Winters in Harbin—the seat of China's northernmost province, where the Black Dragon River flows and pharmaceutical giants run industry—are known to breach sub-zero temperatures. Once, in 1989, when the weather dipped to negative thirty degrees Fahrenheit, a three-year-old girl cries when the school bell rings, because her parents, who she's told moved West on her behalf, aren't outside waiting to pick her up. In 1992, with a grandparent in each hand, she leaves the capital and its milieu (which, today, is still inextricable from the Russian railroad workers that migrated one century before) to rejoin them in sunny Santa Clara, only to avoid their foreign touch and to refuse cuddling in their American bed.
These are the stories artist Fei Liu tells me as we walk the length of Prince Street in SoHo, a Marlboro Light between her fingers and a leather jacket snug on her back. Shortly after, Liu continues, she adopted the English name Kristy, which, like the Baby Sitters Club character she adored reading, starts with the letter 'K.' "I was tired of being made fun of," Liu said, recounting horror stories of classmates—largely, alarmingly, Asian-American—who ridiculed her accent. "They absorbed racism from our classmates and passed it on to people like me, who were fobby. It was a pyramid of oppression."
Today, lifetimes later, one in which Liu works odd UX design jobs and teaches courses at the New School, storytelling remains central to what Liu does—and it's a practice she wants everyone to explore. In fact, Liu plans on building a tool that illuminates the "aspects of stories that most people haven't thought about," a mechanism she'll be cultivating at the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Stuttgart, Germany over a two-and-a-half-month residency this summer.
"I try to be as public about myself as I can," she said. From her stream-of-consciousness Facebook posts, to a podcast episode in which Small Data Squad aired her internet footprint from LiveJournal days past, Liu's activities both on- and offline confirm the admission. In the age of digital media, which holds its participants accountable to the narratives they broadcast, Liu's public quest to unearth vulnerabilities both hidden and forgotten prompts us to consider the stories we tell each other, the stories we tell others still, and the ones we tell ourselves.
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