© Valerie Soe, 1994
Why do I make art? Mainly because I'm annoyed that with upwards of fifty channels available on cable TV, there's still nothing to watch. As a species we surely must be able to come up with something more thought-provoking than reruns of The Partridge Family. With that attitude I've gone about making my own TV, since I can't find anything I like made by the people who supposedly know how.
My work deals with issues found in a society in transition from a predominantly white European culture to one whose growing Latino and Asian population affects and influences everything, from the food we eat, the music we listen to and the way we view the rest of the world.
I use text, found footage, installation, interactive elements and autobiography to look at social and political concerns such as racial discrimination and bigotry, intimate interpersonal relationships, and the representation and perception of women of color in pop culture. I also strive for critical irony and a self-critique of my own particular perspective.
My mom's family is from Phoenix AZ (late of Canton), living there since the early 1900s after moving from the ancestral home in China. After four generations in Arizona they've pretty much settled in and learned to adapt to that particular environment.
One of the things my aunts are famous for is their cooking. Somehow my uncles all managed to marry fabulous cooks, and visiting Phoenix always includes rounds of family dinners, where all manner of cuisine abounds, from Waldorf Salad to Chinese food to handmade tortillas.
But back in the 1950s and 60s, one of the problems of living in Arizona and trying to cook Chinese food was the lack of proper Chinese ingredients. My aunts wanted to keep making all of their favorite foods, but the inflexibilities of the supermarket precluded such activities. So instead of giving up and giving in, my aunts adapted. They added to their culinary repertoires, mastering machaca tacos, and ambrosia and Thanksgiving turkey. They also learned to substitute various ingredients for those absent Chinese ones - in one case using Swan's Down cake flour in place of rice flour to make steamed rice noodles. The results were a delicious testament to my aunts' culinary ingenuity and perseverance.
My aunts' experiences are a metaphor for my involvement in media production. In some cases I adapt and absorb lessons and techniques from commercial production, since I don't need to reinvent the wheel. In other cases I mix and match what I need to suit my taste, discarding the excess. And in others I make it up as I go along, coming up with whatever combinations and devices fit the concerns I want to explore. In this way I try to continuously reexamine my methods and sources, and maintain my awareness of the constantly shifting cultural landscape.
All text and artwork © Valerie Soe.