Room for new ideas

George Liu artVisual artist George Liu '20 dreamed of going to the Yale Norfolk School of Art for an artist residency this summer. He's now in a pre-Norfolk and post-Norfolk sensibility. What does post-Norfolk George look like? Read on. 

By Guest Blogger George Liu '20


George Liu ’20, a resident of Adams House concentrating in Visual and Environmental Studies, was awarded an Artist Development Fellowship to attend the Yale Norfolk School of Art, an intensive six-week artist residency for rising seniors in college. Liu has used the methods and rhythms of crochet in his approach to painting and is particularly interested in the concept of sentimentality in art. Upon graduation, he plans to pursue a career in art. His blog post on his ADF experience this summer follows. 

It's mid August now, and I left the Yale Norfolk School of Art a little more than a month ago and still have difficulty summing up my experience, partly because the adequate words escape me, partly because I still am reconfiguring myself after being stretched apart in many directions. It was one of those experiences which marks a deep change in your life. There’s pre-Norfolk, then post-Norfolk. It’s too soon to know what post-Norfolk George looks like. Probably a lot like pre-Norfolk George, but with a shift in attitude which I hope will make all the difference.

I’ve struggled with managing my mental and emotional health for a long time. Attending Harvard has only exacerbated my tendency to grind myself to a pulp in the pursuit of academic achievement. I feel the need to project big to compensate for how small I actually feel. If I didn’t build a monument of myself (in my mind, out of material), I felt that I, like a speck of dust, would be washed away by wind and rain. At Norfolk, I floundered because I couldn’t let go of this habit of self-monumentalization. There were times when I wanted to run away from the program I had dreamed of attending for years because I felt crushed by the impossible task of aligning my reality with my aspirations.

Since reflecting on these moments of despair, I have been experimenting with relating to myself in a more open, forgiving way which holds my small reality rather than erase it in favor of a veneer of perfection. With this shift in mind, the quiet moments I shared with a few close friends at Norfolk stick with me. Many took place at Tobey Pond, which is a half hour walk from Norfolk’s bucolic campus. One afternoon, I went skinny dipping at the pond with Ruochun, a photography and philosophy student from William & Mary. The water was a cold shock when I tried swimming for the first time in a long time. I had forgotten that in order to breathe, I had to release my previous breath. And so I strained, gasping for air and wondering why none would come. When I tried relaxing my body to float, I sunk. Similar to what I described above, I continue to teeter between holding on and letting go.

These moments of catch and release have generated new questions in my art practice as well. Going into Norfolk I was attached to a conception of a sovereign author. While I don’t think I have disentangled myself from this myth, I have been reimagining my relationship with material and process to make room for other bodies and energies to emerge, to speak. It’s boring and crazymaking hearing my own voice over and over again. Many of our discussions at Norfolk focused on extending our readings of photography beyond the photograph and into the conditions of its production, circulation, operation and obscuration.

Before Norfolk I had little interest in photography as I assumed the photograph was a transparent, one-to-one translation of reality. One of our classes, Photography and Soul, changed my mind about the potential of photography. Lacey, who led the class, emphasized the way photographs can capture the residue of an embodied performance, like an improvised dance, between photographers and their surroundings (both figures and grounds). The capture of the photo is almost accidental in this scheme, generated by the chance alignment of bodies and emotions, which the photographer can only suggest through performance as one of the many actors in a chaotic, shifting web of relations.

I still know little about photography and its methods, so I’m excited to take a photography class this coming semester to continue my exploration, letting go of old ideas and making room for new ones.

Find out more about OFA Artist Development Fellowships here