Work In Progress: James Hsieh

James Hsieh’s colorful soft sculptures are deceptively childlike. There’s a playful tension between their cute forms and creepy details. At first glance, you might see a cuddly ant or flower but take a closer look: that ant has gnashing teeth and that flower is full of probing eyes. James, the current WIP resident at TAC’s Manhattan location, will be on site through the end of November to focus on his botanical creations.

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James began making his whimsical soft sculptures in earnest when he came to New York City from Taiwan. Having dreamt of New York since childhood, he arrived in 2015 in pursuit of an MFA from Parsons. He decided to make the move after White Rabbit Gallery in Australia bought several of his pieces. Yet his expectations about the Big Apple did not match the reality. At first the move made James incredibly anxious.

“I was overwhelmed by the urban landscape,” he says, adding that he grew up on his grandparents’ land in the Taiwanese countryside.

His other source of anxiety was the language barrier. James was uncomfortable with English immersion and frustrated that he could not fully express himself. People’s perception of him didn’t help.

“I felt their eyes on me, looking at me like I was weird,” he says. “They didn’t want to talk to me because of my English.”

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This anxiety crept into James’ dreams. The gnawing feeling he experienced everyday in his new city manifested itself as blue ants with teeth. In his dreams, James always appeared flying above the ants, unable to control or escape them. He began making felt and poly-fil ants to represent the creatures in his dreams.

“And the part nobody ever believes is that I hand sew them,” says James. He explains that he has more control that way but also sheepishly adds that he’s not quite sure how to use a sewing machine. “I will learn,” he laughs.

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After all, James is one to push himself. He taught himself to sew just as he taught himself stop-motion animation—a technique he hopes to employ again soon. He wants to activate his smaller sculptures such as he did with his wearable piece, The Wanderer. He made a video of himself wearing the black and white flower creature to tourist spots throughout New York City at 3 a.m. From Times Square to Grand Central Station, he wandered.

“At one point I heard a police siren and thought they were going to arrest me, but when they stopped me, all they wanted was a picture,” says James.

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James is also experimenting with putting his soft sculptures in installations. His apartment became an installation of sorts when he found himself without a studio space after he graduated from Parsons.

“I was living with my sculptures all around me,” says James. “I very grateful to TAC for this space to work.”

You can visit one of James’ installations in Flushing, Queens next month. His work will be the official Christmas installation for Queens Crossing. The extraterrestrial pentagram will be illuminated in a public ceremony on Dec. 7th.

But before then, come visit James at TAC. He will be hosting a workshop on Nov. 17, giving guests the chance to learn his techniques and contribute petals to one of his flower creatures.

“This will be my very first workshop,” he said. “I’m excited to meet everyone and create with them.”

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You can visit James’ installation for Work In Progress from November 1-30, at TAC Manhattan studio, and learn more about his work and process during Artist Open Hours, on Saturdays from 2-5 PM. Click here to RSVP for James’ upcoming workshop.

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