Courtesy of Cecilia Lu '22

November 7, 2021

YANG | Exploring the Mediation of Remembrance with Cecilia Lu ’22

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I visited Cecilia Lu ’22 in her studio the night before she moved her work to Tjaden Gallery. I think it’s also fair to say that I was simply bothering her when she was busy adding the final touches to her art. Anyway, I brought her some cookies and she brewed me some hot tea, so we shared a conversation about her art show over some red tea and lemon cookies. 

When asked about her inspirations for “Burial Haptics,” Lu said that the conception of the show began to form when she started working on her autobiographical comic last semester. In her comic, she reflected on her personal experiences of remembering life and death from a distance and through mediation. 

As we talked about memories and mediation, Lu delved into how she conceptualizes these concepts that are core to her art:

“I think about mediation in terms of how we remember things and how we carry a memory. It doesn’t just refer to the ways my memories are mediated through my camera roll, videos, or social media, but it also speaks to the ways we retrieve the past.”

To elaborate, Lu drew on French philosopher Henri Bergson’s analysis of memory. Bergson argues that every time we retrieve memories in our brain, our memories are reshaped by the process of retrieval. Building on Bergon’s argument, Lu added: “So what you’re actually retrieving is not like a memory, it was the last time you recall that memory. And it’s this fluid thing that just keeps shifting and changing every time you remember it.”

To Lu, the experience of mediation hits home. Lu’s family spans 7,000 miles across New York and Zhejiang, China. To her, the remembrance of the life and death of her loved ones is associated with absence and distance. 

When talking about her interaction with her grandparents, she reflected on the absence of haptics as she “partially returns home” through technology:

“I think the means to partially return home are more available than they were before, right? I am able to video call my grandparents now, whereas, like, 15 years ago I wasn’t. And now I’m able to interact with them and witness an aspect of their daily lives. However, I’m still not fully there, and that absence of skin-to-skin touch makes me think about haptics in the sense of absence.”

To Lu, her work speaks to the diasporic experience of families across the globe. Going beyond her personal experiences, she elaborates on how she imagines burials as the broader cultural moments which we collectively experience. “I was thinking of burial in terms of personal grief, but then also in terms of these cultural conceptions of how people are buried, how people are remembered, who gets to be buried, who gets to be remembered, and how they are memorialized,” she said.

In particular, Lu highlights that she sees her art as an exploration of what comes after the deaths and burials. “At the same time, it’s important to think about the future and how we move on, right? Like how we hold space for grief but then have to keep living, too. In that sense, this is a show that is not just about death and burials, but also wondering about ‘what it would have been’ and ‘what it could be like.’ And in that sense, there is an imaginative possibility that kind of leads me into futurisms and healing.”

To Lu, the healing nature of remembrance is often embedded in the rituals of communal eating. Reflecting on her experience of cooking and eating soup with her mother and her neighbors, Lu reflected on how the rituals of communal eating changed her view on the remembrance of death:

“The last time I went back to China, we went back in the spring and it was during Qingming Jie, which is the holiday where you go visit your ancestors’ graves. And that experience of going to the grave and eating a meal there together and spending time [with family]…I think it forced me to think about these ceremonies and remembrances around death in a different light. It wasn’t purely sad, it was also sweet.”

As I sat amid her art pieces which embody all of these pensive thoughts, I see “Burial Haptics” as a culmination of Lu’s self-reflections of the grieving, healing and remembrance of life and death. 

“Burial Haptics” runs from Nov. 8 through Nov. 12 at Tjaden Gallery. The solo exhibition by Cecilia Lu ‘22 holds works of sculpture, ceramics, video and text that consider the spaces between life and death, screen and soup, healing and desire.

Stephen Yang is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Rewiring Technoculture runs alternate Mondays this semester.