Q&A with Anthony Key | Living North

Q&A with Anthony Key

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Trespassing - Anthony Key
British-Chinese artist Anthony Key takes a moment from setting up his forthcoming exhibition in Vietnam: A Nation not a War at Durham Palace Green Library to talk to us about his art
'Another piece of work which is very personal to me is called Trespassing. It's a very large reel of barbed wire about 18 inches in diameter and 12 inches high but it's made out of noodles so it's about how you are trapped by your own culture'

How did you get involved in this exhibition?
I think the work was chosen by one of the curators Claire Sutherland, whose research the exhibition is based on, because it was a good example to put up against the Vietnamese work which is in the Oriental collection. My work isn't specifically about being Vietnamese or Chinese or English, it's a conversation about identity, belonging, etc.

What kind of stereotypes to people in this country have about Vietnam?
I probably want to broaden out that question a bit more about people from the Orient or people from the East. Because I myself am Chinese so basically, the stereotypes are Chinese takeaway food, name-calling, comic villains, etc. People have ideas of the mysterious Orient as, you know, an unknowing race: this is a big generalisation but people in the West usually think people from the Orient are inscrutable: they can't really make out what they are thinking; that there is no way of referencing what they are thinking and there is a suspicion that arises from that.

Why do you think these stereotypes exist?
I also think in the late 20th century when Japan, especially, started to build up their industries and now there is the idea of cheap labour in the East. There is always the idea that the East will take away people's jobs, so there is always that sort of fear, I guess.

How do you work with these stereotypes in your art?
Basically, I use a lot of humour so I try to counteract the stereotype in the sense of deconstructing it, to make a joke out of it so hopefully when people want to think about the stereotype in the future they would remember the work. It robs the stereotype of its power when you add humour to it. So I play around with foodstuffs that are iconic to the West and iconic to the East and I use a lot of Chinese food in the work itself to bring up questions of belonging.. For instance, my self-portrait piece is basically a Heinz Ketchup bottle which has been emptied of the tomato ketchup and it's been filled with soya sauce. It's that sort of contradiction of myself as a self-portrait because I look Chinese but internally I am really quite British because I was born in the West.

Can you tell us about some of your pieces?
Another piece of work which is very personal to me is called Trespassing. It's a very large reel of barbed wire about 18 inches in diameter and 12 inches high but it's made out of noodles so it's about how you are trapped by your own culture. It's a personal piece for me in the sense that as a child, I think I longed to be an ordinary Chinese person but you know I was in the West, so I couldn't be that. I made this piece about being trapped by your own culture and about the fact that if you hold onto your culture too much, it stops you from evolving, and it stops me from feeling British.

What other materials have you used?
I've got a wok satellite dish, I have another piece with noodles which is a tea cosy knitted out of noodles – really difficult to do but I managed it! There is a very large column – basically it's chopsticks that are glued back into a tree and it's called 'Returning Home' so it's like the wooden chopsticks wanting to go home as a tree. My work is very visual, about seeing it in front of you.

What do you want people to take away from seeing your work?
I want people to be thoughtful, I suppose. I think the work is quite playful in many ways and it's very difficult to ask an artist why they do something. I think my reasons are basically to represent my identity and the work. My work questions identity rather than answers what identity is. I'm much more interested in questions rather than answers. It's basically to encourage people to question their own prejudices and beliefs, their own position in response to identity. It's nothing specific other than to humour, entertain and surprise people through an exhibition so they might think about it a bit more.

You can catch Anthony Key’s work at the Durham Palace Green Library’s exclusive exhibition Vietnam: A Nation not a War from 30 January to 26 April, Dennyson Stoddart Gallery, Durham University Palace Green Library.

To read more about the exhibition visit www.dur.ac.uk/palace.green or to find out more about Anthony Key head over to www.anthonykey.net

Published in: January 2015

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