Finding the Narrative in Landscape and Psyche, NYC-based Artist Weihui Lu

Weihui Lu was born in Shanghai, China, and grew up in Queens, New York. Using the framework of  Chinese landscape painting in a contemporary context, her practice explores the immigrant experience through personal narrative, as well as the broader environmental and psychological implications of the modern landscape. Her work has been exhibited at the Venice Architecture Biennale, Trestle Gallery, Tutu Gallery and Site:Brooklyn, among others, and she has been awarded residencies at Santa Fe Art Institute (NM), Byrdcliffe Arts Colony (NY), ChaNorth(NY), and Arteles Creative Center (Finland). Lu holds a B.A. from Barnard College, Columbia University. 

The End of The World Is Forever, 13x16x10ft, linocut and mixed media on tracing paper, sawdust, wood, and photographs, 2021, Photo by Paul Takeuchi

Thank you for joining us, Weihui. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Thank you for inviting me! I was born in Shanghai, and immigrated with my family to New York when I was a toddler. I’ve always been an avid reader as well as loving to draw, and I studied English for my undergraduate studies. After working as a public school teacher for several years, I’ve switched to freelancing in order to devote more time to art-making.

What brings you to art? What ideas are you exploring? 

A few years ago, I came across the book “Your Art Will Save Your Life” by Beth Pickens. It was the kick that I needed to take my practice more seriously, because it convinced me that the desire to create will never go away. She frames it as something built into you, fundamental to your survival, and that felt true to my experience.

My work deals with our psychological relationship to self and the landscape. What does it mean to have empathy for ourselves, and the land? What are the forces that are warping those relationships, and how can we heal from them? I think a lot about how technology and consumption are intertwined. Right now, I’m fascinated by satellite imagery of oil-rich land, and how those images function as the first step of the extractive process. It’s a disassociated way of looking. The technological mediation to the very act of seeing has changed our understanding of what we see.

Remnants II, 85x70x48in, fabric, acrylic, gesso, cement and house paint on drop cloth, 2021

Do you have a specific topic or theme that you are currently interested in?

In addition to images, I’m really interested in narrative. In so many ways, our lives and our worldviews are governed by the stories we are told, and tell ourselves. My instinct for trying to understand the story we are in, now, is to look at the stories of the past. I’ve been researching apocalyptic narratives from Chinese mythology — moments that are both about crisis and rebirth. 

Nuwa Mends the Sky, 10x12x15ft, linocut on fabric, wood, stone, 2023, Photo by Paul Takeuchi

You’ve been very active during the past few years. How do you keep yourself creative in your practice?

I’ve found a lot of clarity through writing. I used to really believe in the labor of making — setting myself studio hour quotas, focusing on improving specific technical skills, etc. In the past year and a half I’ve really let go of that mentality. I try to give myself permission to make nothing, to just sit and journal if that’s what I need. Sometimes the time to think and let the idea incubate feels just as valuable, to me, as the time spent making the object.

Another thing that helps me keep moving is being around other artists. I try to do residencies as often as I can. Earlier this year, I did a thematic residency at Santa Fe Art Institute, where all the residents were focusing on climate change in some respect in their practice. It was incredibly inspiring and stimulating to be around so many other makers, some with vastly different material inclinations and practices than me, and see how they were tackling similar questions and concerns.

Requiem II, approx. 100x80x7ft, fabric, site-specific installation, 2022

What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?

I think I conceive of community more in terms of individual relationships than one large coherent entity, but each of those relationships is essential. There is nothing more powerful than seeing work and having a conversation where you both deeply understand and feel each other’s perspectives. I try to show up as much as I can for people I am in community with, to be present and supportive. That means different things for different people — from visiting their studios or shows, sharing opportunities, or just offering encouragement. The creative path can feel so hard sometimes, I feel that we have to show up for each other.

Embrace, approx. 8x35x30ft, fabric, site-specific installation, 2022

Is there any advice that you would offer to others?

I don’t know if this is advice for others per se, but these are two things I’m working on myself — to distrust all hierarchies, and take your time. 

Cycles, two channel video installation, 2023

text & photo courtesy of Weihui Lu

Photo by Dora Lionstone

Leave a Reply