“A person’s inner lock has many grooves and protrusions, which symbolizes the different strengths and characteristics of each person. These are our original appearance, but we often avoid it, even deny it. Only when we truly accept the nicks and bulges on the lock, and embrace our own strengths and imperfections, can the lock and the door to our inner-self snap opens.” – Angie Pai
Angie Pai is an artist living in Melbourne. She is a self-taught artist and has held several solo exhibitions from a young age, working across the fashion, art, and film industries. Whenever Angie makes a new move, she creates ripples in Melbourne’s creative art scenes. Standing in front of Angie’s work, I seem to have entered a pure and dreamy journey of thought. Her artistic practice is often interconnected with gaps and distances, whether they are symbols of weighty metaphor, an abstract line, a sublime square or circle, and patterns. Time stretches within the gaps, and the space moves with the passing of light. Her work carries a tinge of simplicity and serenity from afar, but at the same time, they are full of sophisticated details. This is the natural manifestation of Angie’s temperament – the paradox between spontaneousness and perfectionism.
Angie, with her parents, immigrated from Taiwan to Australia when she was a child. Her mother’s influence and the bond and connection with her family are crucial inspirations for her creative journey. Like many immigrants in Australia, Angie’s parents went through a hardship after a hardship to provide their child with a better life. When it comes to how her parents started from scratch in Australia, Angie still finds it unbelievable. She is amazed, guilty, and overwhelmed with gratitude and luck.
“I’ll never know how they did it, but I’ll be forever [be] grateful that they did. Mom and Dad are the bravest and kindest people I know…I think my mom is a genius. To this day, I still can’t tell whether she is the reincarnation of Hello Kitty or Confucius in disguise. She can be the most self-disciplined and the most reckless person at the same time…”. Angie created a short film Listen to Mom in 2019, which tells her mother’s personal stories and her ingenious relationship with Taoist philosophy.
The traditional Chinese culture centres on the Confucius teachings and pays more attention to filial piety and benevolence, which is different from the Western ideologies of freedom and individualism. In order not to make Angie – who was studying abroad – feel sad and burdened, her family decided to hide it when her father was seriously ill. However, such consideration made Angie feel pressured and anxious. As a millennial who has grown up in a Western context, Angie’s observations and reflections on her parents have become the basis of her artistic thinking. “Cultures based on Confucian teachings encourage collectivism, a core tenet around filial piety. We exist to serve others, to be an extension of our collective, and at all times, we should be selfless, to endure for the comfort of others. While I respect these teachings, working to preserve these virtues, I often feel that it brings unhealthy motivation into my life rather than being truly compassionate.”
Angie brings this outpouring of love and reflection on her family and life into her art, documenting her continual narratives of personal changes and growth. Like the Ground series presented in this exhibition, all elements (material, size and structure) try to find the feeling of root and seek the gravity of thoughts. Seemingly adrift yet fixed, weighty, and grounded.
While accepting and reflecting on the differences and turmoils of Eastern and Western cultures, Angie’s work is based on finding the focus of life through cultural and philosophical understanding. As a second-generation immigrant burdened with the expectations of the previous generation, she also found a source of strength from the cultural wisdom passed down by her ancestors, and she is proud of it. Amid the differences between the two cultures, Angie’s way of thinking is based on how to actively absorb the advantages of Western contemporary art and form her way of perceiving contemporary culture from the conceptual level.
After studying Chinese history, Angie used traditional Chinese calligraphy and enamel to present the nine-tiered seals of the Qin Dynasty, China, in the Embed series. Here, she abandons the practicality of words and instead highlights the pictorial nature of Chinese characters as pictographs and the narrative nature of words as visual symbols. This “abstract” processing method of words corresponds to people’s perceiving experience in today’s information age. Her art transcends the existing figurative expressions and the general “abstract” expressions, presenting an evolved visual reference.
“These idioms and vocabularies are precious nourishment in my life. They are partly from the guidance given by the seniors, and partly from my research and study. In the face of tests and tribulations, they encourage me to keep my passion and hope for life,” said Angie.
As Lao Tzu said, “Those who know others are clever, and those who know themselves are wise.” There is no limit to man’s exploration of the external world or knowledge; only introspective understanding of oneself is true wisdom. How to recognize and accept oneself is also a topic that diasporic artists have been discussing retrospectively. In Angie’s art practice, I see millennials’ deft answers. We can have a complex side and a simple side; a rigorous and restrained side, and a casual and wanton side; we can be unyielding and, at the same time, sentimental.
Only when we can look at ourselves objectively and honestly with compassions can we be as solid as a rock internally and no longer get easily turbulent because of the criticisms or influences of others. Thanks to Angie, I felt a mature, serene and peaceful light beyond her age in her intricate growth and emotional journey.
– written by Tianyue Li, Co-Curator of Dorveille