For the second part of the Residence Lab Artist series, I am pleased to feature Crystal Bi-Wegner. Along with Lily Xie, Crystal Bi-Wegner is the co-founder of Moon Eaters Collective and a community artist at Residence Lab. Moon Eaters Collective is a zine that uplifts the voices and experiences of AAPI femmes. Crystal is a multi-racial community LGBTQ artist and art teacher. She is an illustrator, painter, and a sound artist. As a community artist, Crystal hopes to uplift people’s voices that are not often represented in the media and help turn community needs and wants into actual changes through art.
Selina Li: Can you explain to me a little bit about your family background? What was your family like? What was growing up like?
Crystal Bi-Wegner: “Growing up, it was just me and my mom for the first part of my life. Later - as a teenager - we moved in with my mother’s partner who became my stepfather. My stepfather was from Hong Kong but immigrated to the Bronx in the 60’s. We would visit his parents in Chinatown in Confucius Plaza. Especially in New Hampshire, we were one of the only Asian families. It was hard to find a community and I didn’t really find a community until coming to Boston.”
SL: How did you come to create Moon Eaters with Lily?
CBW: “I think it was that sense of wanting to find community, especially with intersectional identities. Being queer and being multi-racial, I wanted to find an outlet through a community, even if the community wasn’t always physical. The motivation for creating a zine-to create something on your own or to self-publish-is something that the mainstream is not giving a voice to. So, the zine seemed like a good format for stories that I don’t see a lot on media. I don’t really see a lot of stories about identity and it can feel very lonely.”
SL: Being multi-racial, a person of color, and raised by a single immigrant Asian mother, do you see your identity being reflected in the work you do at Moon Eaters?
CBW: “Absolutely. I feel that working on Moon Eaters is the first time that I was really taking charge of my identity. In addition to being able to visit Taiwan, creating art about my identity brought me closer to myself. More specifically, I was trying to figure out how to keep my culture in my everyday life, how my identity affects the way I present myself, and how I understand myself in spaces. I think Moon Eaters allowed me to not only take charge of my identity but also to find other people who wanted to have that conversation too.”
SL: How has your generation impacted your lived-experience as an artist?
CBW: “I love this generation because we are thinking really deeply. Information is so readily available at our fingertips and it’s interesting getting a sense of the world with so much information. Compared to 20 years ago, folks are a lot more open to diversity and diversity of experiences. In fact, I think folks are craving to hear those things. There still needs to be more representation of queer experiences, but I’ve seen a lot of community form around that and the experiences of being queer is becoming more out in the open. I think that has been really empowering and great to see. I think being part of a community that makes art out of those stories has been important to me.”
SL: Can you describe the type of art you do? What kind of artist are you? How do you create?
CBW: “I think a lot of my artwork has to do with identity. I work with a lot of different mediums. I am an illustrator. I grind my own ink and make self-portraits. I am also a sound artist. I record sounds from outside, which is known as a field recording. I put these sounds into a digital audio work station and pull them into a beat. As a sound artist, I did a performance piece series where I cooked, Iooped the sounds of cooking into a beat, and served the food after. I’m also a visual arts educator for Boston Public Schools. I teach sound art, sound design for film, and storytelling for radio.”
SL: People may assume that art consists of drawing and painting rather than recording sounds. How do you think sound art specifically could make a difference in the community?
CBW: “I think any art you are creating that expresses yourself, tells stories, and changes people’s perceptions is art. Sound is another medium. I feel like I work with sound the same way that I would pick up colors in painting. I put sounds together and mix them together and it feels very similar to painting for me. If you add stories and narratives on top of it, they become another layer of how you can express things or change people’s perceptions. I think all of that is art. I also really love sound art because people may think they aren’t an artist because they can’t draw, but by engaging in sound art or radio story, people understand that they are creative and that they do have something to say. Anybody can record something, but not everyone feels comfortable drawing.”
SL: What inspires you to make sound art? What motivates you?
