We had the good fortune of connecting with Haoyun Erin Zhao and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Haoyun Erin, why did you pursue a creative career?
Being able to express ideas and create meaningful connections through the act of art-making is truly a blessing, at the same time, a creative challenge. Part of my family’s heritage is Bouyei ethnic. This group is known as highly skilled in arts and crafts. Their creative expressions range from batik textile, embroidery, to folk literature, traditional instruments, etc. My exposure to this cultural background played an important role in my upbringing, which inspired me to develop my own artistic expression.
I’m someone who’s curious and deeply interested in learning and understanding different cultures. I love that my work presents me with many opportunities to learn and connect with other great minds through conversations, projects, exhibitions, and travels. I also really enjoy the process of finding creative solutions.
Being an artist is embedded with uncertainty, which could be scary, but uncertainty has two or more sides. It often equals creativity and potential. I can’t imagine myself pursuing a career that I can already predict the entire path. It can still be an excellent career path for someone, but unfortunately not for my stubborn soul that’s already too deeply in love with what I do.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My work takes form of painting, printmaking, sculpture, and installation. I often combine traditional techniques and modern technology to create work to explore the connections between physical and non-physical mediums. My inspiration is rooted in my study of eastern and western philosophies, especially Taoism and existentialism. I’m also interested in the interactions of light, color, and form, so I lean toward materials that have transparent/translucent quality.
I think working across disciplines helps to create an experience that encourages interactions and collaborations. As an example, I’m currently working on a collaboration with a contemporary dancer and choreographer Moscelyne ParkeHarrison from Post:Ballet. We’re creating a performance piece inspired by and interacts with my large-scale silk installation titled States of Meditation, which takes over the two-story atrium of Heron Arts in San Francisco.
Another project I recently completed is an acrylic installation with an additional interactive piece that debuted during the first-ever contemporary art festival in San Francisco Chinatown. The installation is titled Peach Blossom Spring, composed of approximately 2000 plexi tiles and 8000 jump rings to present 48 pixelated Chinese characters from a classical Chinese essay, reflecting upon the meaning of home and belonging. As a first-generation immigrant and artist, it was an honor to be invited by Chinatown Media & Arts Collaborative to help envision the future of our community.
Working as an independent artist, I think one of the most important and probably hardest things is patience. Here I’m not only referring to the patience needed to create the artwork or complete a project, but also in terms of where you are in your career versus where you’d expect yourself to be. We exist in a world that which everything and everyone seems always be in a rush, getting to the next place, chasing the next goal. We can be easily overwhelmed by so much noise and accessible information if we don’t treat it wisely. I’ve been there many times. Learning to embrace the idea of cyclical processes, rather than linear progress really helped me understand the relationship between time, others, and myself. And being able to slow down allows me to experiment with ideas, which often become pivotal moments that shift and advance my work.
And in terms of taking on large projects, I once heard of this idea by artist Ed Devlin about seeking and braving the projects that are just about possible. Not the possible, also not the impossible, but the just-about possible. This idea really spoke to me. Whenever I feel hesitant or incompetent during my process, I tend to refer back to this idea which reminds me of why I took on the project, and that often gave me strength.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
I love how each pocket in San Francisco has its distinctive characteristics that make the city diverse.
For weekend brunch or hangouts, I enjoy neighborhoods like Inner Richmond, Fillmore, or Hayes Valley. These areas are closer to me and offer a ton of great options for food and drink. Some of my favorites are Rise & Grind Coffee (my go-to local cafe owned by a super lovely couple), DongBei Mama (Chinese comfort food), Burma Superstar, Mamahuhu, Sakesan, Fiorella, Absinthe, a Mano, Rich Table.
More restaurants and bars that I like in other neighborhoods of the city: Z&Y (the first I had when I moved to SF), Empress by Boon, Sam Wo, Californios, Quince, Tartine, Delarosa, The Interval, Greens, The Linden Room, Nihon Whisky Lounge, Rintaro, Ozumo, Kusakabe, The Korner Store, Izakaya Hon, Palette, Zero Zero.
Museums and galleries to check out: de Young Museum, Asian Art Museum, SFMOMA, CCCSF, ICASF, Heron Arts, Glass Rice, Hashimoto, Voss Gallery, Mirus, Soft Times, Root Division, Rebecca Camacho Presents, Romer Young, CULT Aimee Friberg, Re.Riddle (pop-up exhibitions), Dolby Chadwick, Catharine Clark, Crown Point Press, Berggruen, Hosfelt, Jessica Silverman, Minnesota Street Project (a great spot to do gallery hopping as it’s home to many contemporary galleries like Eleanor Hardwood, Municipal Bonds, Casemore Kirkeby, Themes+Projects, Nancy Toomey Fine Art.)
For outdoor lovers: Lands End, Golden Gate Park, Presidio, Marin Headlands.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I wouldn’t be the person I am today without the unconditional love and support I received from my grandfather. I came from an unconventional family where I barely had the chance to live with my parents, but the love and trust I received from my grandfather are irreplaceable. There’s no word that comes close enough that I could use to describe this bond. His stoic approach to life and interest in culture and education also influenced me in many ways. He was a spectacular storyteller. I wish we had more time together so I could hear more of his stories.
Rohan DaCosta, Andria Lo