I am a visual artist, and I have been working in graphic design to begin with. And then later when I had children, I decided to not work outside the home and started doing my own art. So that's been almost 30 years, I guess. Something like that. So this recent project came out of, basically kind of a concern for all the plastic waste that I personally generate, but also in the community. And started when I was living in Taiwan in 2010 with my family, my, my two kids and my husband were there. And they do a really good job of collecting almost everything, you know… Household trash and compost and all the plastic seems to be all collected. And so I was very impressed. And then I got really used to sort of collecting everything…
So when I came back here, I was like, oh my God, there's nowhere to put this stuff. And I was still collecting, but there was nowhere for this stuff to go. So I just kept collecting, kept collecting. And then pretty soon my garage was kind of getting full. So eventually I did make a couple of large pieces, and that went as a backdrop for a recital at Beall Hall, that was my first one. And that one was 20 feet by 10 feet… I had never done anything like this. I'd never worked with plastic. All of the materials I'd ever worked with was traditional art materials… So really I just was doing it by the seat of my pants. I didn't know what was going to work. So the only way I can think of to put plastic to plastic together is by tape. So I tape that whole thing, that first piece. But then I thought, well, I'm just using more plastic, so I'm going to make the next piece, I'm going to sew it all and not use plastic. So I did sew the second piece… And I killed my sewing machine. And I killed my mother's sewing machine. I had to buy a third one… I did a combination of sewing and taping because it is so big, it is 40 feet by 12 feet high…
--View the full interview between Thomas Hiura, Aimee Yogi and Helen Liu on the Springfield History Museum YouTube channel. This excerpt is from an ILLUMINATION interview in fall, 2022.
You can view the quilt referenced in this interview and other work by Helen Liu at https://www.helenliuartwork.com/art-quilt-for-earth-day. You can view a swatch on loan from Helen Liu on display at the Springfield Public Library.
I used to think I was different and didn't fit in because my parents were immigrants. As kids, my sister and I used to watch The Brady Bunch and think, 'This is how real Americans do things.' We would mimic holiday traditions and tell Mom how she was supposed to pretend to be the tooth fairy, or we'd make Easter baskets out of construction paper and play Easter bunny ourselves. I didn't understand that there were lots of kids that may not have celebrated holiday traditions, or did things exactly like people on TV, or that they might also feel their family was different in a sort of bad way, than other families. As I got older, this feeling of wanting to be like an American was the very thing that kept me from it. I doggedly insisted that I was a Vietnamese person living in America, and this identity provided reasons for things I couldn't change. One day, talking with a friend about this topic, he said to me, 'But you're an American after all. You're American.' It's one of those times when it feels like the floor just dropped and you're standing mid-air for that very loooong second with nothing to stand on, all the foundations gone, snap! My initial reaction was to defend myself, this was an attack! A blatant disregard for me as a person and all that I was made of. I mean, the floor had figuratively disappeared and I was grasping to get it back, to keep that old way of seeing myself in the world. I pretended nothing had changed, but something was growing. It took years, little by little, a reframing of understanding - in fact it is still growing today. I recently created a book called "Garden of People" that showed me that multicultural doesn't only mean multiethnic- it's much broader and more beautiful than race or location or names. And it's funny to write this now because I see the paradox and irony of it. As a kid, I wanted so much to be American, and when someone finally tells me, yeah, you ARE American, I'm all mad about it.
--submitted by web form on November 17, 2022
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