body of work
Written by lexi turin
marina peng is on a roll...
At twenty-two, she has already completed two artist residencies (with a third on the way), been featured by ALIVE magazine, and is now gearing up for the opening of her first solo exhibition entitled “Take Care,” debuting at FIFTY FIFTY in Kansas City on October 20th. Peng graduated from Washington University only five months ago.
“I don’t want to be stuck in my senior thesis,” she says, standing in her studio, surrounded by the new works that she created for “Take Care.” Now considering herself an installation artist, Peng got her start in drawing and sculpture, which soon turned to woodworking, where “[building] structures that could actually hold people” sparked an interest that would come to influence the thematic scope of her work today.
“I was sick of talking about myself,” she says in reflection of her final year’s work, which centered around her identity and personal exhaustion. “I think it was important to me to not take up so much space,” she continues. “I wanted to create work that could tie to things I experience, but [is] also more relevant to even more marginalized identities.”
Peng explains the titling of “Take Care” as having taken on the tone of a warning, especially with regards to the present social climate in St. Louis. “When you are marginalized, you have to constantly be aware and on guard for yourself…to make sure you’re not going to be harmed emotionally or physically.” One of the first pieces she created for the show features a video of friend and fellow artist Vaughn Davis, on a monitor above a rectangular installation of rocks. “I asked him to act as if he was a gallery attendant…as if he was protecting the work that’s at his feet.” The rocks within the formation are equal in weight to Davis, “so he’s essentially guarding himself.” The piece carries forward similar themes sparked by the idea Peng presented for her senior thesis (consisting of filling wooden feeding troughs with white rice—equivalent in weight to her own body—and inviting viewers to scoop it into bags to be taken away), beginning a conversation about identity, exposure, and vulnerability that permeates her work at present. The video of Davis speaks as well to tensions Peng herself has felt while experiencing microaggressions, “where there’s this complete lack of awareness of [my] facial expressions…[which] say I’m clearly uncomfortable.”
Another featured work, entitled “Token,” is a performance piece comprised of a small wooden platform separated from the viewing space by a three-panel screen. “I asked for people who self-identify as both marginalized and tokenized to [be a part] of this piece,” wherein they would stand on display for thirty minutes before the public. “They can interact with people or not,” she says, an element which gives the piece an air of social experimentation. “When you’re a token, you’re kind of set apart in the room, and also held up on a pedestal… [as an] example of diversity.” The screen also serves to “make the performer more comfortable,” acting as a physical manifestation of having one’s “guard up.”
The physicality of Peng’s creative process across pieces is undeniable. About the act of constructing all her work herself, Peng says, “It’s important that my hand is in it. I can’t make the work I want to make if I imagine things but don’t know how to do it.” Beyond sheer construction, Marina Peng’s art calls for the recognition of bodies within spaces—how those spaces influence perception of identity and address otherness with a watchful eye. This deeply personal mode of making, while minimal in design and aesthetic, builds a stark checkpoint of awareness and acknowledgment that stands on its own, for all the world to see.
“Take Care” is on view at FIFTY FIFTY every Saturday from 12-4 pm through December 1, 2017.