Kathy h zouh numeroventi gallery art residence firenze

Kathy H. Zhou

``I want to make art that is inclusive, that brings people together, not only building a sense of community and belonging, but also encouraging people to practice empathy``

I had the pleasure of meeting Kathy when she was studying at OCAD in Florence. I was instantly fascinated by her work that is both simple and intricate. It is delightful to see an international artist producing contemporary work by using traditional techniques.


Numeroventi: Tell me a bit about yourself and your background. What is your latest project? And why have you decided to do a studying experience in Florence from Toronto?

Kathy: I am a Chinese artist who immigrated to Canada 5 years ago. My father is a painter. Since I was little, I was surrounded by books and pictures of Greco-Roman sculptures, and academic drawing and paintings. In 1992, my parents decided that I should not be an artist, so I was banned from touching any of my father’s art supplies, and he never taught me anything in art. However, in 2012, I moved to Toronto, Canada where I went to Art Fundamentals program at Seneca College. My professors Glenn Chadwick and Phillip Woolf, who came to Florence with OCAD Florence Program 30 years ago, encouraged me to go to Florence in 2016. I have named my project ” abandon ” because it is the first word listed on the Vocabulary book I had while I started learning English: “abandon” associates with the migration trauma and the lost of identity to me. Every time I encounter a new culture, I feel I need to give up a part of my old values in order to gain new perspectives.

N: How these two cities have influenced your work?

K: When I moved to Toronto, I was exposed to contemporary art, specifically conceptual art. The floor burger created by Clay Oldenburg was one of the direct influence to my banana pieces. A giant 3-dimensional hamburger made by canvas sat on the floor of Art Gallery of Ontario. It is ambiguous whether it is a sculpture or a painting: it is painting on canvas, at the same time, a soft sculpture and it intrigued me as a hybrid object. When I started my own project, I decided to create an art object that is multifaceted instead of being purely one thing.

While I was in Florence, I was drawn to the idea of renaissance man while I studied Italian Renascence art history: about 500 years ago, we separated subjects in order to do in depth study, which became the foundation of today’s modern society. But looking at human creations before we separated craft, design, chemistry, physics and engineering from art, I realized that Italian renaissance man was doing the interdisciplinary practice all the time. Leonardo Da Vinci, Michelangelo, even Vasari, they all have multiple roles in the cultural production.
In Florence, creative people are from everywhere in this world and come together to celebrate their freedom and to collaborate with each other and many of them have knowledge that crosses disciplines. The “Abandon” project is a fragmented reflection of this phenomenon, a cross-disciplinary collaboration with people who live and work in Florence: Albanian craftsman Koco brothers,
Italian photographer Beatrice Mancini, Italian filmmaker Italo Vazzana, Russian Project Manager Misha Strunin, Canadian painter/music composer James McDowell and Canadian artist Nigel Westgate, Mira Marie, Kriti Sharma.

N: What is your vision as an artist?

K: As a new Immigrant who lives alone in Canada, I often feel a lack of connection to my surroundings. It is the major reason that I feel for people who are perceived as different: colored, gay, transgender, elder, disabled, homeless…I want to make art that is inclusive, that brings people together, not only building a sense of community and belonging, but also encouraging people to practice empathy. I wish we could be more understanding of each individual, pay closer attention to under-appreciated things, not being afraid of touch on hard issues.

N: Generally speaking what do you think are the main challenges for artists today? How the new media influences the dialogue between the artist and the public for you?

K: Think about the post-internet reality we are now encountering; everyone is being challenged by the amount of information that we need to process every day. The habits of seeing and thinking have changed by technology. There is much to be discovered about the new-self and new-reality we are constantly altering. The critical minds are puzzling about the uncertainty of everything. I think the feelings of insecurity, strangeness and even abjection have become the major challenges of our time. The challenge for artists in the post-internet context is to grab people’s attention. It is a time that everyone deserves attention, and, at the same time, no one deserves attention.

N: With your work you touch more than one discipline, which one you prefer and why?

K: I think the way I work is through project-based researching and learning. I am always excited about the things I don’t know or the things that I can’t do. After I feel I have challenged myself, I would move on to another subject. I am always optimistic about the idea of “the next project”.

N: Imagine your artistic life in five years from now, how would it be and where?

K: This year, I am learning how to do storyboards. I am interested in making more film works. Learning to code is the next on my list because coding is a skill which enables me to create interactive pieces.