Connie is a storyteller. She plants seeds; ideas and images that make the mundane and familiar feel strange and
dislocating. Maps of places you thought you knew; dream and myth layered over familiar topography.
As we traded emails back-and-forth, Connie described the nascent project that would become Terrine as a mindmap for a graphic novel project about "the banalities and exigencies of late-stage capitalism amidst a zombie apocalypse." Presented as an arrangement of painted imagery on glass window panes, hand-painted wall text, image transfers, and audio, Terrine offers a glimpse of a world reimagined: struck by a mundane apocalypse, a populous shrugs off the horror confronting them at every turn because they still need to pay rent. Through storytelling Connie confronts climate degradation and capitalist exploitation, while placing audiences in the position of those who keep going, planting seeds—wherever they can—for the future.
Connie Zheng (b. Luoyang, China) is an artist, writer, filmmaker, and occasional field recordist based out of xučyun / Oakland, California. She works with maps, seeds, food and environmental histories, speculative fiction, and experimental film. Her work frequently includes participatory scenarios and attempts to diagram relationships between human and more-than-human worlds, as well as the concepts that sustain or destabilize these relationships. Projects such as maps of food plant migrations, fantastical seed exchanges, seed-making workshops, and improvisational pseudo-documentaries are strategies for navigating diasporic memory, the continued weight of history, and possibilities for collective imagining amidst ongoing and future ecological transformations.
This is something I've thought about doing, in various forms, for a while now. In many ways, it's something that I have been doing in various forms—exhibitions, publications, pizza parties—for a while now, often with collaborators, and often with my wife, Emily. As Labor is a Medium (LiaM) has taken shape, mostly in my mind, over the past year or so, it too has gone through a number of iterations in form, frequency, and content. But what has remained consistent is a desire to create a space to connect in community: a place for us—Emily and I—to connect to and build community here in Santa Rosa, a city we left for a decade and returned to in 2019. To do that, we offer up what we have: a little bit of space, a little bit of time, and food. The pizza is always free.
This first season of LiaM, launching in 2022, features Breanne Trammell, Connie Zheng, and Jodie Cavalier. I invited each to exhibit a work on a free-standing wall in my garage. I tried to make clear the limits and possibilities of this experiment, and I articulated that the definition of "a work" is, well, undefined—it might be in progress; plans and ideas; instructions; an empty space; a string tied to a katydid; something half-finished and abandoned. I circled around some of the ideas I'm hoping to dig into through this project: work that in some way demonstrates the process of its making; work that is concerned with the political through oblique pathways, through poetics, through speculation and association; and work that challenges capital in some way. Labor, itself, is a medium.
This group of artists is, considering my own impetus in launching this project, fitting: they all, in various ways large and small, work with ideas of building-in-community, of food and nourishment, and of potentiality—the potential of a word, an act, a seed to change a life, or change a world. This alignment was, I'll admit, unintentional, or at least unconscious; I invited artists whose work I like and who I like as people, and who I thought might, with luck, go along with this thing I'm trying to do, even if it is ill-defined—friends, in short. In any case, space, time, and food with friends seems like a good place to start.