Jan 19, 2016

"Full of Divergent Possibilities" : An interview with Candy Chang

by: Carly Rapaport-Stein

Throughout the next few months, artist Candy Chang will visit Philadelphia as she works to create a new project with Mural Arts. Candy’s artistic output lies in an interesting intersection – the place where art and mental health meet and influence each other. Her artwork examines that connection, finding notes of both lightheartedness and profundity through art. Read on for Candy’s thoughts on the artistic process, public participation, and finding moments of commonality.

Carly: Tell me about your art-making process: where do your best ideas spring from, and how do you work through a concept to completion?

Candy: Ideas come when I’m open-minded and follow my questions. I’ve stumbled on so many things that have changed the course of my life by that process. I think it’s good to have goals but it might be even greater to embrace serendipity and allow random experiences to become meaningful to you. I can only have new insight into my life and work when I’m receptive to it. When I’m interested in pursuing a conceptual public art idea, I make mood boards of sketches and images and brainstorm all the ways it could work. That’s my favorite part—it’s loose and full of divergent possibilities. Then I start researching and working out what’s feasible with project partners. The constraints and opportunities through that process also help shape the final project.

Carly: I’m intrigued by how you tie public art and mental well-being together. What first prompted you to make that connection?

Candy: I’ve gone through many periods of depression in my life and when everything in public is so happy-centric, it makes you feel all the more alone and inappropriate in your confusions. Among the many facets of wellness that determine our overall health, mental health is often neglected and taboo to discuss. I’m interested in a city that exposes and fosters the complexity of the psyche, so people see they are not alone as they try to make sense of their lives and they are encouraged to look into any help they need. Suffering is a natural part of being human and there are tools to help us make sense of our suffering so it can help inform our lives. The emotional public art projects can also remind us of just how much we have in common. Our personal anxieties extend into our public life and many of the conflicts in our communities come from a lack of trust and understanding. Opportunities for emotional communion not only serve fundamental needs of the human spirit, they can cultivate trust and understanding, which are essential for civic respect and collaboration.

Carly: Does the meaning of a work change once it has the public as a participant?

Candy: The resonance of the work changes when people participate. Each Before I Die wall is unique and reflects the people of that community. Each wall is as profound as people allow themselves to reveal. But the core of the project remains the same. It’s been interesting to see a few Before I Die wall organizers change the wording of the phrase to avoid the word “die,” even though it points to the same idea. It’s revealing about our cultures. We have a lot of word voodoo around death. When we choose to develop our own comfort talking about grief and death, we also help change the culture around it, from one of death denial to one where we encounter death in a way that compassionately prepares us as a community and as individuals.

Carly: Has anyone reacted to one of your public projects in other ways that have surprised you? And has a reaction ever changed the way you view your own work?

Candy: I don’t have any expectations so it’s all a surprise. I was surprised by how quickly all of these people dressed to the nines on the Las Vegas strip stopped and paused at the Confessions installation to share deep hurt and personal confusion, from heartbreak to abuse to death anxieties. People’s confessions were even more revealing than I had hoped. I’ve learned that many of us yearn for safe spaces to be honest and vulnerable with the people around us, and our public spaces can play a profound role in that process. We wear so many masks in public, but with the right conditions we appear eager to drop them. Anonymity does not have to induce vitriol, as it has in many online forums. It can also provide safe spaces to open up about our greatest fears, struggles, anxieties, and confusions. Through opportunities for collective introspection in public, we can gain a lot of value in both self-realization and communal kinship.

Carly: Those are such fascinating themes, and I’m interested to see how you keep exploring them. What upcoming projects are you looking forward to that draw out some of those themes?

Candy: I’m excited about my interactive mural in downtown Philadelphia with Mural Arts, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services, Broad Street Ministry, and other local partners. While past projects provided consolation in life’s struggles, this project will hopefully offer a useful tool to help people take next steps. It will be a public device for philosophical reflection to help people contemplate current confusions in their life. The project is inspired by the I Ching, which is one of the oldest books in the world and has helped me and many others take the time to consider situations from different angles. It provides paths towards insight that can be applied to any experience for rigorous introspection. By having a big contemplative tool on the street, I hope it helps defend public space as an active instrument for the public good and promotes mental health as a significant component of thriving communities.

Carly: Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Candy.


Last updated: Jul 5, 2016

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