Ann Huang on Poetry, Art, Travel, Covid-19 and More
I read you are a painter, poet, filmmaker, and author of four collections (all available now.) Fascinating! What draws you closer to your creative expressions?
Ann Huang: I want to say poetry is the medium to my creative expressions due to its raw, elusive, and dense nature. When it comes to creative output, I believe ‘seeing’ poems as painters see their paintings ‘formulating.’
I am a multicultural and multilingual poet, author, literary translator, visual artist, and filmmaker. My living and working experiences have given me diverse perspectives on world affairs. And through my interiority, my introspection strengthened after retrospection. When I create, I think out of the box and believe the multi-vocal art media (including poetry, painting, visual art, and film) are in line with each other when non-diegetic elements are at play. I am univocal about current social geopolitical issues that have to deal with empathy and renewing possibilities. I embrace the opportunities as they come and yet am critical about things that could harm our humanity at large. I believe poetry films can render kindred humanistic elements to our society.
My ultimate goal as an artist is to connect the audience with their dream state. By creating a poetry film TV series, I offer viewers a way to form a relationship between their dreams and the collective unconscious. The film mediates the perception of the world. I believe the power of our films resides in their connectivity to people who view them. It resonates with their audience's philosophies and beliefs and subsequently allows them to be happier and better individuals in this increasingly disparate and volatile society.
To me, the process of writing and filmmaking is similar to alchemy. The transformation from poetry to film is the melting pot of words, chosen visually and acoustically from human psyche, psychology, myths, and dreams. Each of the sources I draw from hint at loss, pain, joy and desire. The emotional core I feel under the surface of the page and on-screen sparks surprising sentiments of mingling dreams and reality. My poems and poetry films are intended to be consumed with introspection. When my audience navigates their memories with detailed attention to their feelings, they can explore the complex emotions of my films with fluidity.
Film changes these original elements from my poetry, as a film’s final-cut usually shifts from what I had envisioned during the stage of pre-production. However, it usually turns out to be better. I say ‘better’ because the film then makes my poetry more universally understandable. When I write poetry, my personal experience is that of reaching out to an apparition as presented in my mind. When this apparition becomes a subject (matter) under the cinematic lens, it becomes something of its own.
“I believe ‘seeing’ poems as painters see their paintings ‘formulating.’ ”
— ANN HUANG
It certainly takes a lot of patience to do what you do, and I am curious to know the ultimate message you feel inspired to give to the world?
Patience is such a necessary virtue for the making of art. My daily writing habits take time-the principle photography as a collaborative effort takes time. And the practice of my art, such as the poem ‘re-visioning’ process, and the film editing, all take more time. In a nutshell, art defines me as an individual as much as an artist. And I am privileged to spend time to voice out my interiority through art media. I believe we are all natural-born artists in one way or the other, only that we need to find our competitive edge-the right art medium that suits each of us.
I have always been a fervent student in the direction of time. I believe there is an order or disorder of our time that goes hand-in-hand with our memories of the past, perception of the present, and projection of the future. Therefore, the direction of time has a significant influence on how we look at our lives in phases, or integrally as one, and how we interact with the world at large. Time, in the foresight of our life and fate, has become the one true thing about our identity. And through time, we can reach out to question our existence and relive our experiences. Those are the fascinating facets that prompt me to explore my creative work on a writing page and under the eclectic lenses of cinema.
Throughout the learning process of completing the poetry writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I had a rekindled nostalgia for my childhood days of learning Chinese calligraphy, memorizing hundreds of poems in Tang Dynasty, taking Tai Chi classes with my grandfather, and the Chinese Civil War songs my grandmother used to sing me.
In these unprecedented and challenging times, we need to resolve so many issues through our interiority, which can help by creating art. It did help me struggle through extremely difficult personal tragedies when I lost both my mother and mentor in December 2019 and March 2020 (only three months apart).
What inspires you to continue your journey as a poet?
I ponder the happenstances that could have taken place around us, but which have been ignored. When I consider things that could have turned out the way they were contemplated, I am inspired to create art. I believe that the value of creative activity lies in the act of making rather than the aesthetic significance of things made.
I love to find inspirations from reading and watching films. Ever since I was little, I was awestruck by Alfred Hitchcock movies, particularly Vertigo, and Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil. Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon and Man Ray’s Anemic Cinema are my all-time favorite films. During my MFA years at Vermont College of Fine Arts, I was introduced and drawn immediately to the surrealist gestures that followed Dadaism and assimilated many of surrealists’ idolized symbolism into my poetry.
I spent my 35th birthday at Wifredo Lam’s house in Mexico City. The ultra-modern three-story glass structure made from surrealist art pieces, then functioning as a library during the day and a restaurant in the evening for special occasions. Lam was a trailblazer for the surrealist movement. Another significant residence I spent some time in was La Casa Azul, the house of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, located in Mexico City’s San Angel Inn area. Local artisans and craftsmen now populate the community.
These artists’ works and personal stories have been an indomitable source of my inspiration for my poetry work. Introspectively and retrospectively, I measure my work with their works, trying to find balance within our human nature and to make peace with nature. And then, of course, Carl G. Jung, the psychoanalyst and philosopher whose beliefs and studies in Collective Unconscious were instilled in all aspects of the very foundation of my past, present, and future works.
“I have incessantly wished the countries that I have loved and live in would share the same language and culture, with no borders or racial discriminations.”
— ANN HUANG
What are a few revelations or lessons you received from personal growth as a young woman from China to Mexico and then the US?
