Today we are visiting the studio of Meichen Lu, a UK based artist and illustrator, whose work is based on the female experience, its symbolism and personal experience reflections.
- Walk us through your academic experience. How do you think your education shaped your career?
Throughout my academic journey, I have been able to foster a keen interest in the intersection of feminist thought and visual art, which has significantly shaped my career path. Currently, I am in my fourth year of a PhD program at the London College of Communication (UAL), where I am focusing on the representation of female genitalia in various mediums including fine art, graphic narratives, and illustration.
Prior to this, I embarked on an exploration of fusing graphic narratives and illustrations with feminist social concerns. This work centered around the vulva as a character and led to the creation of the series "Intercourse with My Vulva" in 2018. Through this project, I carried out extensive research on conceptualizations of the vulva, creating a graphic character that embodied this understanding.
In the following years,my work took a deeper dive into sexual symbolism within the context of alchemyand the exploration of the agency of female genitalia. From 2020 to 2022, I developed a series of works that utilized symbolic representations to narrate my menstrual experiences across different ages.
These experiences and investigations led to a fundamental shift in my approach to the representation of the vulva in my art. By rendering the vulva as an active character, I am not only challenging the conventional passive portrayal of female genitalia but also questioning the capacity of abstraction to express the vulva's agency. This ongoing process of exploration has prompted a powerful dialogue between individual experiences and the intimate aspects of our bodies, contributing significantly to my growth as a feminist artist. Through my academic experience,I have learned to leverage my art as a tool to challenge norms, evoke conversation, and prompt introspection around feminist issues, which has profoundly influenced the trajectory of my career.
2. What is indispensable while working in your studio?
In my artistic practice,the home-based intimacy environment is essential. It serves as both an inspiration and a backdrop against which I explore and express feminist themes. The essence of this influence is vividly depicted in my installation,"Familias Fantasy," (2022-2023), a collection of six paintings and eight sculptures inspired by various domestic objects, including candleholders, vases, table lamps, decorative flower garlands, and birdcages.
This project was born out of my personal experiences of living with my boyfriend and navigating his expectations of a woman's role within the household. In particular, I have usedlong-way motifs, a potent symbol emblem of the masculine principle, throughout my practice to express phallic worship and male domination in the intimate domestic space under the patriarchal context.
Take, for instance, thebird cage. This object serves as a metaphor for a traditional Chinese pastime, walking the bird, popular among older, retired men. This activity, which typically occurs when women are attending to household responsibilities, underscores the invisibility of women in a patriarchal context.
In my work, I also apply vulva-rose characters, inspired by my observations of my own genital anatomy and symbolic theories that associate the rose with femininity. However, the illumination of vulva characters in my art is not a carnival of narcissistic voyeurism. Instead, it emphasizes the subjectivity of femaleself-representation and the agency of women, not just within the household, butin the broader patriarchal society as well.
Thus, my home environment is not just a physical space where I create; it is integral to the themes I explore, the stories I tell, and the symbols I use in my work. It is acrucial catalyst that fuels my artistic exploration of female agency,patriarchy, and the intersection of domestic life and feminist thought.
- Favourite music or bands that inspire your work?
Actually, there is a lot of music that inspiredmy practice, but Adele is my favorite singer.
- Who are your favorite visual artists and who are the ones you refer to in your creative practice?
In my creative practice, I draw significant inspiration from feminist body artists, most notably Carolee Schneemann. Schneemann's groundbreaking workin the domain of feminist art, and her 'vulvic space' theory, in particular,have greatly influenced my approach.
Schneemann argues for the inseparabilityof female artists and their sexual experiences, countering societal tendencies to deny or overlook the intense pleasure associated with a woman's vulva. Herwork serves as a crucial reference point in my artistic endeavors, allowing me to articulate and explore the connections between my identity as a woman, my personal sexual experiences, and my creative expression.
Schneemann's bold and uncompromising exploration of female sexuality challenges patriarchal norms and assumptions.Her work has given me a powerful framework through which I can further my own exploration of these themes, addressing topics that are often marginalized or silenced within the broader social discourse.
By integrating Schneemann's perspectives into my art, I aim to continue her important work, challenging societal norms and promoting a more nuanced and inclusive understanding of female sexuality.In this way, Schneemann is not just an artist I admire, but a key influence onmy own creative practice.
- What is your relationship with social media and technology? and how do you use them?
As a contemporary artist, I have a multifaceted relationship with social media and technology, viewing them as both tools and platforms for creative expression, dialogue, and community-building.
In terms of the creative process, I utilize various digital technologies to aid in conceptualizing and producing my work. Forexample, digital drawing tools provide an alternative to traditional sketching methods, allowing for more flexibility and versatility in creating and editingmy designs. Digital photography and videography are also integral to documenting and reflecting on my work.
- How do you research materials for your creative process?
As an artist with a firm grounding in academia, my research process for sourcing materials is rigorous and multidimensional. It involves a combination of literary research, visual exploration, cultural investigation, and material experimentation.
Literary research forms the bedrock of my creative process. I delve into variety of sources, from feminist and phenomenology texts to visual art theory, and cultural studies. These readings not only provide theoretical frameworks that guide my conceptual development but also inspire visual ideas and narratives for my works. For example, inpreparing for my project on the representation of the female body, I read extensively on Simone de Beauvoir, Luce Irigaray, Edmund Husserl Karen Horney,Julia Kristeva, and Merleau-Ponty to grasp different theoretical viewpoints.
In terms of visual research, I explore various visual cultures and artistic practices, both contemporary and historical, eastern and western. This visual investigation can range from studying classical Chinese paintings to observing street art or browsing digital art platforms. It helps me identify visual elements, techniques, and styles that I can adopt or adapt in my own work.
Material research is another crucial component. I experiment with different materials, including water-based colors,transparent papers, and various sculpting mediums, to understand their properties,potentials, and limitations. This hands-on experience assists me in choosing the most suitable materials for expressing my intended messages and aesthetic effects.
Furthermore, given my emphasis on the influence of culture on gender perceptions, I pay particular attention to thecultural symbolism of the materials and visual elements I use. For instance, Iexplore traditional Chinese cultural symbols and how they can be reinterpreted in my work to critique patriarchal norms.
In essence, my research is a complex, iterative process, continually informed and reshaped by the evolving concept of the project. It is an integral part of my creative journey that enriches my art practice and gives depth to my work.