Inside the Studio: Han Cao
Get a glimpse Inside the Studios, a weekly IGTV series where our regional Fair Directors get taken on a personal Live tour around the workspaces and collections of The Other Art Fair exhibitors. Head to our IGTV to watch the interviews in full.
For this week’s Inside the Studio, The Other Art Fair welcomes California-based artist Han Cao. Han’s delicately embroidered artworks celebrate forgotten moments in history, and leave the viewers intrigued to delve into the past and discover more. After teaching herself the intricate skill of calligraphy, Han then shifted her focus to Found Photography, incorporating colourful, dynamic and tactile embroidery into her practice. We are so delighted to speak with Han today…
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your creative practice. What first led you to embroidery as a medium?
I began doing embroidery on found images after finding so many at flea markets and antique shops, stuffed thick in boxes and suitcases, but often overlooked and neglected. Embroidery allowed me a way to create new narratives for these images as well as add unexpected dimension onto 2D images.
Where do you source your found photography from?
I source them primarily through antique stores, flea markets, as well as online. I’ve also been lucky enough to have strangers offer to send me vintage images they’ve found in their own homes, or that they’ve found in their own local markets.
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I loved that pieces from my 'Combustion' series were some of the first ones purchased from my current collection @paradigmgs during yesterday's opening day. I think the sentiment behind these pieces can be felt by all of us, especially right now with everything happening simultaneous across all fronts – personal, local communities, political, environmental and more. The available piece from this series on vintage photograph is on the second slide called 'a bright burst' which is how I always imagine myself among any group of people. #introvertalways #easilyoverwhelmedinsocialsitutions 😅
Why do you think it is important to showcase these forgotten moments of history?
I find that connecting with the past helps ground us. People find that they can surprisingly connect so much with the complete strangers inside the photographs. They can also see how far (and how little) we’ve progressed across various societal standards.
It feels as though you are bringing your own edge and story to these historic images. How do you come to decide what to add to the photography, whether this be a floral head or a cat baby?
I always look at images for a long time before I begin embroidering them, and most of the concepts come to me during this process – driven by composition as well as the expressions of the figures in the photograph.
What is your reasoning for pixelating part of a photograph with cross-hatch? We love the ambiguity and mystery this creates!
Thank you! I love the distortion of cross-stitch on photographs – forcing us to either finish the scenes in our minds, or to simplify how we see the rest of the scene in flat, discrete colors. The series of cross-stitch originally was a comment of memory – how we can remember scenes and moments in our lives in disparate bits and pieces – a scent, some sounds, a few words and sentences – somehow all these little bits combine to create our special experience, but we will never remember everything perfectly or fully.
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About a week left for you to catch my featured collection in person @paradigmgs, and you can also see all the available works online through the link in my bio. The gallery also has an awesome 360 degree view of the exhibition on their site as well! A few of my favorites are still available, including this one, which is a cyanotype print of a vintage photograph that I found, tinted with black tea until the bright Prussian blues of the cyanotype were inky and dark, and then added two weeks of hand embroidery for the thick swirls and waves of her hair. There's a feeling of calm when I look at this piece, following her steady gaze, expectant and ready for the future. "Nice hair" – currently available @paradigmgs
Finally, what have you been working on lately?
I’ve been working on a small little ‘patriotic’ series that I am aiming to release as a special postcard pack to help encourage voting this November as well as support the USPS. I’m also continuing to explore cyanotypes and the added scale it offers for my work.