Cecilia Lo on nature, mystery, and surviving and even thriving during a very tough year for art by taking the time to appreciate, plan, and create.
Cecilia Lo is a multidisciplinary artist with a focus on painting who lives and works in Berlin since 2018. She opens up to 4SEE about her international background and the particular challenges (bureaucracy!) but also the many rewarding experiences of moving to Berlin to pursue her career as an artist. She shares with us her highly personal approach to painting with wood as a canvas and the journey that her creative process follows along, resulting in each piece having its own story to tell. And, like of all of us, 2020 has presented a unique set of challenges. Cecilia recounts a few of her own, including her perspective on the political situation in Hong Kong, and how she has coped with them by taking advantage of peace and serenity offered by the plentiful natural surroundings that are pretty easy to access by bike or by train from Berlin.
Name Cecilia Lo
Nationality Hong Kong, British
Medium Mixed media on wood
Based in Berlin
Recent/upcoming exhibition (projects) Rebounder Open Studio at HER Contemporary
Find more at website / instagram
Interview from October 2020
Did you always know that you were going to be an artist?
I knew I was going to be an artist in my heart since I was a child, I love to scribble and always carry a sketchbook with me everywhere. Growing up in an Asian society, the thought of being an artist is purely a privilege; often being an artist isn’t even considered a “real” thing, but my family is incredibly supportive of my passion even if I am the odd one out in my engineering family! Art has been a pathway for me to construe doubts and thoughts into layers of certainties; I am true to myself when I make art.
What made you decided to study art in the United States and then move to Berlin after graduating?
I am originally from Hong Kong and I studied at a girls boarding school in the UK at the age of 13. I think that because of this experience of having to live aboard on my own since a young age I have built an immense curiosity and ability to adapt to new environments.
After graduating from Savannah College of Art and Design in the United States, I took part in the artist residency program at the Trelex Residency in Switzerland, then I came to in Berlin to join the residency at the Berlin Art Institute in the Summer of 2018. Ever since then I decided to stay. Berlin has so much to offer—I am grateful to be in a city of diverse art communities and with crazy buzz about it.
How do you think each of these places has influenced you so far?
It was a wild adventure for a 13-year old when I started going to a boarding school in the UK, a very different culture indeed, but after only about one week of homesickness, I adapted into that environment surprisingly pretty well. Having to live in the UK, I was trained to be independent and it broadened my perspectives toward western society. The US was even wilder because of the art school, my artist self fully kicked in from there. My clothes have been stained with paint and covered in wood dust ever since. And Berlin is no doubt the wildest so far, I love the experimental spirit of Berlin’s cultural scene—I love walking out my apartment in my pajamas and no one gives a damn; here is where I started to seriously believe in myself as an artist.
Anything you miss about them that you just can’t find here in Berlin?
My family back home in Hong Kong, mountains and DAYLIGHT (except for summers in Berlin).
Do you find the art world competitive or supportive, or something in between?
From my experience as a young artist, I am blessed to have loving and supportive artist friends whom we exchange ideas, encourage and inspire each other to thrive, particularly in these current times of turbulence.
But sometimes I can’t help but feel the art realm is far too superior to reach. I see the art world as an industry after all; it is superficial within its own social bubbles and hierarchies, with the art market built upon the philanthropy, and social networks of the ultra-wealthy. I suppose it is just like any other field out there, there is always a certain amount of competition.
What would you consider to be your biggest accomplishment so far?
Never stopped making art and managed to deal with German Bureaucracy.
Tell me more about your painting process. How did you develop it and in what ways do you think it reflects you personally?
I like to work on wood panels in comparison with canvas. It is very satisfying to incorporate scratching and sanding in my process, revealing the beautiful woodgrains underneath the paints. The wood panels are like a playground for me to explore textures and space. I don’t usually follow a sketch or a plan, I feel constricted that way, it is more like go with the flow… that kind of working rhythm.
My work is comprised of extensive layering processes. Each layer is a memory and passage of thought, of which audiences only get to see fragments. I like how personal the work can get. I like to envision my painting process as if I go on a long hike without a map. I get lost, unsure what is ahead but as long as I keep patiently climbing and walking, I know I will reach there eventually.
In what way is nature is an important source of inspiration for you? Where do you go for your nature fix in Berlin?
For me, solitude in nature is transcendental. It clears my eyes to see that, in nature, all entities, relationships, experiences and phenomena are equitably respectable. My work is a journey of manifesting the cyclical movement of life’s trajectory—it allows the power of nature to nourish my soul through immersion and acknowledgement of the interconnectedness of life.
Berlin is surrounded by natural diversity, I like to go for walks or run in parks to clear my head, I can also easily hop on the S-Bahn or a long bike ride to visit the nature in and around Berlin.
2020 has been such an unpredictable and tumultuous year, how was it for you so far?
It has been mentally and physically exhausting from having to constantly think about and confront micro-aggressions and racist interactions. And this pandemic has aggravated those issues for Asians like me. Soul cleansing is much needed every time, but I’ve learnt to see the bigger picture and handle it strategically. At the same time, it has been depressing to see the unceasing injustice, especially witnessing Hong Kong being politically suppressed.
I think mostly because of all this insanity, I started having more vivid, bizarre dreams. I keep a “Wild Stuff” journal on my phone, spending 5 to 10 minutes tracing the puzzling unconsciousness as soon as I wake up. I think it would be quite interesting to combine all the figments together into my work one day.
And how has your creative life been impacted by the pandemic? Has it influenced the way you think about art?
Despite the tremendous economic impacts and loss of countless souls, this pandemic has resulted in a wider lens for me, given me perspective and shown me a greater complexity that we are in. It helps to assess what we can and cannot control; we are simultaneously being challenged with decision-makings and the willingness to accept the change.
I learn to view my artistic journey through this wider lens, zoom out and be more fluid, accept the fact that cancellations and schedule changes happened but there are many alternative ways to manifest plans. There’s so much to learn, improve, sometimes changes help me to regroup and rethink.
What is next for you, an upcoming project or chance to see your work?
Meanwhile, a second lockdown is coming up, it is quite difficult to plan exhibitions during such unpredictable times. I have just recently moved into my new studio after a while of studio hunting and trying to balance job and personal practice, so for now my goal is to build a stronger portfolio, explore a boarder spectrum of mediums like sculptures and printmaking, widen my networks, but most importantly… carry on making a mess in my space!
Where do you see yourself in ten years’ time, where would you like to see your artwork and at what scale?
This is always a tough one… 10 years ago I would have never imagined working and living in Berlin. I don’t know where I will be by then, but most importantly I would like my art to be an inspiration for people in 10 years.