Installation art considers social anxiety on campus

Photo courtesy of Samuel Lo

Andrew Ringle, Contributing Writer

Recently, Samuel Lo has appeared all over campus. He’s been hidden in plain sight, in shadowy, private alleyways and outside the entrances of academic buildings. He isn’t actually there, though — it’s just a life-sized self-portrait printed on adhesive bond paper. The project began in one of Lo’s studio classes before he released it to the public.

The untitled installation encompasses Lo’s struggle with anxiety and continues a larger exploration of his identity as a biracial American.

“Social anxiety and social awkwardness have been issues I’ve been dealing with my whole life,” Lo said. “Just recently, I’ve been grappling with those demons and reflecting on how it’s actually impacted my life.”

Lo placed the images at various locations on campus and tried to find spots that were easy to miss, recalling his feelings of being hidden in plain sight.

“It’s really putting importance on location and bringing the work outside of the studio,” Lo said. “If I just kept it inside the building, it wouldn’t have had the same impact. Once I bring it out onto campus, it physically becomes a part of the public environment.”

Lo said he chose the installation style so the public could interact with his work without him being present. He said that lack of control mirrors how he feels unable to control his personal impressions in public spaces.

“It felt relieving to put everything out there and let it happen,” Lo said. “But I think it’s made me feel more comfortable about taking my art outside of the critique space and into the public environment.”

Lo works mostly on performative art, exploring his biracial identity and the representation of his ethnicity. He is inspired by similar artists, including Nikki Lee and Tseng Kwong Chi, who both work with self-portraits and racial identity.

Sophomore year, Lo started focusing on his experience as an Asian-American. In his darkroom class, he photographed himself wearing a Chinese lion mask.

“As I was reflecting on that project, I realized that I was trying to integrate an aspect of a culture that I didn’t have a part of, since I grew up in a suburb in Maryland,” Lo said. “I didn’t really have any interaction with the different ethnicities in my background.”

This year, he explored similar concepts, creating self-portraits in which he wore different outfits, each representing one of his different ethnicities.

“I donned three different personas,” Lo said. “I had an almost stereotypical Chinese persona, then I had neutral me, then I had my Caucasian suburban side. I was essentially exploring being between these three worlds and the way I present myself to other people.”

Much of Lo’s work is untitled, mainly because as an art student, he is expected to finish multiple projects in a small amount of time, he said.

“Right now, I’m just trying to break barriers for myself,” Lo said. “Exploring my identity has actually been very transformative over the past two years. In making these projects, I’ve learned about myself and I’ve fleshed out how I feel about these issues.”

In the future, Lo said he hopes to continue exploring his identity in a way that’s relatable for other multiracial people.

“I want to talk about my experience in my work, but for the most part, I’m looking at the underlying universal themes found in those ideas,” Lo said. “I try to make work that communicates effectively, so that anyone can approach it and see themselves in it as well.”

Photo courtesy of Samuel Lo
Photo courtesy of Samuel Lo

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