I work with narrative, language, and identity. Specifically, with the politics of Asian American identity. I work across multiple mediums. I guess you could call it interdisciplinary, but really it’s just that I don’t feel a particular affinity to any one in particular. I create books, photographs, installations and performances. I’m very interested in race. Especially the idea that whole swaths of people can be boiled down to a color, and that shapes so much of our experiences in this world.
Tell us a little about your background and how that influences you as an artist.
When I was a kid I didn’t start talking until the second or third grade. My parents got lot of notes from my kindergarden teacher saying that I was shy, and quiet, and not
participating. Really, I think I was just confused about which language to speak. I was being exposed constantly to English, Cantonese, Mandarin, Taiwanese, Thai, French, etc. I had a bit of a language identity crisis. So instead, I just watched people and didn’t say much.
In my art I’m sort of doing the same thing. I’m still dealing with an identity crisis, though no longer about which language to speak. Instead, a lot of my work is trying to rationalize being young, short, female, and Asian American and figuring out how that affects my life. I’m definitely driven by the desire to tell stories and work through experiences that shock me. It’s all very actively passive. I grew up around San Jose, CA where Asian people make up 32% of the population. When I went to college, I moved to Eugene, OR that demographic shrunk to 4%. The difference in experiences was very striking.
The concept of the “artist studio” has a broad range of meanings, especially in contemporary practice. The idea of the artist toiling away alone in a room may not necessarily reflect what many artists do from day to day anymore. Describe your studio practice and how it differs from (or is the same as) traditional notions of “being in the studio.”
Right now my studio is a computer and two tables, which also doubles as my office and dining space. It’s certainly not ideal. So I find myself to be working all over the place. I’m collaborating with a lot of other parties to get work done. It’s certainly not the isolated scene we expect.
What unique roles do you see yourself as the artist playing that you may not have envisioned yourself in when you first started making art?
I never realized how much logistics work is involved in art making. Packing and shipping art, procuring supplies, reading contracts, managing correspondence, researching shows, it’s all a lot of stuff. I had the image in my mind of the artist painting away in their studio (I don’t paint, but that was the vision). But the reality is that there are so many other roles to fill. I also never saw myself as a performer. I’m a pretty introverted person. However, I’m not comfortable asking someone else to do what I want done on camera. Asking someone else to contort themselves to meet my vision, and to make themselves uncomfortable, doesn’t seem right. Plus, I’m already there, so I might as well just do it.
When do you find is the best time of day to make art? Do you have time set aside every day, every week or do you just work whenever you can?
I tend to get the best ideas either in the shower or when I’m falling asleep. Since I’ve begun teaching full time, I’ve found that my time to make work is heavily influenced by what’s going on in my classes. When my students are really busy making work, so am I. But once they’ve turned it in, my focus has to be on their work. The academic calendar is great though in that it provides plenty of opportunities for focused work.
How has your work changed in the last five years? How is it the same?
Five years ago, I was still trying to figure out what sort of work I was interested in doing. I didn’t really know why I was doing it, I just was. I was kind of going through the motions of “doing school.” Looking back, I can see similar ideas and interests in portraiture and language. Since then I’ve added a lot more humor and involved myself a lot more literally in the work. The topics I deal with are “serious” but that doesn’t mean I can’t poke fun at them. It’s also become more performative.
Are there people such as family, friends, writers, philosophers or even pop icons that have had an impact on the work you do?
I have a broad set of influences. My family has had a tremendous effect on the work I do. My father probably finds himself inserted into my work more than he would like. My sister tells me he complains about it. I’m sure he’ll be thrilled when he sees this interview. Beyond that, I take my influences from a variety of artists and theorists such as: Carsten Höller (Test Site, 2006-7), Edward Ruscha, Jessica Hische, Valerie Soe (All Orientals Look the Same, 1986), Kip Fulbeck, Edward Said, and Stuart Hall. The US Census (Ok, not really an artist, so much as a demographics survey. But I’m really interested in human populations, as well as how they shift and change over time. Also, I think this is one of the most thorough and well designed document the US government publishes. The maps are beautiful.) I also watch a fair number of corgi videos. Do corgis count as pop icons?
If you had an occupation outside of being an artist, what would that be and why?
I would want to be a dog whisperer. I think it would be cool to talk to dogs. Well, not talk to them… Right now, I teach, but I think it would be interesting to take on a career that was still highly interactive, but where the other participant was not human.
Alison Ho is an interdisciplinary artist. Originally from Campbell, California, she is currently a Career Instructor at the University of Oregon in Eugene, Oregon. In 2013, she graduated from the University of California Santa Barbara as a Regents Special Fellow and holds an MFA in Art. In 2010, she graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of Oregon and holds a BFA in Digital Arts. In her spare time, she travels the world battling foes and learning valuable lessons of friendship.
All images copyright of the artist and used with their permission.