Friday, August 12, 2011

The Creative Beast Interview - Kristina Wong

Hello dear blog readers! Today I am so excited to introduce to you a friend and fellow performance artist for today's Creative Beast Interview. Her name is Kristina Wong and she will leave you laughing!

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Interview with Kristina Wong, Performance Artist

I met Kristina Wong back in the days when I was doing volunteer work at Highways Performance Art Space and Gallery, helping out in the box office for the shows and then watching the shows for FREE*. Highways always had great artists and Kristina Wong was one of them. Over time we got to know one anther so when she told me she was conducting a performance art workshop in my part of town I joined in to lend my support and to have fun. Little did I know, what an amazing and transformative workshop I would be participating in...

With Kristina mugging for "faux paparazzi" at one her LA performances!

Kristina has an amazing talent for telling a great story with humor and pathos, as well as shedding light on topics that many would find depressing, such as her show, "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" which deals with depression and suicide among females in the Asian American community, yet she finds a way to use yarn as a metaphor for coming "unwound" and she uses the metaphor with great effect. Of course, it helps that she is knitter and crocheter herself!

Not only have I been lucky to watch her performances, but I've also been lucky to work alongside her in workshops creating performance art, as well as to help her by creating unique costumes for her shows. She has a wicked sense of humor which is used to great effect in her recent project, "Going Green the Wong Way" which relates her experience driving a vegetable oil car in Los Angeles...until the day it caught fire! As you can see, she lived to tell the tale!

Kristina is usually touring with her shows, but I managed to catch up with her while she was at home in LA and she was kind enough to take some time to answer some questions on creativity. Thank you and welcome Kristina - let's begin!

 Kristina Wong - Artist, Activist, Performance Artist and Crafter!

Who first introduced you to creating? Was it a family member - a teacher? How did that person influence you?

We used to pass notes in middle school among my friends and I would always draw cartoons of my friends and kids we didn’t like.  They were usually three or four panel cartoons that would lampoon our friends.  These cartoons were silly and sometimes malicious.  Sometimes they were borderline racial caricatures of people. I drew the cartoon version of myself with a peace sign around my neck because I envisioned myself as a peace oriented magical hippie type.  I was a paradox even then.

That paradox is what I love about you Kristina - it certainly adds to the work you create!

What were your first creative actions that you remember? (Sewing, Dancing, Painting, etc?)

I remember finger painting in preschool.  Later, when I was ten years old I was in a car with my grandparents and parents, we passed the same building where I did the fingerpainting and they teased me about how I shat in my pants in that same fingerpainting class and they had to clean me up after.  Because I was so mortified of being reminded of that, I started crying.

This story of early art memories and being teased for pooping in my pants must be a metaphor for something!

And I'm sure it will show up in a future performance art piece!

Do you have a favorite medium to create in? If so, what is it?

I work as a performance artist and writer, that’s surprisingly how I pay the bills.  I used to be obsessed with knitting and crochet until my right wrist got some serious carpal tunnel. That obsession made it’s way into my third solo show “Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”  But I have to say I’m enjoying making dolls and working with fabric a lot lately.  I have a Brother Project Runway Limited Edition sewing machine. Sewing up a storm out of old fabrics and clothes is a great way for me to blow off steam and make gifts for friends.  I love seeing how I can transform an old pair of jeans into a stuffed creature that my friends will enjoy forever.

It's great to find ways to reuse old clothing and make it into something new - it's one of my favorite things about sewing =-)

How do you feel when you are creating in your chosen medium?

With my doll sewing, I’m thinking about the person I’m going to give the doll to. I feel calm with spurts of adrenaline surging underneath me. It’s meditation with purpose. 

One of Kristina's soft toy creations

I think many of us can relate to the idea of "meditation with purpose" when creating. Many artists feel at peace when they are working with their hands and creating.

What is the greatest joy you derive from creating? Accomplishment? The process? Sharing it with others? Please explain…

I love the high of performance, especially when it’s going well.  I love it when I really work an audience to the point they are doubled over.  I compare it to holding up their faces and punching them again and again... except not violently.

From her one woman show "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"

For me when I give people dolls or scarves I made it’s a great feeling because it feels personal, and memorable and it’s like I really am able to give over my time and creative power to someone else in a tangible form.  It’s something that I don’t feel when I buy gifts for someone. I have a whole closet of Christmas presents I’ve received over the years and can’t remember who gave me what.

Yes, there is something about live performance that really makes you feel ALIVE and giving gifts of things you've made can also make you feel alive, since you are giving a part of yourself as you do in performance. I can relate to all of that Kristina!

Do you think a creative life comes from ideas, doing or being?

A creative life for me is about finding ways to add invention in every day living. I think ideas that go unrealized, that sit in you heart as “should of's” result in some kind of crazy.  I say this because all the ideas I have stirring around my head that I haven’t quite spit out onto some kind of creative canvas drives me nuts!

What I like about crafting with textiles is that I can always make a new piece and work out a new idea in a new piece.  And yet, each of my “drafts” are tangible pieces of work that audiences can still enjoy.

Another one of Kristina's soft toys - he sure has character!

