Heart in My Mouth
Chinese American Arts Council/Gallery 456 is pleased to present Heart in My Mouth, a solo exhibition by Rachel Hsu, on view from April 8, 2022 to May 6, 2022. The opening reception will be held on Friday, April 8th, 5-7PM.
Rachel Hsu’s solo exhibition, Heart in My Mouth, attends to the contradictions inherent in marginalized existence and explores the varied politics of and apprehensions toward assimilation and exceptionalism. By engaging language as a material, the exhibition negotiates racial identity and heightens the yearning that emerges from distance and displacement by gradually unfolding absence, relational ruptures, and slippages in translation.
Fetch the Moon from the Seabed (海底撈月) is a long-form poem that investigates yearning and immigration through language and translation. Taking the form of a Chinese language-learning workbook, the poem reveals the emotional and physical exertion that speaking a second language and cultural assimilation requires. Mental exertion is further heightened in the translation of emotional endurance into physical persistence in Tending. The work invites viewers to remove their shoes and walk across an expanse of river stones to experience the fluctuating pain and rejuvenation of reflexology. Arranged according to size, shape, and texture, moments of respite are diffused amongst acute pressure. A reimagined pressure point diagram is available as a takeaway—two distinct narratives reveal themes of tenderness and violence, pain and healing, grief and joy. Excellence is the Goal (the goal is death) further engages coexisting contradictions and calls for a critical examination of the relationship between exceptionalism, assimilation, and American violence. Weighed against Tou Thao’s participation in the murder of George Floyd, anti-Asian hate crimes, the Atlanta spa shootings, and attention to Asian lives, American assimilation and human value are inextricably tied to violence and death. The out-of-reach ship’s bell speaks to a grand, impossible ambition that requires immense effort. Commonly used on modern ships as a warning signal, the ship’s bell also recalls the voyage itself—of leaving and arriving. Just underneath the bell reads: I want so badly to survive this.
Whether it’s a slow traverse across space or an impossible reach, the exhibition Heart in My Mouth demands the effort of translation, healing, and critical self examination to be felt and endured. As Cathy Park Hong writes in Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning, “If you want to truly understand someone’s accented English, you have to slow down and listen with your body.” How can we better attend to one another? How can we care for our entangled pain and tenderness?
My mother has lived away from her homeland for 30 years and I now live 2,800 miles away from mine. One’s relationships to place and to others are changing all the time and we must attend to, rather than avoid, flux. Yet, why do we yearn for something we know is not the same as in our memory or imagination?
My practice engages the yearning that emerges from distance and displacement, whether caused by physical separation, gradually growing apart from one another, or cultural and linguistic differences. My work is made of touch and tends to the aches of navigating spaces as an Asian American woman and bears witness to longing for intimacy and connection. It is a body sinking into bed, a writer’s hand traveling across paper, feet navigating terrain, air filling lungs, a voice burrowing under the skin. Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit questions whether desire can be cherished as a sensation in its own right, rather than as a problem to be solved. This notion permeates my work, as I call for viewers to submerge slowly into absence and longing. In Fetch the Moon from the Seabed (海底撈月), I use color to evoke this submersion in shades of blue and fading gradations: from the soft blue of retreating horizons to the illusory, deep blue of the ocean, the color is emblematic of the permanently unattainable.
Loss and longing are intertwined, and to fully experience both requires time and endurance. Whether it is the labor demanded by language-learning and cultural assimilation or the acute pain that healing necessitates, my work urges mental exertion and emotional endurance to be felt in one’s body. Is it a bearable pain? How long have you been feeling this way? And how far yet to go?
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Rachel Hsu is an interdisciplinary artist who works with visual art, language, and poetry. She received an MFA in sculpture from the Tyler School of Art and Architecture and a BFA from Western Washington University. She has exhibited in New York and Philadelphia, and her writing has been published in Honey Literary and APIARY Magazine. Originally from Seattle, WA, she currently lives and works in Philadelphia, PA.