Trash and Treasure
VAULT spends an afternoon in the studio with Jason Phu – the irrepressible Sydney artist who reflects the slippages that are a consequence of occupying different identities and worlds.
The culture loves to celebrate a certain kind of immigrant origin story. Tales of post-war survival, of journeys made by boat and struggles for acceptance are necessary, true, important. They’re also – bonus! – tailor-made for exhibitions, novels and movie scripts. But at what point does honouring the past assume a paint-by-numbers universality, a new way to recycle old ideas
of ‘them’ and ‘us’?
“I think my work is less about identity and more about feelings and nostalgia. It’s about me – and I just happen to be Chinese,” laughs the Sydney artist Jason Phu, who, last October, chronicled his own origin story via My Parents Met at the Fish Market, a solo show for which he filled four galleries at Melbourne’s West Space with, in no particular order: a giant fish, mouth doubling as a tunnel for viewers to walk through; a reclining Buddha cobbled together with old newspapers like the spoils of a bogus archaeological dig; and blown-up photographs of his parents in the early days of their courtship.
It also featured an assemblage of stackable, plastic patio chairs that conjure ’90s suburban Australia with such piercing emotional acuity that it’s hard to imagine anyone who lived through it not drawing a gasp.
“My mum came from Beijing and went through the Cultural Revolution and my dad experienced the Vietnam War and although they went through hardships, their stories aren’t the typical stories,” says Phu, who’s wearing jeans and a baggy cotton T-shirt. He speaks slowly and deliberately, as if he’s feeling around the ... Subscribe to read this article in full