OD Photo Prize 2023 | Shortlisted Artists
Laura Chen [b. 1997] is a Dutch image maker and writer based in the UK. Her eclectic visual discourse is highly intuitive, experimental and playful. She often employs mixed-media elements, including text, video, sound, collage and analogue photomontage techniques. Drawn to the obscurities and idiosyncrasies of the mundane, her multidisciplinary practice is an investigation into forms of otherness. Be it objects, places or people situated on the fringes of society — her images are tranquil observations of the visible traces and rituals of daily life that may otherwise go unnoticed.
Artist Statement | “My ongoing project Words From Dad provides an experimental exploration of my Dutch-Chinese heritage as it retells the story of my grandfather whom I never knew. With the use of archival images from my personal family albums, I trace back my mixed roots through my grandfather’s life stories, as told by my dad, in his own words.
I am originally from The Netherlands. I am Dutch and a quarter Chinese. 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 family and his restaurant.
Although I unfortunately never got to meet and speak with my grandfather – since he passed away before I was born – I have always had a strong interest in the stories my dad told me about him.
The manufacturing and application of analogue photomontage techniques such as collage and weaving is used metaphorically to depict the fragmentation of my family memory, as well as to portray my grandfather’s experience of having to adapt to a new (Western) culture, and the multicultural upbringing he gave my dad. Reworking the family portraits, I cut and stitch multiple images together, literally intertwining the different cultures and experiences, creating a fusion of their Chinese and Dutch identities. With each fold the images become more abstracted – like the stories that are gradually becoming further removed from the original, each time they are retold and passed on from one generation to the next.
I explore photo embroidery through the ancient Chinese belief of the invisible ‘Red String of Fate’, which encapsulates a universal story of love and destiny. I believe the story perfectly embodies 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.” — Laura Chen
IMAGE DESCRIPTION | The story of my grandfather as told by my dad Ming Hou Chen: “It was funny when my school friends were at our home as they could understand my father with difficulty (due to his accent). It turns out I had no problem with his pronunciation, because it was a kind of second language for me that I had grown up with.”
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