-- Artist statement
Words From Dad is an ongoing project that explores my Chinese heritage. With the use of archival images from my own family albums, I trace back my mixed roots through my grandfather’s life stories as told by my dad.
I am originally from The Netherlands. I am Dutch and a quarter Chinese. My Chinese roots come from my father’s side of the family. My grandfather Tek Suan Chen was born in 1910 in Wenzhou, China. He was a dignitary and the Chen family were judges and landowners there. Everything had been taken away from them, their possessions and their lives. The whole family was killed by the communists during the Mao Revolution. My grandfather was the only one who survived together with his teacher and cousin Bun Chen. He was just 23 years old when he fled, as a student, from Wenzhou to Europe, via France to Germany. Due to the political consequences of the war he eventually ended up in The Netherlands where he met my grandmother and opened the first Chinese restaurant in the city The Hague. This then became the two biggest and most important things in his life: his restaurant and family. Even though I have unfortunately never met my grandfather in person —since he passed away before I was born— I have always had a strong interest in the stories my dad told me about him.
My image making practice involves applying analogue photo montage techniques such as weaving, which is used as a metaphor and visual representation of my grandfather's experience of adapting to a new (Western) culture and of my dad's multi-cultural upbringing. In a way I am literally weaving together these different cultures, creating a fusion of their Chinese and Dutch identities.
Besides photo weaving, I also explore the ancient Chinese belief of the invisible ‘Red String of Fate’, not only because it is part of Chinese culture, but also because it encapsulates a universal story of love and destiny. According to the legend, two people connected by the red thread, are destined to meet each other, regardless of place, time, or circumstances. The magical red thread, which is believed to be tied around the ankles, may stretch or tangle, but will never break. The myth is similar to the Western concept of soulmates. I believe the story perfectly encapsulates and perhaps accounts for my grandparents’ relationship. It seems like fate; how they met as complete strangers, from different cultural backgrounds, and did not speak the same language, yet somehow ended up together. I suppose the act of love is a language in itself that speaks on a much deeper level. With the use of red string, I create many connections within the photographs, making the invisible visible.
Some pictures from our photo albums show unfamiliar faces, which to this day leave me with many questions. I am still on a mission to obtain real facts and evidence, which is very difficult when what is left of my dad’s side of the family is so small. I manipulate those images to represent this unknowingness and the vague, abstruse and ambiguous relationship I have with them, and those shown within them. I blur and obscure the subjects’ identities, partially cutting into them, overlaying them or recreating a kind of accidental multiple exposure.
Laura Chen is a Dutch image maker and creative based in the UK. Fascinated by documenting her daily encounters and whereabouts, she uses her camera as a tool to make sense of the world. Anything can inspire her work and train of thought, from mundane things in her immediate surroundings to personal and contemporary issues. She occasionally works with found or archival images, exploring mixed-media art and photo montage techniques to discover new meanings, create alternative narratives and articulate her ideas.
More information: www.laura-chen.com