Performance work is such a live unpredictable medium and comes alive depending on who is in the audience.  I have tons of drafts which have been “consumed” in the form of readings and works-in-progress showings.  I’m usually going crazy when I make live work up until the show goes up and finally is released out of my head.

Kristina in her latest show "Going Green the Wong Way"
I know about those unpredictable audiences Kristina - you just never know how they will react to your work. Sometimes they laugh when you mean to be serious and sometimes they are serious when you mean to be funny! But you right that you must give birth to you ideas or it drives you crazy...I know I have several ideas rattling in my brain now!

How do you express your creative life? Is it integrated in your daily life or is it a separate part of your life?
I am very fortunate that I get to do creative work for a living.  But because I draw an income from my work, it often means doing the same project again and again for paying audiences, even if I have emotionally moved on from the project.  My show “Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” was about the high rates of depression and suicide among Asian American women and toured for five years. It was an extremely heavy topic for me to create something from and at times I was emotionally destroyed by the process of making and touring the show.

From "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" - she was also interviewed in Vogue Knitting for this show!

What really saved me in the process of making that work was knitting and sewing for me.  It was somewhere to put my creative energy, a way I could meditate and see progress happening.  And a way I could exercise creativity without the pressure of money.

I think it's a good practice to have different types of creative projects going at one time, but not TOO MANY projects at once!

Can you think of a time when someone else’s creativity fed you? What was that like?

I watched a children’s theater show at the Bootleg Theater here in LA.  They had a great series called the “Fun Family Festival of Tragedy” where they turned Shakespeare’s tragedies into fun 30 minute plays.  I love children’s theater because there is no ego, no pretension, and it’s just about spectacle and telling a story in the most simple and brilliant of ways.  In my theater making and writing, I often get wrapped up in obsessing about being literary and meta-theatrical that I lose track of all reality pretty quickly.

What is the most significant creative event in your life to date? Was it a defining moment? Was it a milestone or a lifetime goal?

I think my first major public project had a lot of significance for me.
It was a mock mail order bride website and was set up to deliberately piss people off. This was huge for me back then.  I’d always been raised to make everyone happy and to not rock the boat.  And back then, not everyone had an internet presence the way they do now on Facebook.  So it felt weird to know that while I was sleeping, someone was experiencing my ideas.  This is normal now, but back then, it was a totally trippy idea to me and scary.

As a result of the site, I would get both love letters and hate mail.  It really thickened my skin and now I try to go as far out on a limb as possible when I make my work.  I say things that piss off audiences and I don’t feel as apologetic as I would have in college.

I remember when I first saw your website Big Bad Chinese Mama - that site had me laughing so hard, I had a tummy ache for a whole day afterward! I really loved how you turned some stereotypes upside down and inside out - it was a great creative project Kristina and very empowering for women...or should I say womyn?!?

What is it like to be a self-sustaining artist?

It felt really terrifying the first few years out, like “Am I really doing this without a safety net?” But here I am six years later, and I can’t imagine ever applying for a job again. Paying a mortgage and living a healthy financial life as an artist often means I am juggling up to ten projects at once. And that requires an intense amount of focus which is not really my strong suit.

I’ve really had to learn about better time management, efficiency, but also, how to take breaks and find time for renewal.
I often feel like I could have been as happy at a desk job, doing art on the side. Sometimes I’m extremely happy that I have no boss to report to, other times I just feel extremely isolated from the outside world. It’s a day to day battle, but I’m learning how to create structure to my life.

I think many free lance artists struggle with creating structure in their day-to-day work schedule - I'm still working on it though I have a few things that are a daily routine like my morning walk.

Is your life different from the time when you worked for others?

I’ve had a few part time day jobs as an adult and there’s something to be said about being able to “leave work and go home.” I don’t have that. I sleep, eat, and work in the same house. I have had to create work hours for myself just like the working world so that I can have the “leaving the office” time.

But just like when I worked for others, I measure time with projects, deadlines, and meetings. It’s just like the working world, except the thing I’m selling is me!

If I had a day job and was making this work on the side, I think that I would have the freedom to make without the pressure of drawing a living from it. That I could coast creatively from idea to idea as it beckoned me. The issue is I might not have time or the venues available to me as I do now as a working artist.

It's true that as a free lance artist there are still meetings and deadlines, and the crucial difference is that we sell OUR IDEAS and OUR WORK, instead of someone else's ideas and work! Thanks for pointing that out Kristina!

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Many thanks to Kristina for making time to be interviewed! I hope you enjoyed reading it as much as i enjoyed creating it! Be sure to check out the many places where you can find Kristina and see what she is up to:

Her short film "Yarning for Love"
(which I highlighted at this blog recently)

Her show "Wong Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" has been made into a film** and will be screened at the Burbank International Film Festival coming next month - if you're in the area, check it out!

Kristina tours to many places so check out her schedule to see if she's coming to a town near YOU! 

* - You KNOW that FREE is my favorite four letter "F" word! ;)
** - If you check out the trailer, you'll see the green sweater I created for her show - it's designed to come apart and 'unravel' in many ways!

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