I’ve known cheeses to cost $100 per pound and more, but as a coffee devotee, I never knew loose tea could fetch this kind of price. This is what I was greeted with when I visited Mei Mei Chang in her Takoma Park, MD apartment and art studio this past winter. Savoring every sip, we shared a pot of this fine and rare white tea that was carefully poured into mis-matching tea cups accompanied by sweet orange wedges. This generosity and thoughtfulness pervaded my visit with her and it wasn’t a surprise that it also carried over as she discussed her work that covered the walls of her cozy and organized space.
Mei Mei participated in The Studio Visit’s first critique session held at the Washington Project for the Arts as part of their Coup D’ Espace program this past August 2010. During this critique, Mei Mei presented work digitally. Although she was formally trained as a photographer, it was clear to me that she was thoroughly exploring and enjoying the idea of drawing as installation. Her show last year at Hilyer Art Space curated by Pat Goslee, was a testament to this kind of visual expression and it was from her participation during the August critique session that prompted me to see her work in her studio.
Taking my refilled teacup with me, I immediately noticed her antique black Singer sewing machine prominently placed in front of the main wall of her studio. On her desk near the sewing machine I found charmingly displayed was a collection of computer cords hung carefully atop a desk lamp.
She talked about the inspiration behind the mapping of these mental landscapes and how they began as a response to her personal environment and the nostalgia she feels towards the ongoing developmental changes her former U street neighborhood continues to experience – for better and for worse. Influenced by Chinese and Korean landscape paintings, Mei Mei further addresses how her work evokes a place that straddles the worlds of the east and west and yet her sense of belonging is very specific to the Washington D.C. region where she has been a resident of for about ten years.
Understanding what the line can do as both sewn and taped is one thing, but to actually see them as delicately stitched and cascading forms connecting one plane of paper to the next is another. Her work offers a degree of illusion with this stitched line of varying colors and lengths. Up close, it is tangible and inertial as it flutters from the smallest breeze. Stepping back, the threads flatten out as if they were drawn with pencil or ink, or they simply disappear. Mei Mei points out how the violence from the sound of the sewing machine sometimes directs where the stitched line is going and where it ends. This nod to the historical relevance of imbuing meaning through ones instrument is evident in the playful and graphic topographical layering of the thread lines that often make reference to a specificity of architecture and volume.
Overall her work is a cartographic abstraction of a cerebral and yet sentimental journey of her physical environments – a psyche of place and of no-place — that continues to grow and break from one wall to the next, from one island of paint to another, connected by the tension of fragile yet resilient lines of thread, tape and wire.
I continue to drink one strong cup of coffee in the morning, but I’ve since added a tea time routine in the afternoon.
Mei Mei will be showing new drawing installations and paintings at an upcoming group show at Addison Ripley Fine Art this June, 2011. For more information on her work go to her website at www.meimeichang.com