by Arlene Winkler
is a traditionally hung linen scroll on her wall, a six-part computer
generated photograph of the artist. It is an accurate portrait, very
Asian, very strong, very contemporary.
we sit in front of her laptop, she explains that the brushstroke patterns
we’re looking at are computer-manipulated images (video?) of her
own hair—a concept that appeals to her because, “Hair is
so soft but it can become powerful and sharp.” It’s the
first hint of her fondness for paradox.
stranger to paradox myself, no sooner do I recognize that this is indeed
art, I find myself wondering: “What is it that makes it possible
for something to be a work of art?” Faced with the growing variety
of new media, against a historic background of traditional two and three
dimensional forms, I can draw only one conclusion; the common thread
in all of these is the capacity to move the viewer to a new level of
consciousness. In the words of Vladimir Nabakov, “…that
sudden window swinging open on a sunlit landscape amid the night of
she interrupts my high flown meanderings. “In the next one,”
she comments, “I’m thinking about using food coloring to
dye flour different colors.” For some reason I find this pleasing.
As if her use of something living and textural implies that technology
is only the means, not the end.
She agrees. “I want all of my work to have a spiritual element
that isn’t possible using technology alone.”
fact, Lei comes from a traditional art background. Not only did she
study painting, drawing and sculpture in China, her father was a highly
successful painter. “But I was determined to be on my own path.
I graduated from ShenZhen University in Fashion Design and went to work
as a designer for a company that produced one of the most popular lines
in China.” She closes the program we’re in, opens another
to display an intriguing portfolio of her fashion drawings. But before
I have a chance to ooh and ah, she has closed it, ready to move on to
late 2000, her quest for new experience brought Lei to the U.S. After
a short visit with relatives in Portland Oregon to begin her adjustment
to a new culture, she went on to Memphis College of Art, where she earned
an MFA in computer arts. It added interactive, video and 3-D to her
“I’m glad it worked out this way, by starting out in fashion
I got to work with fabric, material, texture. If I had started out in
computers I wouldn’t have the same range. It’s like speaking
a universal language.”
certainly is. Her interactive animation: Are you ready for the Party?
is a lighthearted amalgam of her prior and current experience.
The viewer gets to interact with the stylish main character while she
gets ready for a party, by helping her shop for a new outfit. The viewer
can pick clothes off the rack, have her try them on and even go to the
cash register to pay for them. The surprise ending is that no matter
what outfit the viewer helps her put together, when she arrives at the
party everyone is wearing the identical ensemble.
next work is far more personal. Zoë is both video and performance
art, an intimate expression of Lei’s life experience. Here, the
shadow image of a woman struggles in the state between sleep and wakening,
unable to fully emerge. Her thoughts appear both vocally and in word
form and seem to drift back into her own body. The sound in this piece
is a combination of heavy electronics and beautiful spacious ambient
music, with hints of ocean and wind chimes—underscoring the feeling
of wakening, realizing one’s entrapment and struggling for release.
the words of the artist: “We all have moments when we feel we
are held back by life’s trappings, which confuse us and cause
us to lose our way. We are immobilized by our own minds. We lose our
freedom and become puppets. There are days when our lives turn into
a daily loop where we get comfortable and forget to move on. Thankfully
a part of ourselves is always looking for a new path. When we can’t
find our way out, the Overman appears (Nietsche’s Superman) a
human being who has battled modern values and overcome the flaws of
humanity. She is the highest form of our soul, who rescues us from trouble
the reference is Germanic, I tell her, the effect is decidedly Asian.
She smiles in agreement. “If my work has a common theme, it is
the life cycle, the individual in the universe, deeply rooted in Chinese
philosophy, in Yin and Yang.”
had some powerful influences.”
mentions the breakthrough work of artist/film maker Stan Brakhage, the
kinetic art of the multi-talented Len Lye, the collaborative works of
Shelly Eshkar and Paul Kaiser; artists who not only pushed the limits
of their medium but laid the groundwork for a totally new kind of thinking.
Brakhage, for instance was one of the first filmmakers to physically
alter the filmstrip itself. As far back as 1955, in Reflections on Black
he imagined the dream-vision of a blind man as he walks through a city,
signaling his character’s blindness by scratching out the mans
eyes on the film, and splicing in bits of film negative to convey the
experience—not as something seen, but something pictured.
“But my father has been the most consistent influence. He helped
me to develop as a person as well as an artist. Now we’ve become
friends. We’re interested in each other, we can look at each other’s
work and talk about it.” She pauses, but I have no trouble finishing
must be hard to have someone so good, so successful for a father."
“Yes. I want to be successful like he is, but I have to do it
by following my own path. I’ve been very fortunate. Coming to
this country has opened my mind. As a foreigner I have the best of both
worlds, artistically. I’m not expected to have to stay within
the rules—and I no longer have to worry about the rules in China.
I have the freedom to create the things I dream of creating.
Han has worked and exhibited in China and the U.S. Her most recent shows
have been at:
Light Factory in Charlotte, NC
The Summer Group Exhibition in Memphis TN, “Ephemera Series II”
video work Zoë was screened at The UNC Center for Public Television,
The 37th Humboldt International short Film Festival in Arcata, CA and
at The Off The Map event “Field of Streams” Video shorts
by national and local artists at the Fine Art Theatre in down town Asheville.
see examples of her work, you many visit her Website at UNCA: