model and reality of art

In the Fall of 2012 I was selected for the Student-Artist-in-Residence Program (SARP), funded by Creative Capital, to produce works that came from conversations between artists and scientists. After ten months, I made two projects as a result of SARP.

The first project started with a trip to SE Asia in December 2012, where I walked on the dykes of the rice paddies of Cambodia, fallen in twice, and archived the experience via photographs. While at the site, I met the couple whose paddies I so willingly and innocently invaded for three hours. Instead of kicking me out using Khmai, the couple decided to sit at a dark bus stop in the middle of nowhere with me until my party (who was out boating) came for me. With sore feet covered in paddy mud, a million fire ant bites on my bottom, and a fluctuating insecurity from company that spoke a different language--a company that could give up waiting with me any moment now, I gave the couple a whatever I had in my pocket as I hugged them goodbye when my party arrived. In contrast with the constant money-making scheme in Siem Reap, the couple whose paddies I invaded did not expect anything in return for their good deed. They spoke to each other with a tone indicative of "such is life." But even something so simple as waiting with me at the dark bus stop in the outskirts of Siem Reap becomes a significant act. A small drop of water that wears away the stone. I was reminded of my parents' slow and steady work in the rice paddies of Viet Nam, their small accumulation through great invested effort, and how they never asked anyone for anything in return for their goodwill.

Back in the USA, I engaged in conversations with Alice Alonso (Ph.D. Candidate in Hydrological Modeling) and Dr. Bernard Hauser (Ph.D. Biology) to further process my experience. Without exact knowledge of my interests, Alice Alonso provided insights into hydrological modeling and what modeling means, and Dr. Hauser provided endless answers to questions of production and reproduction in plants. Putting the things I learned from Alice, Dr. Hauser, and my experience from Cambodia, I produced an artwork that deals with the quantity of water needed to produce a grain of rice from SE Asia, the amount of water from sprouting a seed to harvesting it. The amount is surprisingly high. If water is only one of many inputs, I wonder what the couple or even my parents had to sacrifice in order to produce one tiny grain of rice. In the exhibition, The Politic and Poetic of Measurement at the WARPhaus Gallery in April 2013, I presented this amount of water in 5 beakers next to their corresponding amount in rice grains. A slideshow of photographs of the rice paddy I visited in Cambodia changes every 5 seconds on a digital picture frame. A combination of the actual material--rice grain, the calculated abstract numbers represented by real water, and the representation of my experience via photographs, form the argument implied in the title: How Much Water Does It Take?

The second project is produced through constant incubation of regrets and nostalgia. In conversations with Alice Alonso, I realized the difference between a model and the reality it represents. The symbol is never a substitute but just a simplified representation to aid our understanding of reality. Every model is up to its maker, and my art is no different from a model. Utilizing the net, I produced three webpages that linked to each other. Each page has its own audio track (words from conversations with Alice Alonso) that loops and a representation of a rice paddy in rows of the letter i. These pages become my models produced through great labor and effort--labor from years of learning coding and the effort of realizing it into some form of existence; they are rice paddies of my own creation with meditative words on their existence.