Nung-hsin Hu is a Taiwanese born Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary artist who interweaves video, film, performance, sculpture, and installation in her practice. Her work intends to reveal the invisible status, articulate the unconscious, and perform the vulnerability through a poetic and whimsical approach.
How did you begin working with/in response to natural environments?
I grew up in a Taiwanese industrial city at a time when it's economy was booming due to being “the factory of the world.” My childhood was surrounded with various kinds of pollution and synthetic materials. The impact of the natural environment didn’t really come into my life until I moved to the United States to study art and started to travel for artist residencies to Brazil, Chile, Arctic Circle, and Iceland.
Although my relationship with nature was limited to start with, my sense of curiosity, and the urge of interacting with my new surrounding environment made nature play one of the essential elements of my art practice. I created outdoor kinetic sculptures such as a thistle windmill and spinning zebra that are powered by wind, as well as utilizing honey corn pasta, sugar and natural latex to create outdoor installations that were intended to decay by natural forces overtime.
The mysterious power, sublime beauty, and unexpected temper of nature inspired me on various levels. I also discovered the strong connections to the high desert and northern landscape which are completely absent in Taiwan. Perhaps the longing for the dearth of life and the urge of learning about the unknown brings me to nature.
Share with us one of your favorite creative pieces and the natural environment it respond to.
“Why North?” is my newly finished video project which documents my journey during the Arctic Circle Residency 2017 Autumn Expedition in Svalbard - a Norwegian northeast archipelago, where a total of 40 participants and crew members sailed in a Tall ship in the Arctic ocean. During the three years since this life-time experience, I have reflected on the purpose of a modern-day Arctic Circle expedition and cannot overlook the ambiguous relationship between the “explorers” and the delicate High Arctic environment, and the dilemma caused by the process of creating an environmental project in this environment.
Without much connection to the outside world during the journey, the group also formed a micro-ecosystem that created intertwined connections from each participant’s single action to the whole group experience, reflecting the function of our larger society. My intent is to provide an open interpreted piece through a three-channel video format, displaying various perspectives on each activity. This allows the audience to grasp the answers based on their own interpretations.
The impact of the journey didn’t end on the day that we departed Svalbard. It continues through various forms, which is also one of the reasons that I have the honor of sharing my thoughts here.
A few years ago I visited “The Lightning Field” by Walter De Maria. I booked the journey three months prior to the visit, and drove to a remote town in Western New Mexico, staying overnight in a cabin with four strangers in private high desert land (this is the only way you can see the installation). There are no photos allowed on site, a rule created by the artist since the beginning, so I spent most of time in the field wandering around the 400 stainless steel poles. The next morning, I was quite disappointed by not seeing any lightning, while watching some deers and rabbits jumping around the installation. The reflection of golden morning lights gradually made the 400 polls disappear, and all I saw was the enchanted landscape, sunlight and animals. Suddenly I realized the real purpose of this piece, which has provided me the best advice for co-creating with nature ever since.
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Kimberly Burwick was born and raised in Worcester, Massachusetts. She earned her BA in Literature from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and her MFA in Poetry from Antioch University, Los Angeles. She is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Brightword (Carnegie Mellon, 2019) and Custody of the Eyes (Carnegie Mellon, 2017). She teaches at Colby-Sawyer College and lives in Meriden, New Hampshire.
For as long as I can remember, the natural world and the world of the arts felt like one in the same. I remember reading Walden for the first time and thinking how much sense it made, even centuries later, that we need “the tonic of wilderness.” The simplicity of trees, water, open land and altitude are not just important to me, but essential to my homeostasis as a person and as a writer.
Let me share with you one of my favorite pieces that responds to the ocean, or more specifically, the way I watched my young son respond to the ocean. Children have a way of experiencing the natural world that many adults envy. They first experience the natural world in a completely sensory way. And they name it how they see it. It’s all very specific. For example, when I mentioned to my son that it was getting dark, he said, “it’s like blue-crab dark.” And he was right. He had to compare that darkness with a lighter darkness he had found earlier in the sand, that of a blue crab. So, in a sense, this poem is teaching me how to read and feel nature the way I did as a child.
The earth warms to earth’s blue-crab dark
then comes the soul with gull breath,
water dressing up the sand
with weather, the boy is built of cloud-melt
and tiny settlements of glory –
hair, body, nails – shine alone
far ahead, cluttered with scent, the whole
poisoned sea-rhythm still sure enough
to go on toward ribbed muscle and cod
My advice for someone who wishes to co-create with the natural world is to spend real time in nature. I’m not talking about a half an hour or an hour in between episodes of your favorite Netflix show. I urge you to be unabashedly in nature in all kinds of weather, for days, or weeks. Also, try being alone in nature. Pay attention to your breath. The sensation of waking up to a moon in the middle of the night watching your breath as a sort of comet path across the black sky. Notice how your feet get sore and wet from hiking miles in snow and rain. Be unafraid of diving into a pond with frogs and turtles. You don’t have to buy a plane ticket to be in nature. Find a spot close to you and leave your notebook behind. Without distraction notice how art has been created for centuries on rocks, and leaves.
Listen to Kimberly Burwick read three stunning poems on Terrian.org