Friday, March 19, 2010

Of Culture and Cups: Q&A with Brendan Tang

Ever since Brendan Tang's intriguingly mashed up ceramics were included in How Soon is Now at the Vancouver Art Gallery last year, I've been trying to keep an eye on his practice. His objects are really interesting and unusual, combining various cultural influences (the most often cited ones are Manga comics and Ormolu ceramics).

Today the National Post published my Q&A with him as he has two shows on at the moment - one at the SAAG in Lethbridge and another at the Mendel in Saskatoon. (More are on the way this year at the Gardiner in Toronto, Option Art in Chicago and the Bellevue Arts Museum in Washington State. Here's an excerpt from our chat:

Q Your parents are Trinidadian, you were born in Ireland and you grew up in Canada, with further links in China and India. How does that influence your art?

A It's funny. I felt similar to the Ormolu when I first saw them because I look Chinese, but I feel very Westernized. Those objects felt like they no longer belonged to one specific culture -- they were destined to be "forever foreign," and I feel I understand that to some degree.

For example, I went to Japan recently and everyone talked to me in Japanese. All I could do was nod and smile. At the same time, it was really interesting to be embraced into a culture immediately because of the way I looked.

When my brothers and I get together, we'll sometimes chat about what we've been mistaken for. I've gotten Filipino and First Nations, while my brother says he passed for Hispanic and Hawaiian. It's always funny negotiating those things, and at the same time feeling and thinking like any other Canadian.

Q What do you like about working in ceramics, rather than drawing or painting?

A I like that ceramics has a kind of backdoor entry into people's lives. We're all familiar with these objects -- we've all used a coffee mug or a plate or whatever. But no one ever brings a painting up to their mouth. No one even holds a painting -- let alone a bronze sculpture -- in their hands that way. So there's an intimacy about it.

Image of one of Brendan Tang's works from One Inch Punch; more on Tang's website

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