Ding Ren

Washington, DC | by March 11, 2008

Ding is cur­rently a first year grad­u­ate stu­dent at George Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity. Before that she was the Pro­gram Direc­tor of the Wash­ing­ton Project for the Arts Cor­co­ran (now Wash­ing­ton Project for the Arts). She grew up in Mary­land and received her under­grad­u­ate degree at Uni­ver­sity of Mary­land, Bal­ti­more County. Ding cur­rently is a Fine Arts Fel­low & Grad­u­ate Teach­ing Assis­tant at GW. She helps run the GW photo lab every week which is where she also cre­ates her work and where our visit took place. Ding also writes and you can see her lat­est work by click­ing on the links at the bot­tom of this post.

Ding started out as a pho­tog­ra­phy major in the GW pro­gram (see pho­tos of the Cut Out Project below) but after hav­ing cri­tiques that were not going in the direc­tion she wanted, she began to veer into more per­for­mance and con­cep­tu­ally based projects where the focus was on the process and not the final prod­uct. Still using the cut out idea, she decided to take it a step fur­ther by doing a large scale instal­la­tion in the hall­way of her school. She counted how many tiles were on the floor, then cut out squares and lined the hall­way with these cut outs. She hung the neg­a­tive sec­tion on the walls and put the pos­i­tive on floor. In the end she had cut 1200 squares.

The amount of time to cut out these squares cre­ated a dilemma which tran­si­tioned to her “Replace­ment Per­for­mance Project”. She decided to hire some­one to go to her class in order that she could do all the cut­ting herself.

“When they came in and sat as me, I was cre­at­ing squares which enabled me to com­plete the project. I also wanted to bring in a fresh per­spec­tive into the critiques….it was the first time in the pro­gram where I felt really com­fort­able with what I was doing and it was inter­est­ing how one per­son could change the dynamic. There were some strong responses in regards to the priv­i­lege of being able to pur­chase labor.” But her response is that it’s the same as pur­chas­ing art sup­plies. “This brought up notions of affect­ing bound­aries and what does it mean to be in the con­text of an art school, a shel­tered envi­ron­ment, so I got inter­ested in push­ing that further.”

She also started explor­ing what she would present as “proof” of these events other than the pho­to­graph. This led to the signed and framed con­tract. Every­thing else from the per­for­mance would exist as a dia­logue and in the mem­ory of wit­ness­ing the performance.”

This semes­ter Ding was pre­sented with a num­ber of oppor­tu­ni­ties. In order to be able to do a num­ber of out­side projects in con­junc­tion with her grad­u­ate work, she decided to com­bine them in to one per­for­mance called

“The Extracur­ric­u­lar Project”. She had me sign a very for­mal and seem­ingly legal con­tract akin to one a gallery may present to a new artist who is will­ing to make the com­mit­ment of being with them for a given time period.

“The con­tract basi­cally stip­u­lates that you, the client has requested that I par­tic­i­pate in a project that you’re work­ing on and that you’re allow­ing me to use this inter­view and the final prod­uct as part of my stu­dio prac­tice that is con­sid­ered as a piece of art work. I will frame the signed con­tract and put it along side the final prod­uct of the client and in your case your blog”.

“I pur­posely try to make it formal”.

Another exam­ple of Ding’s tran­si­tion from the pho­to­graph to the per­for­mance was her “Asian Tourist” per­for­mance. She hap­pened to be at the Jef­fer­son Memo­r­ial work­ing on some­thing else last spring, when a large group of Chi­nese tourists approached her to take their pho­to­graph. They spoke to her in Chi­nese and she responded back in Chinese.

This sparked her inter­est in engag­ing with the stereo­type of Asian tourists tak­ing pho­tographs of them­selves pos­ing in front of any­thing and every­thing and often times in large groups. “I’m Asian so why don’t I make art that is per­pet­u­at­ing the Asian stereo­type of Asians tak­ing pho­tos? (Ding above show­ing pho­tos of these events).

I went back to the Lin­coln Memo­r­ial and approached Asian tourists that were pho­tograph­ing them­selves and asked them if I could take their pho­to­graph as a group so no one was left out of the shot…. so I was extend­ing a kind gesture…I wanted to doc­u­ment the process of me tak­ing their photo and me hand­ing the cam­era back…so that moment of con­tact was doc­u­mented. I wanted it to be an ephemeral moment.” Not every­one accepted her offer, but most peo­ple did. She hopes to do it again this spring.

“I Wish I Had Thought of That” project evolved from doing research for a crit­i­cal the­ory course. She found her­self in awe of mainly con­cep­tual artists and lit­er­ally think­ing to her­self: “I wish I had thought of that”. Ding recre­ated pieces by Ste­fan Brugge­mann: the ‘noth­ing boxes’; Yuken Teruya: tak­ing designer shop­ping bags and cut­ting out an intri­cate tree into it, and Mar­tin Creed: blow­ing up bal­loons (and in the end pop­ping them one by one–see her web­site for the real time pop­ping) and plac­ing them all in one spot.

This month Ding has two pieces of writ­ing published:one can be read online here:

and is also in the print ver­sion of Urban­ite March issue. Urban­ite isan arts & cul­ture mag­a­zine based in Bal­ti­more. Another is an essay on the con­straints of lan­guage and expe­ri­ence for Locus 4 (an arts pub­li­ca­tion that her friends from UMBC started) http://locusartmagazine.org/

You can’t read this online, but she’s about to post it on her web­site at www.dingren.net where you can also con­tact her directly.

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