CBW: “I think I am really sound sensitive. I took classes at MassArt, and one of the classes I took was a sculpture class where you also needed to draw. One day, I didn’t do my homework so I said to my professor, “I don’t have sketches, because I can’t sketch it. It’s a sound sculpture.” And he thought the idea was cool. Initially, I didn’t know if I could do it, but I rented field recording equipment from Mass Art.
In high school, I didn’t want to wear glasses at the time even though I needed them so I would squint at the board. But, the first time I put glasses on, I was so amazed. I thought to myself, “This is what things are supposed to look like.” When I recorded the world around me for the first time with a field recorder and heard every detail, it was like putting on glasses for the first time.”
SL: Do you have specific artworks or artists who inspire you?
CBW: “Definitely. There’s a sound artist called Samson Young. He does performance and sound work. I think he does story-telling through his sound works. He had this one piece where he watched footage from a silent Iraq war movie and added sound effects post-production. He did this for 12 hours in a museum. Samson’s application of sound was extremely interesting and altered people’s perceptions about the war.”
SL: What was your favorite art project?
CBW: “I’m working on a mural right now at English High School. All the students must think about one quote, ‘I am my ancestor’s wildest dreams,’ and illustrate based on that quote. I put their art together on photoshop and projected it on a wall. The students have been working on this project for three and a half weeks and it has turned out so well. They all came up with very different things. The theme, which is Black Girl Magic, is a positive message that we can send to the larger community. It was one of my favorite projects and I hope to continue doing murals.”
SL: Murals are all about community members and artists coming together to form one great artwork that can change and inspire a lot of people. In Residence Lab where Chinese members and artists also come together, why do you think it is important to have this connection between community members and artists?
CBW: “Creating the situation where folks understand that their stories are important is really special. Programs that center residents and artists or students and artists can create the situation where we can highlight these different voices and let people know, ‘your story and your voice matters. You are an artist, because you have a story to tell.’”
SL: When and why did you decide to highlight the community in your art?
CBW: “I think I've always been a community artist. I love art for myself, but in my job where I work as a counselor, one of the schools I worked for didn’t have an art program, so I started one. I always wanted to do social justice and art hand in hand. I loved art as a high schooler. I also studied international affairs in college, and I was always interested in youth development. Being a community artist was a merging of my main interests.”
SL: How do you think art can play a role in community organizing?
CBW: “I think the role of an artist is to change the way people think about a certain situation. In community organizing, artists can shape the story and communicate the message that a neighborhood or a community wants. The role of the artist is to make sure the story they express through art entices people so they can stop and engage with it.”
SL: Do you have future aspiration as an artist? Do you have personal goals you would like to set for yourself as an artist and how you would like your art to grow?
CBW: “I think my main goal is be a community artist and continue to do work like this. I want to work with a lot of different media. I am going into a master's program at Mass Art called the Dynamic Media Institute and it’s a marriage between storytelling, technology, and art. I’m interested in learning new skills like augmented reality, virtual reality, additional sound skills, and installation art can help better advance my knowledge as a community artist.”
SL: You talk about being able to uplift voices of those who aren’t usually present in the media and being able to address underrepresentation. Why do you think it’s important to address underrepresentation and build accessibility through your work as an artist?
CBW: “Creating a diversity of experiences in America and weighing each story equally within our culture is important. Equitable representation is political. Not hearing the stories of other people’s experiences normalizes the dehumanization of others, limits people from economic opportunity and prevents people from having a political voice. Even though representation may seem insignificant to some people, it has weighted effects.”
“I do really believe that we start off drawing to process or tell our stories. I think I would remind people to find a creative outlet.”
Thank you, Crystal Bi-Wegner for taking the time to share your upbringing and experiences as a queer, mixed-race community artist. Thank you for the amazing work that you have been doing for the community!
Don’t forget to stop by 8 Hudson Street in Chinatown on August 23rd between 5:30pm and 7:30pm to see the meaningful art work that Residence Lab artists and residents have worked on for the past few months.