Artist Spotlight: Jenn Lau, Finding her footing

Category:  The Arts
Wednesday, January 22nd, 2020 at 7:31 PM
Artist Spotlight: Jenn Lau, Finding her footing by Zeila Hobson
Art completed by Lau.

When asked how long she’d been creating art, sculpture graduate student Jenn Lau cradled her drink and stared off into space, as if trying to recall her first memory. Surrounded by the din of Voodoo Brewery, Lau raised her voice to say: “I’ve loved art my entire life. I made art from the time I could work with my hands until I was 12 years old.”

A first generation American, Lau was raised by a Chinese father and a mother native to Denmark. Her father arrived in the U.S. at the age of 18 with $10 in his pocket and no ability to speak English; he became a successful medical doctor with a doctorate in physics.

“From his perspective, he saw the arts as frivolous and something that wouldn’t make money,” said Lau, going on to say that he stifled her artistic expression when she was an adolescent. After her father’s death, when she was 14, Lau remained dedicated to a career in STEM in his honor, boasting undergraduate degrees in biology and physics. Meanwhile, she relegated her creativity to a minor in art.

“I suppressed that need to do art until I was 22,” she said. “I don’t know that I’d be doing this if he were alive.”

She came back to Edinboro University to receive a post-baccalaureate art degree and a master’s in sculpture. According to Lau, it was also at EUP that she fell in love with metal-working, shortly after taking a steel fabrication class. “I call myself a metal fabricator,” Lau added. Her favorite metals to work with are steel, nickel and silver.

Professors Cappy Counard and Suzanne Amendolara inspired Lau to pursue metal fabrication further. Describing both professors as “warm” and “welcoming,” Lau said that what makes them special is the feeling that she was being heard in regard to her concepts, and that any question she had would be answered to the best of their ability.

“They’re actively problem-solving with me,” she said. “I feel like they really care about their students. They really gave me a place to just be, as an artist. They have done so much for me and they’re both amazing artists.”

According to Lau, she found her sculptural footing in metal fabrication “because the process is so beastly.” Metal-working requires intense thought due to the excessive technical planning required, but it is also physically demanding in ways other mediums are not. Lau feels mentally and physically invigorated by the processes involved in creating her artwork.

“The idea of taking a material that is seemingly so hard but is actually so malleable is insane.” She continued, “You have to have the learned skill set in order to manipulate metal. It’s satisfying.”

Lau’s scientific background even lends itself to this field. “There’s a huge part of metal fabrication that is technical, analytical processing.”

She relies heavily on analysis and logic when deciding how to approach her concept and execute it effectively, and this coupled with her creative thinking is what makes her artwork successful. Describing her father’s “Tiger Parenting” and the obsessive attention to detail that it instilled in her, Lau believes that the pressure her father put on her to succeed early in life translated into a tireless work ethic in her adulthood. She is grateful for her father’s influence and that her mother is supportive of her decision to now pursue art.

Lau is inspired by many artists, including designer Marco Marco and metals artist Rebecca Horne. Regarding the content and message of her work, Lau’s pieces are inspired by pop icons Lady Gaga and Lizzo, among other elements. “It’s very progressive — very feminist. I am very interested in gender politics, and I’m very comfortable being upfront about sex,” she said.

Her current project is a series of harnesses that she is preparing as part of her upcoming show, which will open the last week of April and run into early May.

Lau has gathered a group of volunteers to be subjects in the show. Each model will receive a custom-fitted harness that is reminiscent of their worldview.

Lau interviews each model twice, at length, before beginning to fabricate his/her/their harness in order to understand that worldview and reflect it as best she can.

“The show is about presenting yourself sexually while providing a feminist perspective of being subject to misogyny. I have a personal take on that idea. I have my own story and I think a lot of women relate to that,” she began.

“However, I also know that I can’t project my story onto anyone else. If we want to fight patriarchy and misogyny, we have to recognize that it’s not just cis females that experience misogyny; it’s trans women, it’s nonbinary people, it’s trans men, it’s queer men, it’s cis men!”

The term “cis” is an abbreviation of the word cisgender, which describes an individual who identifies with the gender assigned to him/her at birth.
Lau is striving to reflect the intersectionality of feminism with her show.

“If you’re exclusionary, you’re not only being ignorant and marginalizing others; in terms of tactic, you’re weakening the army of people that could help implement change,” she said with conviction.

According to Lau, her models include people of all genders, sexual orientation, race and cultural background, because “we have all been treated differently based on the combination of our race, sexuality and gender identity.”

Lau hopes her artwork reflects differing perspectives and how individuals are affected by patriarchal standards.

“I want this to be about empowerment, [and] about giving people a platform to speak and present themselves in a really confident and sexual way. I want each and every individual to make a statement about who they are and what they have faced, because their story is going to be different from mine,” she said.

To see more of Lau’s work, follow her on Instagram @femmetallic.

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