The Other I (The Me in Others)
2020-White Box Art Center-New York
It was in the midst of New York’s Covid-19 pandemic this past April 20th, 2020 at exactly 10:50PM when, guided by my confinement routine, I opened my Facebook Messenger and to my surprise—a chance encounter of sorts, astonished—I saw my own vibrant drawn portrait executed by Loy Luo. It may well be the first time since childhood, that someone has created my portrait outside the typical family snap shot photo. I gave thumbs up and responded, “Wow-Wearing a mask!” and, “Thank you!”. Oddly enough, days later and upon closer examination I found my portrait by Luo not to be a run of the mill ‘it looks like you’ standard portrait any artist can render. This was not due to any lack of skill whatsoever, but rather a synthesis of my inner self captured in an eloquent vibrant image of me seen from the outside in. The artist had in mind a quest to find her inner self in the portraying of the other. In the case of this exhibition; 100 New Yorkers living under the pandemic. Understood as a celebration of resilience, a trait New Yorkers have earned after enduring other milestone moments like 9/11, it may be notable to point out that in seeing my inner self surreptitiously described by my portrait, I also noticed her presence in me thus perfectly enshrining the exhibition’s title “The Other I – The Me in the Other.”
Luo arrived in New York on January 9, 2020, as WhiteBox was installing a momentous exhibition by Wuhan based artist Ke Ming. Ke Ming was kept from traveling to NYC due to the early Coronavirus explosion his city experienced rendering the entire eleven million city souls fully confined. The opening of the exhibition took place on February 8th with the artist in absentia. At that point in time, neither Luo nor anyone at WhiteBox imagined New York would end up in exactly the same predicament.
Everything in New York City was new to her. On February 23rd, Luo took a photograph of “The Ride NYC”, a long run sightseeing entertainment bus whose concept is the street as theatre. The audiences were innocently enjoying viewing the theatre taking place on the street. She made a drawing out of that photograph. In the drawing, we can hear the sound of a clock ticking before the virus or disaster arrives to the city.
At Times Square, she witnessed some artists were drawing portraits outside the studio. It was the day after her witnessing of The Ride bus, on February 24th, that Luo started to create a portrait. Eager to survive mentally and physically in this largest city in the world under the sign of the snaking danger of the virus she then began to search for all kinds of people on the street to draw portraits; white, black, brown, yellow, red, old, young, mother, child, man, woman, and all LGTBQ. She has been drawing not only human beings. During the stay at home order many people become lonely, and adopted dogs as companions, creatures the artist would also portray.
Luo says that her ‘portrait performances’ under the pandemic have made people happy. She also says making portraits have made her feel good. I see the artist as in conversation with a person while making his or her portrait. It is a way of being together, a way of not being scared or lonely. When a person, including me, receives a portrait, one feels cared for by her. Indeed, making portraits is contributing to the healing process for both herself and the other who receives the drawing.
Luo’s performance reminds me of Naoto Nakagawa who is a Japanese master painter based in New York since the 1960s. He flew to the northeast region of Japan after a huge earthquake followed by a Tsunami took almost 16,000 lives in 2011. He visited anonymous people there to create a thousand portraits. He made the last portrait of a 4 year-old boy in a nursery. I remember him telling me that, “Japan is the country I am from. I wanted to do something for my country.” It is his belief that an artwork without love is valueless. With this I totally agree. The pandemic seems to affirm the theory of French social philosopher Jacques Attali that thinking about the other and their benefit will benefit ourselves at the same time.
Both Luo and Nakagawa instinctively embody Attali’s theory. Making such art projects happen fulfills both themselves and others around them. Luo came to New York to find her identity and ended up inside the hot spot of a pandemic. She has been successful in finding herself through touching a hundred other souls. (Kyoko Sato)
Zoom Panel Discussion
Les Joynes is a contemporary artist and scholar on contemporary visual cultures at Columbia University and is a professor of Modern and contemporary art at Renmin University, Beijing.
Loy Luo is a Chinese artist from Beijing. Her first solo show in New York is being held at White Box Harlem.
Chunchen Wang is Chief Curator and Deputy Director, CAFA Art Museum, Beijing at Central Academy of Fine Arts.
David Brubaker is an independent scholar with recent research in aesthetics as Visiting Professor at the School of Art and Design, Hubei University, Wuhan, China.
Yin Mei is a Chinese choreographer, dancer and director based in New York. She is a professor of dance in the Drama, Theatre and Dance Department and director of the dance program, Queens College.
Anthony Haden-Guest is a British-American writer, cartoonist, art critic, and socialite who lives in New York City.
Meng Tang is Vice-President of International Association of Female Artist, and teaches Art at the University of Minnesota.
Kyoko Sato is Director of Asian Programming, WhiteBox Harlem.
Juan Puntes is Founder and Artistic Director, WhiteBox Harlem.
Ending Performance Party