Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Art Space Talk: Andrea Chung

I was introduced to the art of Andrea Chung while visiting the New Insight exhibit at Art Chicago. Andrea's current artwork explores the relationships between exported goods of the New World, such as sugarcane, rum, allspice and bananas, and the imported laborers and the stories and ideas that these relationships carried. Andrea is currently finishing her studies at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Agatha Barton I, 85 x 45 ¾ inches, Acrylic on paper, 2006

Brian Sherwin: Andrea, I learned of your work while attending the preview at Art Chicago. Your work was in the New Insight special event exhibit. For those who don't know, New Insight is an exhibition of artwork by promising young contemporary artists curated by Susanne Ghez, Director of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, and coordinated by Sarah Krepp, Artist and Professor at UIUC. How has that experience been for you? What did you think of the New Insight exhibit as a whole?

Andrea Chung: It was a very surreal experience. It’s strange coming from an academic community and then being placed in the most extreme art world situation. I was completely overwhelmed by the scale of the fair, but it was great seeing that much work in such a short amount of time.
I think it was great that Art Chicago is interested in exhibiting MFA students from programs all over the country. It gives you a sense of what other graduate students are working on and the strengths of each program. We tend to be in this bubble when you’re in school and it’s refreshing to get a glimpse of what else is happening in the art world.
Agatha Barton II, 85 x 45 ¾ inches, Acrylic on paper, 2006

BS: Andrea, I understand that you have studied at Parsons School of Design and at the Lorenzo de' Medici Institute of art in Florence. You are currently an MFA candidate of the Mount Royal School of the Arts graduate program at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Can you tell us about those programs and the experience you have had there? Perhaps you could discuss an instructor who has been influential in your development...

AC: My experience at Parsons was a bit frustrating. I was an illustration major by default. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to major in but I did know that I loved my concepts class and the fine arts department didn’t have one. And then the illustration curriculum was extremely strict and didn’t allow for cross department electives. I guess that’s why I love my MFA program at MICA.
Graduate students are allowed to sit in any class, studio or liberal arts. Not only that, but the director of Mt. Royal, Frances Barth, has encouraged us to work as a community. She encourages that we teach one another, share information and build genuine relationships. She’s also instilled the importance of our practice. I would say that she has been the most influential in my development. She has challenged me more than anyone. She demands so much from her students because she sees the potential in all of us. I believe she has taught me not only how to be a better artist, but also a better person.
Agatha Barton III (with detail shots), 71 ½ x 30 inches, Brown sugar on sheetrock wall, 2007
BS: What about your peers? Have you collaborated on any projects? If not, is that something that you would be interested in doing?

AC: As far as my peers, I would say two artists that have been instrumental for me have been Rachel Schmidt (MICA MFA 08) and Pamela Phatsimo Sunstrum (MICA MFA 08). Pamela was actually in the New Insight Exhibition last year. I started my MFA program as a painter and Rachel is an amazing fibers sculptor. She taught me how to make casts and molds which was completely out of my element. I think Pamela unknowingly taught me that being a successful artist was a real possibility.
I was inspired by her success during her 2nd year in Mt. Royal and her continued success since. Her acceptance to various shows and residencies made me think that these were real possibilities for me as well. She encouraged me to apply for a residency in Panama (Taller Portobelo Norte) which had a huge impact on my work. She also included my work in a fantastic show she curated called PepperPot, which is currently on display at UNC Chapel Hill. Pamela and I have toyed with the idea of collaborating but haven’t had the opportunity to do so yet.

BS: Andrea, your father was born in Jamaica and your mother was born in Trinidad... it is my understanding that your work explores that heritage-- thus I assume that your parents have been a major influence to you. Could you go into further detail about that connection and the ways in which you explore it? How is that influence reflected in your process?

AC: My work explores cultural geography and cultural exchange as a result of economic trade and labor in the Caribbean. While my parents’ heritage is a result of these things, they aren’t really my primary focus but they are my audience. When I’m making work I always keep in mind whether or not I’m successfully communicating in a way that is accessible to my parents and people like my parents.
"Pops" (Henry Chung), Dimen, Installation: Brown sugar on wall, 2007

BS: Andrea, can you discuss some more of your influences and the thoughts behind your art? Do you find inspiration in artists from the past?

AC: I’m interested in how trade has shaped the Caribbean. How the desire and craving for foodstuffs like sugar, rum and allspice resulted in the importation of Africans, Chinese, Portuguese, Indians, mangoes and breadfruit into the Caribbean. I became really interested in the idea of food having their own social, cultural and historical narrative and what recipes, meals, and ingredients can tell me about their origins and contemporary uses and what those things can, in turn, tell us about the history and diversity of the Caribbean as well as its place in the modern world.

As far as artists that inspire me, at the moment I’m absolutely in love with Martin Puryear’s work. I saw his retrospective at MoMA and most recently attended his lecture at the National Gallery. I think what inspires me most is his thorough knowledge of his material. I was completely blown away listening to him talk about they type of wood he used throughout his work, what tree it came from, where those trees are located geographically, the grain of the wood and so forth. Not only is he brilliant he’s in love with his material and that’s something that I both admire and understand (I love to eat!). He’s really taken his material and tried every imaginable process one can think of and has developed a phenomenal body of work.

BS: What is the message that you want people to leave with after viewing your work? Do strive to change the way that people view the world-- or at least give them a different perspective?

AC: I don’t have a "message" per say. I more or less see myself as documenting Caribbean stories and histories through my work. Part of the reason I began with the earlier portraits of my grandparents was due to the lack of: the lack of images and information, the lack of birth records, unknown birthdates, "it nuh pickney business," and the untold stories of the Caribbean experience. I believe that most people have a monolithic idea of what and who the Caribbean is and I hope that my work can open up a dialogue about the complex culture, people and history of the Caribbean.
All fruits ripe, Photo cut out, 15 ½ x 11 ½ inches, 2008

BS: Andrea, where else can our readers view your work in person? Will you be included in any other exhibits in 2008? Also, are you openly seeking gallery representation?

AC: I have a few things lined up after graduation. All the graduating Mt. Royal students will be in an exhibition called Archimage at Gallery Four in the H&H Building in Baltimore May 17th – June 25th . I’ve also been invited to be a part of a show that Hank Willis Thomas is putting together at RUSH Art in Chelsea in September and then my first solo exhibition will open in October at the Arlington Art Center in Arlington, VA.

As far as gallery representation, I’ve been so consumed with school that I haven’t really begun to think about that yet. My practice comes first so I’ve been focusing more on continuing the work after graduation. I don’t want to lose the momentum in the studio so I’ve focused more on residencies upon graduation. I will be attending Skowhegan this summer, which makes the transition a bit easier.

BS: Finally, is there anything else you would like to say about your art or your future plans?

AC: I received a Fulbright Scholarship so my future plans include moving abroad in February. I’ll be in Port Louis, Mauritius working with a chef and studying their cuisine, which will result in a new body of work based on my research. After my husband and I return we’ll be relocating to California.

You can learn more about Andrea Chung by visiting her website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--

Take care, Stay true,

Brian Sherwin

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