‘In my current work, I’m still interested in mythologies and imaginaries – the politics and poetics of being in the world.’
b. San Leandro, California, 1972. Lives and works in Los Angeles
Patty Chang emerged through the New York performance art scene of the 1990s with provocative works, generally documented as short films, that pushed the boundaries of both taste and endurance. Influenced by Joseph Beuys and Marina Abramović, her performances featured excessive eating and drinking, shaving her pubic hair while blindfolded, and the (apparent) contortion of her body into impossible positions, often playing against orientalised tropes of Asian femininity. Duress, discomfort and sometimes a sense of slapstick characterised her work, such as when she lay flat on her back with her blouse filled with wet, wriggling eels. More recently her poetic conceptual works, blending performance, film, photography and installation, have involved her in long and arduous journeys. For ‘Invocation for a Wandering Lake’, Chang reprised the 20th century journey of a Swedish explorer who sought a mysterious vanishing lake, Lop Nur. Unable to return to Xinjiang due to tightening government restrictions, she instead travelled to Uzbekistan and Newfoundland. The first part of the installation was filmed on the rocky shores of Fogo Island in Newfoundland, Canada. Chang stands thigh-deep in the waves and washes the partially beached, rotting body of a sperm whale. She has described the overwhelming sense of sorrow she felt as she performed this ritual, her sense of shared mortality. Part 2 shows the artist in Uzbekistan, scrubbing the rusted hull of a beached vessel, a boat listing on pale sand that was once the sea bed: the Aral Sea lost up to 80 percent of its volume due to the Soviet Union’s ill-conceived irrigation projects of the 1960s. The next phase of Chang’s investigation of water sources was an expedition to the world’s longest aqueduct, China’s South–North Water Diversion Project. Travelling across China, each time Chang came across part of the aqueduct she urinated into a makeshift female urinary device made from plastic water bottles, which she later had reproduced in hand-blown glass.