every day, packing and unpacking luggages, eagerly waiting at Arrival and saying good-byes at Departure, getting into another long winding customs and border security line… These rituals are performed by many American Dream hopefuls, despite not knowing when or where the line ends. In my work, I look for patterns and repetitions in behaviors of the immigrant family. I want to understand the driving force behind making choices to uproot a family. As families separate and migrate, I recognize the invariable loss and the struggle to justify and reconcile the distance in between.
Thanks to technology, I regularly call my grandmother in Taiwan via Facetime. From afar, I watch her fade into a dementia haze, as I compulsively screenshot every video session to hold on to the memories. We engage in rituals to keep memories alive, so to bridge closer a very real physical divide. As we rely more on virtual means to stay in touch with distant loved ones, the wall of the digital screen blinds us to those close by and make us lose touch with reality. As a maker, I question Touch: How casual and instantly gratifying a swipe or tap is, versus the physical impression and gravity of a squeeze of the hand, or an embrace. This translate into my work as I touch, wipe, rub, peel, and caress my drawing surfaces, giving the figures skin and weight.
My recent paintings and wall drawing installations document the fluid state between experience, memory, and place. Like setting up a scene, the work may start with one point, one figure, or one moment in time; points would connect to lines, and the work would stretch, reconfigure, and expand beyond its original composition. Like well-worn film negatives, I revisit images, snapshots, and memories through iterations, until they begin to morph, overlap, and degrade. The result may be an invitation to enter into an overwhelming yet familiar space, or only a flat wall with traces of history left visible.
Kathy Liao, 2018