May 112023
 

This mural was created by Lara Nguyen in 2016 for The Refinery in Asheville, North Carolina. The local artist and teacher’s design was chosen for the building by the Asheville Area Arts Council.

From a Mountain Xpress article about the work-

Bowerbirds and butterflies decorate the building’s facade. Nguyen considers the former “the artists of the bird world.” Each year, for up to six months, the male bowerbird will spend its days building arches made of straw. He will then gather brightly colored objects and place them outside the construction in order to attract mates.

“They perform,” says Nguyen. “They use the hole [of the arch] as a stage. … They’re also great mimickers and singers. I thought that was interesting. They’re like actors, performance artists, builders, makers, collectors, [and] in some way they’re painters. They pick certain colors and situate them.”

Nguyen saw the creature as a perfect symbol for The Refinery Creator Space. She lists off the various types of artists (painters, photographers, sculptors, filmmakers, fiber artists…), in addition to the art-based organizations (Asheville Darkroom, Asheville Makers, The Bright Angle, Local Cloth and Mechanical Eye Microcinema) that now call the space their home. She views her mural, with its bright colors and visual appeal, as a way to help facilitate traffic; a way to intrigue the public to step inside and support the arts.

More recently, Nguyen contributed work to the 2023 annual ArtFields event in Lake City, South Carolina. The two pieces are from her series “Letters to My Children”.

Her statement about these works-

“Strong Arms” & “Keep Going” are from a series entitled “Letters to My Children.” I was diagnosed with uterine leiomyosarcoma in July 2018 when my kids, Atticus and Moon, were 7 & 9 years old. In January 2020, my lung collapsed and I underwent a lobectomy. Now with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis I have found myself up at all hours worrying about dying before my kids are grown. When I couldn’t sleep, I wrote letters to them, recording their favorite recipes and my fondest memories of them for them. In 2021, I decided to share my writing with them instead of saving all this pondering in a box for later. Making and sharing this work has allowed us to cry and grieve together, which, in turn, has opened up space to truly be honest and present for one another while we are all still alive. With my children’s permission, I present slices of difficult conversations we have had to a wider audience in hopes of easing any load the viewer might be carrying on their own personal journey.

May 262021
 

Mel Chin’s animatronic sculpture Wake, formerly on display in NYC’s Times Square, is now on view in Asheville, North Carolina until December 1.

From The Community Foundation of Western North Carolina website-

Wake was commissioned as part of Mel Chin: All Over the Place, a multi-site survey of his works from across many decades that took place in several New York City locations. A collaborative group, led by UNC Asheville’s Steam Studio and CFWNC, formed to plan and raise funds for the sculpture to be seen locally.

Wake – 60 feet long, 34 feet wide and 24 feet high, conceived and designed by the artist – was engineered, sculpted and fabricated by an interdisciplinary team of UNC Asheville students, faculty, staff and community artists led by Chin. Wake is interactive and features decks and places to sit and contemplate.

Wake evokes the hull of a shipwreck crossed with the skeletal remains of a marine mammal. The structure is linked with a carved, 21-foot-tall animatronic sculpture, accurately derived from a figurehead of the opera star Jenny Lind that was once mounted on the 19th century clipper ship, USS Nightingale. Jenny Lind moves subtly as she breathes and scans the sky.

“She may be looking at what cannot be seen as she moves away from the wreckage of her past,” explained Chin. “It’s about relationships we have to history. It’s almost an obligation to understand our relationships with our environment now and an opportunity to project what things could be like far into the future if we’re not engaged.”

The artwork is not only a comment on climate change, it calls forth a history that includes ships, like the USS Nightingale and many other vessels, used to move tea, guns and slaves that augmented the nation’s burgeoning economy. “These expanding past economies serve as prologue and perhaps a warning to our current environmental dilemma,” said Chin.

“Wake is a powerful comment on how the tides of history have shaped many communities, including Asheville,” said Steph Dahl, who manages the City of Asheville’s Public Art Program. “The piece asks us to acknowledge and discuss a long and complicated past, one that has left us operating in a sea of racial inequities and environmental crises. Wake’s temporary presence in an empty lot where the history and future of the Southside and South Slope meet is part of its power, and its impermanent nature underscores some of the tough questions we need to address together.

“Jenny Lind was the Beyoncé or Adele of her time,” said Chin. “She was brought by P.T. Barnum to tour America as the Swedish Nightingale. Barnum initiated American mass marketing and the world still lives in the real wake of this marketing enterprise. American commercialism provided profound advancement and wealth, but it came with real costs including colonialism, enslavement and rapid expansion. Jenny Lind, an abolitionist herself, had nothing to do with the USS Nightingale, but as its figurehead, she is an integral part. You can’t escape the web you’re in whether you are in New York City or Western North Carolina.”

Since the late 90’s Chin has lived and worked in Egypt Township, outside of Burnsville in Yancey County, North Carolina. His work has been exhibited by major art centers nationally and globally. He is described in his MacArthur entry as “a category-defying artist whose practice calls attention to complex social and environmental issues. In an expansive body of work ranging from collages, sculptural objects, animated films and video games to large-scale, collaboratively produced public installations, Chin demonstrates a unique ability to engage people from diverse backgrounds and to utilize unexpected materials and places.”