Interviews, issue 15: junejuly 2017, Narratives
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An Interview with artist Kane Huynh by K. Piñero

Your name, age, where you’re from and where you’re based, current occupation.

My name is Kane, my birthday is June 26, 1998, and I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana. I live in New York studying at the Cooper Union throughout the year and spend my summers at home in New Orleans. My current occupation would technically be… student, but right now I’m housesitting.

At what age did you realize art was something you wanted to pursue?

When I was a kid I lied to my mom about everything. Ever since I can remember I wanted to lie to mend mistakes I’d made and I guess I got so used to it that I’d lie about things that didn’t even matter. My mom, being really smart, always figured me out and she would punish me by allowing me only paper and pencil to either draw or write. I remember around this time my grandpa made me a miniature wooden desk in which I fit perfectly, and this is where I would spend many days since I was always grounded.

 

 

You and I have a lot in common! One of the first things we bonded over is that we were both raised by single teenage mothers and how profound of an impact that had on our lives and our personal outlook toward the world around us. There are a lot of privileges we haven’t been afforded, but we both have such strong bonds with our mothers because of how much they sacrificed for us and I think that’s something neither of us would give up for anything. In what ways does your mom influence you personally and in what ways does she influence your art?

I think, for forever now, I was always extremely attached to my mom. She said that I would follow her around the house like a piece of feces still clinging to a goldfish when it takes a dump. My mom and I were always really close but I think as a child I may have taken it for granted because I never understood the gravity of my mom’s sacrifices. Once I was older and lived more of my own life, and I think especially in high school when I started to have my own secret world away from my family did I realize how much my mom went through as a child and an adult. She had me when she was 16, so in a way, she never had a chance to grow up, she was a kid having a kid and I will never understand how she did it because when I was 16 I didn’t know anything beyond getting wasted and going to parties. It is selflessness, I think I see that most in my mom. She’s always been giving, even when it meant that she had nothing left for herself. I hope my mom knows how much I respect her for it. In terms of my work, my mom influences it in a weirdly distant way, I think somehow it all comes back to her but when I’m making work I rarely think of her in the process.

What’s some of the best advice your mother has given you and what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from her?

I think I’ve learned to embrace my emotions from my mom, and to think more about the things I say and the things that I feel. I think without her, I would’ve hurt a lot of people in my life, and never known how to say sorry.

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Being the first born child of teenage immigrants growing up in an American city is difficult but comes with a certain happiness and nostalgia only few people can understand. What is your favorite childhood memory?

I don’t think I have a favorite childhood memory. There are many moments that I’ll never forget but I can’t point out a particular fondness.

How has New Orleans influenced your work?

When I think about this question I always consider whether it’s really about New Orleans itself or the people that inhabit this place, but I’ve come to settle on the concept that a place and its people are inseparable in a way. To answer this question in a simple way, New Orleans has influenced my work by allowing me to exist at the perfect place and the perfect time, the perfect pattern of events that led me to meet the people that I’ve met and feel the things that I’ve felt.

Tell us the history behind where you grew up.

I grew up in eastern New Orleans. This place, even today, remains to be a place of extreme familiarity but also an odd distance. New Orleans east is mainly of Vietnamese and African American demographic and I grew up in the Vietnamese community there. New Orleans east, at one point used to be a wealthier, more white area of the city, but there was an exodus during the 80’s as low income African Americans started to move into New Orleans east, along with an influx of Vietnamese immigrants fleeing the Vietnam war, transforming the demographic there. Hurricane Katrina also had its way with this area of the city as thousands never came back to this area after the devastation. I’m proud to say this is where I was raised and spent my childhood.

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Do you feel disconnected from your culture? Are there ways in which you wish you could connect to it more than you have? And does this disconnect/connect influence your work?