I was born and raised in Mainland China. I grew up in a physician's family with three generations living under the same roof in a house that lacked a proper sewage system and water heater. My passion for words dates back to my childhood. One of my essays “I Saw Your Back” won numerous awards in the Children's Palace and was later published on the school bulletin board. When I was fourteen, my parents took me out of China during the Tiananmen Square Protests of 1989. They were the recipients of a medical exchange program in Mexico City. There, I adopted Spanish as my second language along with the country’s inexhaustible culture. During my high school years in Mexico City’s Thomas Alva Edison (a well-known bilingual school), I volunteered in a theater where I was exposed to many local plays and their rehearsals.
The year after, I was transferred to the Baruch College of The City University of New York. New York City's raw energy at the pinnacle of the world's cultures, further enhanced my zest for American literature. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen shaped my views on femininity. Both works have protagonists who were very vulnerable at the beginning of the story, and yet they transformed to become someone they would hardly believe they would be by the end of it. The transformation during and the twist at the end of the story-telling process piqued my interests in creating works of my own.
Because of my multicultural and multilingual upbringing, I have always resisted the limitations of space. I have incessantly wished the countries that I have loved and live in would share the same language and culture, with no borders or racial discriminations. And that sense of universality gives me great comfort to explore our commonalities (instead of differences), which are our shared physiological and psychological impulses.
Tell us what the reader can expect from your latest poetry collection?
a Shaft of Light, my latest poetry collection was published in 2019, during the time my mother was combating her stage-four breast cancer. Though she did not read many of my poems in that collection, she was proud of my work and watched all my poetry films during those final days. I started writing a Shaft of Light when one of my dreams fractured during the past US elections. China’s new president was uprising and tightening his control, causing an outlandish number of journalists to disappear across the mainland. Mexico’s newly elected presidency put on another worst kind of shows of all times. It reminded me of the time we got out of China during the Tianamen Square Protests in 1989, horrendous memories resurfaced in my mind and I was compelled to write about these turbulent years, where teen suicide rates and adult mental health issues had risen all at once.
It was also the very first time in my many years of practicing automatic writing (a writing style suggested by the surrealist movement) that I felt a strong ‘pull’ to write about human extinction. In today’s digital age of social media and technology, we have been bombarded by outside influences without listening to our true unconsciousness about what we need and what will make us complete as human beings. We are losing our grounds to our trivial political leaders, biased social media standards, fast yet non-human-centric technological solutions; and fear of embracing one another’s racial and cultural distinctions.
Finding joy in this critical time of the century, most importantly with a life lived (and not merely consumed), is my main purpose. a Shaft of Light is about nostalgia. Its grander essence tells us the story of the dissipation of human synergies in regards to concurrent geopolitical and technological upheavals, especially nowadays with the pandemic. The book asks us to look back at the times when the earth faced its biggest loss: dinosaurs. The question that follows is hollow: are we next?
“Our visions can shape the world we live in and change the way people think in challenging times like this. ”
— ANN HUANG
What are some more recent passion-projects you started, thought of, or are working on during the pandemic? Do you feel this pandemic is shifting your outlook in life as an artist to a newer one?
We started making each film at the start of every season of the natural year, showcasing the relationship between meta-cinema and my dreams. Over the past three years, we made four critically-acclaimed films based on my award-winning poetry collections, with a fifth (IN THE DESERT OF ETERNITY) in its final cut. PALPITATIONS OF DUST (Autumn) won the Best Experimental Short Film at the 2018 Chicago Amarcord Arthouse Television Awards. INDELIBLE WINTER (Winter) won the Best Directing Award at the Jane Austen International Film Festival. THE PINES OF SPRING (Spring) has been part of LOSS, a timely Exhibition by Woman Made Gallery at the start of this pandemic. SPARSE (Summer), won the Best Voice Acting at the 2019 Actors Awards Los Angeles.
Our target audience is predominantly women between the ages of 12 to 48 who have a deep appreciation for poetry, humanitarian efforts in public policy, civil rights, world equality, and solidarity. Like an influential group that is often forgotten-some have lived through significant events such as the Clinton and Bush administrations, 9/11, the Iraq War, and now the world health problem. This group is a generation that developed a sincere interest in social reforms as a result of the changing world around them. They gained the right to vote and saw the Obama presidency, and they were shocked to the core in November 2016.
Now succeeding in the significant victory of our country's Presidential Election, I am seeking a place for the upcoming Ann Huang Presents TV series, with an auteur filmmaking style similar to Alfred Hitchcock Presents. I believe poetry is an indispensable niche for the cinematic arts and will continue to challenge and expand the possibilities of what can express through this medium. The idea is to produce content in which the character deliberately informs the audience they are watching a series. It stresses their attention and demands their involvement, almost like navigating a dream.
What is your message for any artist/writer overwhelmed with frustration by the current events around the world?
Keep writing and creating your ‘passion’ artworks, no matter how overwhelmed or unhappy you ‘feel’ about the world surrounding you. We are the architects of our humanity and society, who can change world affairs directions by illuminating our visions. Our visions can shape the world we live in and change the way people think in challenging times like this.
Last year, I lost two important people in my life, my mother and mentor, then the ensuing pandemic. It was the lowest point of my life. Writing kept me going by releasing my negative emotions in reminiscing them. Many of the poems I wrote during those months turned out to be my very best works.
I believe being oneself is much more important than doing one’s courses. Our DNA dictates what we do, not the other way around. My message to my fellow writers and artists is to be bold and dream big, even in difficult times like this. We, as writers and artists, know how to dissipate our negative emotions through our working process. Be proud of making art through tough times like this. We ought to be creating individually and collectively, and nothing is more important than creating artwork that reflects our current world problems through our lenses.
If we keep tuning in our art of being, we have what we needed to make something meaningful and thought-provoking for the contemporaries and generations to come.