Taili Wu (born in Taichung, Taiwan) currently lives and works in New York. Her fascination with daily objects and curiosity compels her to create a fable, bizarre but familiar. She tells her stories through ceramics, stop-motion animation and mix mediums. She received an MFA from School Of Visual Arts, New York. Her short films has been exhibited in Slamdance Film Festival (CA, USA), Urban Nomad Film Festival(Taipei, Taiwan), up-and-coming Int. Film Festival(Hannover, Germany), International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film(Leipzig, Germany), Metropolitan Area College Computer Animation Festival(NY, USA).
Looking at everyday objects with curiosity and imagination is a way to challenge the possibilities and rules. Asking the question “how if...?”, let me look at things in different angles with fresh eyes. My work explores and observes the familiar & bizarre, hope to inspire each other to imagine and play.
See Taili’s animations here!
Interview with Taili Wu
Questions by Andreana Donahue
Hi Taili. Can you talk about how growing up in Taichung, which is in the countryside of Taiwan, contributed to your desire to pursue art-making?
I grew up in a family that enjoys making and building things. My dad runs a corn mill factory and would purchase pipes, metal buckets, gears and motors to build machines from his blueprints. My mom is very good at knitting and sewing. She would knit blankets, bed sheet, pillowcases for home, build dolls/puppets with kids, and sew canvas pipe tunnels for the factory. Their living experience has the spirit of “dream it, make it”, which rooted in me on making my own toys as a child and pursuing art later on. Though the key point might have been my rebel side against my dad’s thinking on “artist road is hard and often struggling” in my teenage years. I am lucky and thankful to have this as part of my driving force :)
Your work offers an imaginative and playful perspective of the world, often inspired by favorite foods, toys, or animals from childhood. Why are you attracted to these particular subjects? Did you start making drawings or objects at a young age?
Probably my childish heart that keeps bringing me back to my childhood (laugh). I am always attracted to the toy, animals, candy, food, shops, and street in my childhood. It might be a feeling of nostalgia, and missing the good old time living simply and carefree as a child.
Are there cartoons, tv shows, or movies you watched growing up (or recently) that have influenced you? How does humor inform your work?
Yes! So many! I am a big fan of animated films, my hero is Hayao Miyazaki, I grew up watching his films “My Neighbor Totoro” and “Panda! Go, Panda!” with my brothers, we watched them so often, the videotapes broke and my mom had to replace them with new ones. Another cartoon I love in childhood was "Doraemon” about a robot cat, who has this magical power to travel through time and owns many fantasy gadgets including the anywhere door, take-copter, and time cloth. All these films and cartoons encourage me on dreaming and sharing stories through my works.
Why were you motivated to relocate to New York City? What are some of your favorite aspects of living and working there as an artist?
After graduating from college, I went to School of Visual Arts in New York in 2007 to study computer art and start a life with new challenges with animations and art. The school was an amazing platform connecting so many talented friends and teachers from all over the world. What made the experience even better was the city. New York City is an exciting place, so many stimulations and inspirations in every comer. The diverse people and cultures and my favorite among all aspect, you can feel and see it from the language, outfit, food, art, and all kinds of holidays.
How long have you been making ceramics and why were you initially drawn to working in clay?
I started playing with clay back in school in 2007–2009. After graduated, I took some continue education classes to further exploring ceramics in the sculpture forms. What really brought me back to clay was a happy accident in 2012, due to a chipped mug knock over by my husband. We couldn’t find one we love to replace it and decided to take a ceramics class together and make our own mugs.
Who are some artists that continue to provide inspiration for you or whose work you’re currently excited about?
I admire Tabaimo’s films and installation works, they are poetic with dream-like magic powers. I also find inspirations from Saul Steinberg, Shaun Tan, Julie Taymor, Irving Harper, and Hayao Miyazaki.
How do you usually generate ideas and start working on a new project? Do you usually work from observation, memory, reference imagery, or a combination of these methods? What are the best places to visit in New York for source material?
Most of my works come from everyday life. I love observing the daily objects and creating works with them. I keep a sketchbook for ideas, I also collect references from the newspaper & magazine, take photos on the street and find inspirations on the web. A combination of all of them is my usual go-to for starting a new project. There are so many places to find inspirations in New York, gallery walks(Chelsea, Soho, and Chinatown), in the park, the zoo, supermarket, and Noguchi Museum are all my favorite spots.
In addition to ceramics, you also work with various other media, including paper construction, drawing, watercolor, and puppets created from textiles. How do you determine which materials are right for each project?
I like to try out different mediums and combine them together. I feel more comfortable playing and mixing mediums when I get to know them better. Just like meeting friends at a party :)
When time is not an urgent matter, then I would be free and explore mediums. Otherwise, I would choose the materials that I knew better to finish it in time.