I spoke Vietnamese really well as a kid, and I went to the Vietnamese church and sunday school and only knew Vietnamese people and took Vietnamese language classes and went to a Vietnamese summer camp but as time changed me and I left New Orleans east I lost my grasp on a lot of these things that filled my childhood. I think in a way I had to leave to find an appreciation for it, because when I was younger I had a certain disdain towards certain components of Vietnamese culture. I felt restrained, I felt like I didn’t fit in with the people around me, and I think as a kid I was very lonely. Today, I still speak Vietnamese with my grandparents but my life is so different than the lives of the people still living in the East and also the lives of most people my age who are from there, names I barely remember now. I will always cherish my memories from my childhood and I am grateful to have been raised in a Vietnamese household, but I think my life now along with my future is disparate from the New Orleans east Vietnamese community.

Is there a story behind your artwork? Whether it be individual pieces or something that has inspired your work as a whole.

I think my work is really just about my relationships with people. I did mainly oil paintings in high school up until I got to Cooper. I think there I decided I wanted to learn how to make videos and films, because in a way I always saw my life in my head through the viewpoint of someone watching a movie. My work this year at Cooper has also been a lot of sculptures which I make out of sentimental objects or other symbols of emotional weight. I also did a few performances this year which was so new to me but I loved it. I’ve never felt so uncomfortable. I think as a person, I am heavily, almost in a crippling way, changed by the relationships I’ve built and also destroyed with the people I’ve met in my life. I have to make my work about it. I don’t know what else would matter to me.

What’s your favorite medium to work in and what’s your favorite piece you’ve created so far? 

I think my favorite medium currently would be video or sculpture, but I’m definitely most experienced in oils. I 100% do not have a favorite piece but if anyone wants to check out some of my work I post a lot of it on my instagram: kane504boy

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You got accepted into one of the most prestigious art schools in New York City. What was that like for you?

I cried when I got the phone call. I think in high school I worked so hard literally just because I wanted to get into Cooper. I wanted to go through some shit in college, and Cooper definitely put me through some shit. Going to Cooper is really ridiculous and sometimes insane, but I have loved it and I have no desire to be anywhere else. I can honestly say Cooper has some of the best teachers I have ever had the pleasure of encountering and I am so pleased to be learning from them.

How has New York been treating you? Do you prefer New Orleans or can you see yourself making a home out of the city after you graduate?

My mom always asks me this question and I always say I think I’m going to move away after college. I love New York in so many ways but I miss certain things that I can’t do in New York. I miss driving, I miss it so much. I miss driving fast at night and forgetting everyone and everything. There is this crazy energy in New York that pushes you to go, go, go, but when I’m in New Orleans I feel different, it’s a type of freedom, like being in wilderness. I think both New York and New Orleans will be integral and are integral to my life as a whole.

Do you have a creative process or do you just go with the flow?

I go with the flow. I wish I could just command myself to make good work, but my best work has come from heartbreak and longing, and you can’t just make that happen on your own.

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You created a short film a few months back, how did that come about?

My best friend, Lene, she and I went on a trip over Christmas to her stepdad’s ranch in Texas. There, I lived, alongside a family of hunters and true Texan men. I’d lived in Texas before this trip, but was never so integrated into hunting culture and such prime southern activity. I loved it.

Do you have anything planned for your summer?

This summer I’m house sitting in this big empty house and taking care of three dogs and one cat. I plan on making some paintings and doing a film or two. I’m really excited for my friend Digby to come to New Orleans from his house in Dallas because I know he’s going to help me make a lot of my work. I also met this other kid named Jack recently who I really like and I can feel myself wanting to make work about him too. I also started keeping a journal and I intend on continuing my writing this summer. I have a lot to think about.

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Five people you look up to.

Mom
Dad
Lene De Montaigu
Simon Smith
Digby Martinek

A song that has affected you the most.

Empathy by Crystal Castles

A novel or poem that has influenced you.

Reveries of the Solitary Walker by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Words to live by.

I love you

 


 

You can find Kane Huynh on instagram: here. You can also find the link to his short film, Fajita Meat: here, which you’ll notice is password protected. If you want to take a watch message him on instagram for the password to view it.

Photographs by K. Piñero.

 

 

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