An interview with Cindy Huang, who is showing her ceramic-based installation in WHAKAARI from 28 January 2023 - 29 March 2023.
Cindy Huang explores exchange, ancestry, and materiality in her solo exhibition. Her installation of hundreds of handmade porcelain lilies aims to explore the lack of recorded knowledge about the Chinese settlement locally in Tāhuna and regionally in Ōtākou and Murihiku.
I asked her a few questions about her exhibition and practice.
Tegan Allpress, Arts and Culture Administrator
TA: The description of your exhibition says you have handmade 1000 porcelain lilies and lily fragments, is this true? Tell us about the clay creation process of your show.
CH: Kind of true, there are 1000 individual ceramic pieces including the vases. Most of the works were created from my make shift studio in the kitchen/dining room. I would make the works every spare moment I had for about a month and a half. I even brought my clay to Hawkes Bay during Christmas to continue making the lilies.
TA: Exchange is a common thread in your practice. In your last work, Twin Cultivations, you created 240 ceramic food items and encouraged the audience to gift a piece to a stranger. In this work, the theme of exchange is explored by inviting the audience to bring a flower to exchange with one in your vases. What draws you to the theme of exchange?
CH: Art is often treated as sacred object and to be admired from a distant. When discussing social issues its important for me to introduce the idea of exchange as a way of facilitating the making of meaning. Especially when these stories are connected to real people and memories, it is nice to continue that human interaction in the gallery space.
TA: Porcelain isn’t a common material for a ceramicist to work with. What was your decision making behind working with porcelain?
CH: A lot of the traces of the Chinese men who came to Aotearoa to work and mine were ceramic fragments, often porcelain dining ware or some sort of earthen ware and I wanted to continue that logic in my work. This was my first time working with porcelain and it isn't the easiest clay body to work with. But what can I say, I was very committed to the idea!
TA: Your work aims to highlight the lack of recorded histories in this area. Tell us about the journey to choosing lilies for this work.
CH: I was introduced to Daegan Wells early on in my research process by Louise Garrett. After getting to know each other Daegan and I found that our practices quite nicely parallel each others. He lives down in Colac Bay by Round Hill, which was the largest Chinese settlement back in the day and he gave me a tour of the area. While we were down there he introduced me to Isabelle who owns a weaving shop. It was her who introduced the history of the lily flower and told me that it was the Chinese gold miners who brought the flowers to the area. And that was where the idea of the exhibition began for me.
TA: There is a fragility to your work. How do you come to the decision placing your ceramic objects on the ground?
CH: I have a affinity to the ground, its been like that since I finish art school in 2019. I think it's because of the materials and ideas I have been working on for the past few years, it lends well to placing objects on the ground. It also encourages audiences to engage and interact with the work in a different way, and requires a bit more consideration on their part, which I quite enjoy.
TA: Your work speaks to the rich history of Chinese settlements in this area, do you have a personal connection to this area?
CH: I do have a connection to this area, I know I have an ancestor who came here to gold mine. However I don't know his name or when he came exactly. My mother only heard stories from her grandparents but since forgotten the details. So a lot of my research process was imagining what his life was like when he was and if I was in the same places he was.
Cover image: Cindy Huang by Hannah Bennett, courtesy of the artist.
Gallery images: Installation shots of Cindy Huang Exhibition, courtesy of the artist.
This exhibition was funded by the Asia New Zealand Foundation Te Whītau Tūhono and Creative Communities New Zealand.