This past year has incontrovertibly proven that many, if not most, people in our society are still denied basic safety and well-being. So many people have to worry about being attacked or killed for being BIPOC, for being a woman, for being queer. On a personal level, my usual wariness of public spaces has become full-blown fear. I feel like a walking target, being both femme and Asian. I also feel enraged that so many of us have to deal with this kind of fear. Like What You See? is a sculpture/performance piece responding to these feelings. I constructed a box using cardboard and Styrofoam that could be worn over my head and covered the exterior with thin mirror sheets. The box is intended to be a protective device—anyone interacting with me will see their reflection in place of my face and be forced to empathize. This piece also engages with the paradox of being both invisible and hypervisible as an Asian American—people will certainly look at me, but they will not see me. There is a futility too, in trying to protect myself by hiding myself. I can’t see my surroundings when wearing this box, which increases my vulnerability.
My video piece explores a more private experience resulting from the pandemic. As my world shrank, small things and interior things became more significant. This video was made using footage captured by a security camera installed above my front door. The camera is motion-triggered, and over the course of several months, recorded the routine comings and goings of a small bird. I associated the bird’s repetitive movements with the mundane thoughts I was capturing in a journal I had started during the pandemic and used excerpts from journal entries to caption the video. The piece draws a parallel between these types of observation—the camera observes the bird, while I observe myself.
Untitled, 2020. 2 min 25 sec.
This work captures the increased significance of small and interior things as the pandemic caused the world to shrink. The footage comes from a security camera outside the artist’s home, which recorded the routine comings and goings of a small bird. The video is captioned with excerpts from the artist’s journal, drawing a parallel between the turning of mundane thoughts and the repetitive routine of the bird.
Like What You See?, 2021. Cardboard, Styrofoam, adhesive mirror sheets. 10 x 10 x 10 inches.
Responding to the reality that many people are still being denied basic safety and well-being under the systems of oppression within our society, Like What You See? is an ultimately futile attempt at protection. By donning the box of mirrors, the performer forces anyone interacting with them to see their own reflection and empathize. The work also engages with the Asian American experience of being both invisible and hypervisible, looked at but not seen. In the end, there is no protection to be found in hiding—the box obscures the performer’s senses and leaves them more vulnerable than before.
Catherine Wang is an interdisciplinary visual artist from Southern California currently completing bachelor’s degrees in Art Practice and Computer Science at Stanford University. She sees her practice as a process of self-discovery and self-construction. Her work investigates the ways she is perceived—both by herself and by others. Her earlier works were primarily in drawing and painting, but she has since branched out to include performance, photography, sculpture, and video in her practice.