Fuck Your Manners: Shawna X Critiques the Western Gaze in Multimedia Exhibit
MIKE O'DONNELL / EDITOR
WNW Member and New York-based artist Shawna X has been creating masterful digital illustrations and physical paintings at an impressive clip for some time now. Her work is often vibrant and tropical, depicting psychedelic paradises and futuristic dreamscapes as unique settings for commentary touching on ethnicity, sexuality, tokenism, and social good. Shawna's work is lastly therapeutic, not just for her audiences but also for her as an artist. "At first it was a way to share my teenage angst, then it became more exploratory, more therapeutic. I realized I could fulfill a lot of my experimental desires on screen, and enjoyed the process similarly as if I were creating with my hands."
But as Shawna notes in our interview below, nothing can replace the beauty of taking time with hands-on projects. Judging by the physical scale of Shawna's latest project, she's been missing craftsmanship in this technological age. Shawna X's new exhibit, titled "Fuck Your Manners," features a sculpture of an 8 foot tall mouth with a 14 foot long tongue, surrounded by large inflatable balloons and accompanied by five print works and a video compilations. It's a multimedia outpouring of artistic inspiration that packs both Shawna's signature palette and a well-deserved punch. "I focused on eating habits that are deemed impolite by the western gaze, but accepted in my culture: slurping noodles, chewing loudly, eating with your hands... Beyond the concept, the final install was derived from my innate desire to experiment outside of my comfort zone."
Shawna also shares the ways this project has taught her that it's okay to ask for help as a creative, and how this project has brought a new mission to light. "My priorities have shifted from doing everything to being very good at a few things—and I want to focus on that especially in this world of jacks and jills of all trades." You can see the fruits of Shawna's labor at the opening party on Thursday night, June 7th, at A/D/O on 29 Norman Ave in New York. The exhibit will be on view at A/D/O through June 29th. Exclusive prints will also be on sale at the A/D/O shop.
How long have you been creating art in a digital space?
When I was a child I enrolled in watercolor, charcoal and acrylics classes- but it was mostly a formal, technical training, not for creative expression. I actually started creating art in high school, using photoshop...then slowly flash (!), illustrator and other programs. I completely delved into digital work as more of a necessity when I was a poor college student; it was simply cheaper than buying paints and canvases and materials, and in the beginning, I stuck with it mostly for that reason.
In what ways has your digital work evolved over time? How has it fulfilled you creative curiosities?
At first it was a way to share my teenage angst, then it became more exploratory, more therapeutic. I realized I could fulfill a lot of my experimental desires on screen, and enjoyed the process similarly as if I were creating with my hands: by learning various programs, tools, and exploring at any given time in my bedroom. I tried everything, from graphic design to product design, to illustration and motion. My experience with digital work actually pushed me to explore more offline. The difference was the time in the process, in which I’ve finally rediscovered the beauty of taking time with hands-on projects.
What inspired you to ultimately go outside of your comfort zone and explore the sculptural medium?
Because of my curiosity with experimentation, I’ve always looked to go outside of what I know into realms I’m not familiar with. In 2012 I built a paper sculpture canvas for a group show. I remember the process of learning about cutting, folding, different types of paper, making paper from pulp. The entire process itself was what made the piece and pushed me forward. There is still the need of craftsmanship in our fast-paced technological age, because the art of creating by hand is a long process, and that patience needs to be appreciated and valued.
Tell us about your latest piece and why it felt right to learn how to work in an entirely new medium to bring it to life?
My latest installation, "F**k Your Manners", is a playful and therapeutic approach to a serious unraveling of my internalized insecurity and shame. This exhibition took some time to manifest as self-reflection, and analyzation was a very integral part of this process. Ultimately, I focused on eating habits that are deemed impolite by the western gaze, but accepted in my culture: slurping noodles, chewing loudly, eating with your hands. For this exhibition, I've built a sculpture that consists of a large mouth and a giant tongue, surrounded by large inflatable balloons of various food items, accompanied by five print works and a video compilation. Beyond the concept, the final install was derived from my innate desire to experiment outside of my comfort zone.
Describe the process of building an 8 ft tall mouth and a 14 ft long tongue.
The process happened way before the ideation. I started by researching materials, how different materials hold shape, if it will be shiny or matte, how it will stand or hang. I had just painted surfboards on foam for the W Hotel a few months before, and that process really taught me a lot about understanding paint absorption with foam and glassing (and what goes wrong). Then I thought about this piece in the space, how it will fit, how the size affects the space, where it will stand, the display itself and how it will be lit. It took some time for me to say yes to anything in particular.
After I designed the sculpture digitally, I was able to formulate a 3D understanding with foam and carving it to see where it would go on small scale model. I also realized I wanted to have inflatables for part of the project as well, to create a variety in texture in the final piece, so I also started designing for that as well.
I’m going to be honest, but the whole process of research, developing, creative direction and prototyping took a lot out of me, especially while juggling client work and projects. I felt a lot of pressure to learn a completely new skill within 2 months and making sure it effectively showcased my vision. Second, the scale of where I wanted to go was impossible to create in my home studio space, which created another source of anxiety,
This was when I decided, against my purist nature, to source out the full scale model. It’s funny because in my younger days I’ve scoffed at people who didn’t create their own work. However, the older I am, the more I realize that I need to prioritize, and for this install, that priority is a manifestation of my vision beyond all else. There are people much more knowledgeable and experienced than me in so many skill sets, and to master something without much practice is unrealistic. I ended up spending a lot of time sourcing production companies that could make this come to life. Throughout that process, it was a lot of back and forth and understanding how to communicate my visual concept to be manifested, as well as logistics, such as shipping, timelines, and troubleshooting. I’ve thankfully worked with my manager on dealing with a lot of this process, but man was it challenging to go back from logistics back to creative, then back to more logistics.
What have you learned from this experience that you can share with other creatives and artists?
I have learned, first and foremost, to ask for help. Asking for help is very adult. Especially as artists and creatives, we often work alone, and sometimes forget that we need help. That’s what I have to learn and relearn again. I asked for help when I started looking for a manager, and when I found one, that was the first step into taking a better hold of my work and process.
I’ve also learned to prioritize. As I mentioned before, my priorities have shifted from doing everything to being very good at a few things—and I want to focus on that especially in this world of jacks and jills of all trades.
Of course, to constantly push yourself, yadda yadda. Without a pressure to make something perfect, I now have the ability to really learn to create large scale sculpture, slowly and surely, and with mistakes.
When and where can our readers see this exhibit in person?
On June 07, 2018 from 7:00PM - 9:00PM at A/D/O on 29 Norman Ave in New York. Please RSVP!