MARFA – Stephanie Huang has always searched for her sense of “home.”
The artist left Fort Wayne, Indiana, when she was five years old to move to Yokohama, Japan, and Shanghai, China. While she is Shanghainese, she never felt she truly belonged when she lived there. She returned to the US when she was 17 years old.
As a result, most of her artistic practice stems from that experience. Marfa Film Festival will show Huang’s latest piece, presense/absense V, at 8pm tonight at the MFF headquarters, aka the house behind Diary Queen. W. Creeves will provide a live score to the 45-minute long film.
presense/absense V shows Huang painting a 20 foot by 30 foot overhead bulk feeder to blend with the environment. She took over 15,000 photos in three second intervals. The repetitive nature and labor intensiveness documented in the project is a metaphor of people trying to create their identity, but also the facade they present to society. Thus, showing the transformation of absence into presence.
While this is the fifth in the series, this is the third time lapse in West Texas. The first two projects were still photos taken in San Bernardino, California. Huang moved to Marfa in 2016 after receiving her undergraduate degree in media studies with a concentration in photography. The plan was to stay for a month, but the prominent West Texas landscape drew her in.
What she didn’t realize though was the extent of how much of that land is privately owned. She writes in her artist statement that the land that seems endless is 95 percent private and for the most part owned by one percent of the population.
“I definitely came disillusioned in thinking that it’s expansive and it’s so endless, not realizing that expansiveness comes with a price,” Huang told the Big Bend Sentinel.
She filmed each time lapse on private land (with permission, of course) typically during the summer.
The last one was filmed in December though because she was on a time crunch. Her initial plan fell through. She was leaving town soon, and she wanted to include the piece in her portfolio which was submitted with her grad school applications. Filming in the cold for six hours, sometimes with harsh winds, was hard to Huang but she got through it.
Her friends helped her assemble the scaffolding that she stood on to paint the feeder. She feels that a project like this wouldn’t have come so easy if she didn’t live in Marfa.
“The ease in which people are willing to help and that kind of generosity is what makes Marfa a community to me and why it felt so different for me than anywhere else because I’ve only lived in cities,” said Huang. “I just feel so held by Marfa in a way that makes it so difficult if I were to leave.”
Huang is leaving Marfa though. The screening will be her last show in town as she is moving back to Los Angeles for graduate school.
Her fragmented upbringing contributed to Huang’s struggle to form a home identity until she came to Marfa.
“It’s important for me that this piece happened in Marfa after I had been here for a significant amount of time,” said Huang.
Because to her, Marfa has given her the closest sense of home.