There is a consistent element of narrative, both personal and universal, across your body of work. What kinds of stories are you most interested in telling?
Hmm, good question! I think I am a pretty normal person, so my story might have crossed over with the universal voices and experiences without me realizing it. It’s not my intention on picking perspective of story-telling, but I do love imaging “how if” type of questions when starting a new project.
Your career spans stop-motion animation, design, and illustration. Is there a connection or overlap between these other genres and your ceramic work? You often work with large design or production teams to realize a collective vision. How has this experience affected your independent development as an artist?
My works are part of me and my living experience, it’s not easy to part them away between my commercial and personal works. To me, the biggest difference of them is the purpose of making them. Commercial works usually is a way to find a solution to meet the client’s challenge. Personal works are to find peace to myself and make an outlet for my voice. I love working with a team small or big, building the project together and solving the puzzles together. Everyone brings their own expertise and thoughts to the table, we discuss and try out possibilities. This working process could apply to my personal work, discuss the challenges with fellow artist, look online, experiment and find better ways to solve a problem.
Can you tell us about your current studio? What is your typical daily routine?
When not working with a team in studios, I work at my home studio most of the time. I have 2 desks at home, one for photograph and animation works, the other one facing the window conclude all my other tasks including drawings, sculpting, and all sort of computer works. I don’t have a set daily routine. I like to structure my time in blocks on a daily basis, I find it easier for me to concentrate on doing one thing at a time.
Does your ceramics process relate at all to the time-consuming, repetitive process of making stop-motion films? Or if not, how is it different?
Hahaha, love this question! It didn’t occur to me until you asked. I think my ceramics process and my stop-motion process are in many ways related and corresponding to each other. It’s all me behind telling stories. I tend to attract to this labor-intensive process of creating things. The joy of seeing the result after the painfully-taking long time is just heavenly beautiful.
Last summer you were a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana. What did you work on during your time there? How have residencies been most beneficial to your studio practice?
It was a great experience on both ceramics work and life! Archie Bray has such an amazing community, professional workshops, and environment, it’s a perfect place for challenging one’s own ideas, and connect with friends. Over the summer residency, I tried out some porcelain clay, clay with more grout. One of the highlights was attending and immerse myself in workshops hosted by my heroes, including Beth Cavener, Tip Toland, Peter Pincus, Julia Galloway, Sunkoo Yuh. It was also a dreamlike experience working in the studio with so many talented artists, from long term residents, short term residents to visiting artists. Seeing all the possibilities everyone applies clay as a way to convey meanings. The stories, the scale and the details of their works made a huge impact on me, I would like to further challenge myself continue making and sharing works.
Are you able to support yourself freelancing full-time? What is the best advice you’ve received or can give on how to achieve and maintain this?
Being independent is a constant challenge of my own. I am lucky to have a supportive husband and family standing by me. The stubborn side of me insists on making efforts and contributing to the family. I try to make my living through works I love, commercial works and personal works. Sometimes I got more of one thing than the other. However, I believe if I listen to my inner voice, keep showing up and doing works that I love, I will be able to make my way through. That says I struggle from time to time when the paid job is quiet, “saving for the raining day” is definitely a helping hand for me.
Do you collect work made by other artists or designers, or any other objects?
Yes! I enjoy collecting my fellow artists' works, including painting, textile design, ceramics(both sculptural and functional wares), stop-motion miniatures, books, and prints. Living in the house with friends’ artworks around feels like they are just here with me :)
What have you been reading, watching, or listening to lately?
Recent reading: 腹語術 (in English: ventriloquism), a book of poems by 夏宇 (Taiwanese writer & poet). I first read it when I was in college, and that got me into her wonderland, playing with words and puzzling.
Recent watching: Netflix- The world’s most extraordinary homes, host by Piers Taylor, Caroline Quentin. A show about inspiring architectural solutions, I love watching this show with my husband and plan the possibilities living in places and all the little details for our future home, it’s a dream to be looking forward to.
Recent listening: A way with words by Martha Barnette and Grant Barrett. A podcast about the mystery among words, idioms, and culture. So much fun to learn about the origins of many phrases and see how words evolve as time goes by.
What are some of your interests outside of art-making that others might find surprising?
Probably not so surprising but I love collecting toys and children’s books, my favorite places are easily toy museums, toy stores and kids’ section in the bookstore.
What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects, exhibitions, or other news you’d like to share?
I am planning to finish the “bike shop” this year! "Bike shop" is a project inspired by all walks of life that makes livings or use a bike as a way for transporting people or cargos. Look forward to finishing it and sharing with everyone :)
To find out more about Taili and her work, including her animations, check out her website.