Synchronicity requires the perfect amount of convergence and divergence to happen. I navigate through my life swinging from one place to another, from one role to another, from one project to another, back and forth, back and forth. I'm still here swinging, but for art this time.
When I was 10 years old, my best friend and I decided that we wanted to build a tree fort over the summer in her backyard. I had just moved back to B.C. with my mom and sisters from living in busy Shanghai and Taiwan for a year where my parents ended up getting divorced.
I was delighted to be back in my old house and with my friends again, but I enrolled in Grade 5 with an immense feeling of uncertainty about my life. Every lunch break, I'd quickly eat my lunch and run for the swing sets at the playground.
There was something calming yet thrilling I loved about swinging. Maybe it was the repetition reminding me of being in a cradle, or maybe I found it comforting being able to predict my rise and falls. Maybe it was the experience of zero-gravity and butterflies in my stomach.
Our tree fort was built on my friend's cherry tree. That summer, with the help of my friend's dad, I learned how to use different power tools; I learned about knots and materials; and I learned about building and designing hanging apparatuses such as basket pulleys and rope ladders.
The skills I acquired that summer, nurtured my ability to become an installation artist.
Testing the visual component of Pendula at a Chinatown studio space.
I moved into the city during my university years. My life was consumed by work, and tied down by deadlines and obligations. One day I came across some rope and old skateboard decks in our storage room, and seeing these items somehow triggered fond childhood memories and an urge to build something.
Hours later, after testing various knots, my first swing was born. I remember the joy I felt when I first swung on my living room swing -- it was therapeutic. Stressful thoughts shed with each swing, and I knew this was the beginning of something more.
A couple months later, I left for an internship in Uganda working at a clinic and filming health-care programs. During my travels, I became hyperaware of an unquantifiable experience of abundance from my simple life there with my host family.
I learned how to enjoy myself without electricity, running water, or spending money. I built swings on mango trees in my spare time with my host family using leftover wood from construction sites. Building swings seemed like an extremely "profitable" investment in the sense that the immeasurable feeling of joy and happiness each swing was able to generate for the community was way beyond the low cost of building it. I wanted to do more projects like this.
Swinging on a Nancy Lee project in November 2014.
When I got back to Vancouver, I went on a date with an artist and built my first public swing in a forested marshland area near the south arm of the Fraser River. We talked about the quarter-life crisis I was experiencing and my frustration with formal institutions.
As we continued seeing each other, and my dissatisfaction with my academic life grew, he encouraged me to pursue art and swing building. A few months later, I quit university and found myself building "interactive street art" in different countries during my travels and throughout different neighborhoods in the Lower Mainland. I have never thought of myself as an artist, but the practice of building swings and working on video projects slowly warmed me up to this new found identity.
Simultaneously, I became involved with the electronic music scene in Vancouver as an event organizer, VJ, and installation artist. For one of my events, I installed visual projections over eight swing sets in an area adjacent to the dance floor.
I was extremely intrigued by the way people on the swings interacted with each other. Every individual swung at their own pace and direction, but somehow no one was crashing into each other. Instead the swingers moved in rhythmic synchronicity to the music and with each other like an single organism. I found the social observations from this installation profound. I decided I wanted to do more multi-swing installations, but I wanted my visual projections to reflect the social interactions.
Artists Kiran Bhumber (left) and Nancy Lee (right).
It was during this event that I first met Kiran Bhumber, an interactive music technology programmer and musician. When I explained my vision of having an interactive swing installation, she immediately expressed interest. Three weeks later, Kiran had designed a program capable of interpreting data from a motion sensor that could be attached to a swing seat.
It has now been eight months since Kiran and I started collaborating on this interactive audio-visual 3-swing installation that we now call Pendula. Each swing will trigger discreet audio-visual effects in an immersive environment.
With support from BC Arts Council, the Province of British Columbia and VIVO Media Arts Centre, we will be debuting this installation at the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival on June 20 and 21, 4-8 p.m. daily, along with a musical performance written for the clarinet, cello, bansuri, tabla and swings.
Growing up in Richmond, B.C. -- where trees, parks and playgrounds were easily accessible and outdoor play was encouraged -- was fundamental in providing skills and nurturing my curiosity to create new things.
Living in Vancouver, a centre for cultural convergence, having a supportive community, meeting the right people along the way, all contributed to this project as well.
However, leaving my home in B.C., to live in other cities and rural villages around the world lent me new perspectives of value of play and simplicity. I think of Pendula as the result of moments, people, and spaces in my life and its coincidental convergences and divergences.
For more info on Pendula: http://swingwithpendula.com/.
For full details on The Pendula Exhibit headlining the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival's Phase Shift Program: http://www.coastaljazz.ca/pendula_exhibit.