Meet HPI 2018: Tina Zhong

Tina Zhong is a junior at Bryn Mawr College exploring performance art and solo theater making at HPI. Though she is relatively new to the idea of being an artist, her work captivates its viewers while questioning performer-audience relationships and taking risks onstage. Tina talks about her analytical process at HPI this semester and speaks honestly about her hesitations and triumphs as an art maker.

We have had a long semester behind us, so, I’m wondering if you can recount a few milestones so far from HPI?  

I never created anything of my own before HPI. I only started to do theater in the second semester of my freshman year in college, and now I’m a junior. And I’ve always been a part of other people’s pieces, like being an actor or being an ensemble in devised theater, and the milestone for me is the first assignment. It was to create something of my own, and I had to like it. That is the start of my creations. And the second milestone is… I feel that I’ve been creating a lot at the beginning of the semester and I’ve been trying many things to explore the relationship between the audience and my pieces. Sometimes it crossed some boundaries, and then I learned a lot about the compromises that have to be taken, which is something that I have never thought about before I create things.

You need to make what you want to make, but there are so many compromises, and I need to take that into consideration even though all of the people say there should not be compromises. Which is like, honestly speaking, HPI sometimes says “no compromises” but in reality, we still face many real problems that involve a lot of compromising. But we’re trying to fix it. And as other people have also said, this has been a slow process. It’s a very open-ended, free space, and definitely, I wanted more structure because I’m not experienced enough. But I was also getting a lot from this free space, I’ve been learning how to deal with free spaces. So, it’s like a double-sided blade. Milestones! I’ve been digressing.

The third milestone was when the whole community realized that we wanted to change some of the structures in the program, and when we were starting to learn to push ourselves subjectively in terms of not only creating art but also building a better community. And I think that has something to do with, firstly the structure not being perfect, secondly there being a lot of freedoms. And I believe HPI is trying its best to build a community that is equal and makes everyone feel equal to say something to change something. The fourth, so many milestones, the fourth milestone is when I wrote my artistic statement. I’ve never considered myself an artist before, and when I force myself to write a budget and statement, I realized I’m actually on this path now. That’s a realization, and now I’m lost, but I think many people feel they’re lost. Also, I’m still a junior, maybe I will change my mind completely!

So, you have mentioned that you’re new to this art-making practice. Being a fresh artist at HPI, has this space with these people provided you with ideas to make art about or have you still carried ideas and threads from your life before you got here?

I’ve definitely carried ideas and threads from before I got here. Because I’m a History of Art student so I’m always analyzing perspective. And that helped me understand other people’s art more, and I’ve been learning a lot of theater theories, so I’ve been absorbing a lot from looking at other people’s works. I think I’m fairly experienced, in fact, in looking at my own work and trying to figure out what everything means and does. One of the problems that I face is finding what I want to talk about because I don’t know whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing that I don’t know what kind of artist I am. It feels like everyone knows what they’re going to talk about. They have a very clear sense of why they create art.

That question appeared in my artistic statement writing. All I know how to do is write what I make and describe the result of those things because that’s what I do in history of art and theater theory studies, I analyze these things. These things seem to have a great effect, but why am I going for this effect? I don’t know, I don’t have a driven belief, or at least I don’t know what my driven belief is for why I want to make art, I just know I want to make art. That’s more an existential reason.

I’m a deeply scientific and analytic person and at the same time a spiritual person, that I believe that everything that I create is like, I have to sincerely want my body to be super excited about it for me to create things. I have to be super inspired and sparkling to create something, and then that causes a problem because when I’m not in this super boosting fire stage, I don’t know what I’m going to talk about. And then the things that I create — why do you make this decision? Because I feel like it has to happen, but why? I think that I don’t want to say a certain message, I don’t want to give myself a certain label. But also, I want that stability, I want that instability, and at the same time, I want to settle down. Conflicting, maybe it will never be settled, maybe it will.

Do you feel like the process at HPI is supportive of the way you’re making art? How has it interacted with how you’re feeling?

In the beginning, I feel that I had more freedom to do things, and now because the existence of the final project makes me anxious and I think that I have to push something out. I need to have a result. I think I’m good at creating work in progress, but I’m not good at creating finished products. I never see how things finish. I think I talked about this in class, about wanting more support from the faculty, just them being there. I wish I had had more guidance and I feel that this program is very self-driven if you do nothing, you do nothing. If you do many things, you do many things. But I did a lot of at the beginning, now I’m kind of pausing. I don’t know which one is the best way! To have a steady system that supports creating or have a system that’s free. It’s hard.

What are you curious about happening in the last second of time we have left?

Since our final performances are in very unfinished stages, I’m very curious about what the result will be. Even though they said we don’t need to have a finished product, just somehow a finished version, I’m just curious about what will happen if people are in this “Oh, we are showing something for many people now, not in a casual setting.” This is my curiosity for the big final showing at Christ Church and for my own Washington Pier thing, which I haven’t figured out what I’m going to do. I’m curious about what will happen if I step out of school, doing a thing that’s no longer in HPI, it’s outside, literally outside, and also metaphorically outside, I’m not even with my peers! I’m doing it by myself. I’m curious about how that will happen and how it will affect me. Maybe I’m just destroyed after, or maybe not, maybe I’ll become a stronger person. I’m not excited, I am in this anxious anticipation, I’m waiting for a big explosion, I’m waiting for that kind of thing, waiting for a bomb to go off.

Do you have any special interests you’d like to share?

I collect dolls. They are made of raisins. Raisins? No, resins! It’s a plastic, they’re not made of grapes. And I paint faces for them, and I take photos of them. That’s my hobby.