September 27, 2013

Spotlight: May Lin Le Goff

A bit like looking at the refracted patterns in a kaleidoscope.

May Lin Le Goff, native of Singapore and recent graduate of the New York School of Visual Arts, creates surreal renderings of high fashion overlaid with her own personal brand of disorder and irreverence. Her creativity is matched with the surgical precision she uses in creating her collages, which seem to channel all different facets of her identity and personality to create magnetic images of reinterpreted beauty. Go through the looking glass with May Lin Le Goff's illusory collage works of vivid photography, that dazzle with just a touch of madness.

THE LE SIGH: Can you tell me a little about your background? Where did you grow up and what has led you to your present role as an artist in New York? How has your upbringing informed your work?

May Lin Le Goff: My art is the product of an array of Western influences transformed by Asian lenses. It's also a reflection of my life and upbringing. The daughter of a Chinese mother and a French father, raised in Singapore and in French Brittany and now living in New York, I've been able to take the best of my varied heritage to offer a new artistic expression. The influence of my European parenthood with Matisse and Höch is obvious. The American Pop Art influence of Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol is also strong. But the interest of my art lies in the Asian interpretation of these Western influences. My photographs also display the precision of Chinese Calligraphy and the animation of Japanese Manga.

Growing up in Singapore, I went through a public education system that systematically streamlined all children academically. For ten years my school uniform was a baby blue pinafore--shapeless, bland and really lacked any sense of individual identity. I'd say that easily two-thirds of all my childhood friends are doctors, lawyers or bankers. However, I was never quite convinced with that path--I felt that system stifled my right to self-expression and creativity. Of course this realization only came much later; most of my teenage years were spent in some kind of frustration, so much creative energy was trapped inside that wanted to come out but didn't know how. I had no clue. Just to clarify, Singapore is much more attuned to to the arts now, and I think this is an amazing time for young Asian artists to really push their work.

As for my heritage: I felt some sense of displacement, straddling two opposing worlds, and couldn't find my place in either. Fashion played a significant part in helping me distinguish my personal identity. I cane to the realization that it was an avenue of self-expression and identity that was completely autonomous, hence my fascination with it.

Once I tapped into that world and started to immerse myself in creating fashion images, I somehow convinced myself that I wanted to be where fashion and art were the currency--that led me to New York. I wasn't satisfied with becoming a big fish in a smaller pond. I wanted to swim in the big unknown ocean and see where that journey would take me.

I applied for the School of Visual Art's Photography program, got in, and the rest is really history. 2010 was the beginning of an amazing journey of artistic discovery for me. Whilst in school, I maintained fashion photography as my medium, but began to experiment heavily with mixed media in my work, which finally led me to knuckling it down to paper as my main medium.

TLS: You mentioned on your website you were influenced by the Dadaist movement--is there a certain artist that's particularly relevant to your work now?

MLLG: I love Hannah Höch. I learned about her and the Dada movement whilst in school, and what really drew me to her work are the polarities between her sardonic critique of the mass culture beauty industry, and her absolute exploitation of the mass media to gain her momentum because of the rise of fashion and advertising photography. It was just so smart--I like work like that. Using something whilst abusing it, which is exactly what I do with my fine artwork.

Fashion photography was originally conceived to appear in the pages of magazines and advertisements to suggest the potential of a lifestyle to consumers. With the surge of, and shift towards more online-based media outlets, it's becoming increasingly abundant. Richard Avedon and Irving Penn were iconic photographers; but since, the medium had produced a myriad of derivatives; photographers who are heavily influenced by the prior result in too much work that's arguably unimaginative, lacks a distinct identity and has a temporal resonance. I have a joke--Throw a stone down a street in New York and you'll hit 10 fashion photographers. In fact, throw a stone down a street in any big city and you'll hit a bunch of fashion photographers. My work aims to go against that grain; I create work that represents new sensibilities, deconstructing and reconstructing and creating entirely new environments in which my subjects reside.

I relate very much to Höch's aesthetic too--so much of her work is astonishingly modern or timeless, as we would say. The work is extremely elegant and her subject matter is always universal--issues of gender and sexuality, as well as commodity. And always with a sense of humor; something that I also make sure to maintain in my work. So much art out there is too serious.

TLS: Do you find inspiration in literature or music?

MLLG: I draw a lot of inspiration from artist manifestos. And live concerts. The emotional aspects of live performances really get to me. As well as dance. Mostly dance, actually.

TLS: Can you tell me a little about your collaboration with "Love, Lucy"? The images on the site are very compelling. How did you find the other girls in the collective and how do you work together as artists?

MLLG: We met at the School of Visual Arts. Wen Jun and Xi are both phenomenal artists whom I respect immensely. Love, Lucy was a bit of an experiment to establish an artist support system. We've all gone our separate ways now but still remain very good friends.

TLS: Some of your images seem to create a feeling of disorder and disorientation. Where do you derive the inspiration for the work you create and what feeling do you want it to evoke?

MLLG: In my last body of work, I was really exploring my struggle with my own identity, part Asian part Western. I'm not fully French, not fully Chinese, and not yet American, and my art aims to reflect my complex identity. I play with silhouettes and shapes, with positive and negative spaces and constantly mask and unmask characters, revealing or hiding their identities. My art is the product of this tension and of this dialogue, the same way I'm the product of two cultures. I like that the viewer is confused when they look at the work; most people think I work digitally and are surprised when I say it's all very rudimentary cut and paste. I feel like a lot of people have forgotten what it feels like to work outside the computer--it's all too easy nowadays.

More recently, I've been drawing inspiration for my work in my environments/surroundings. I've been very interested in architecture recently, especially modern architecture with clean lines and shapes. I saw the Le Corbusier retrospective at the MoMA and was blown away. His Radiant City ideas on urbanism and plans for reformulating big cities, with his visions of "cleaning and purging" cities, bringing a "calm and powerful architecture" is so inspiring. Neat spaces, curves, geometric shapes and his careful consideration of the environments his buildings reside in all speak very closely to my own compositions. I'm starting to create a new body of work based on his theories and aesthetics.

TLS: Do you do other types of photography and art? Some of your photographs seem to involve a significant amount of styling. Is fashion something you direct in shoots or is it a collaborative effort?

MLLG: I believe everyone is multifaceted and not just talented in one medium only. I have a deep interest in dance too.

For fashion shoots, it's mostly a collaborative effort. You need someone in charge of hair, makeup, styling and set design, if necessary, and it's extremely hard to do all by oneself. Conceptually, it's usually a group effort as well. Everyone has a part to play.

TLS: Who are some of your favorite designers?

MLLG: I personally don't keep such close watch of fashion these days. I feel that trends move too fast for me to really maintain my interest in them, and my motivations these days are about slowing myself down, not the opposite. I do love Miuccia Prada though; she's amazing!

TLS: Can you tell me a little about your creative process? What are the steps involved in creating a collection like "When the Going Gets Raf"?

MLLG: A story like "When the Going Gets Raf" works very differently from the body of work "Disorder this Order." It's an example of how my work is applied commercially. In cases like this, I'll work with a creative director who has a concept for the shoot.

This shoot was done for Female Magazine in Singapore. Jonathan, the creative director, wanted the aesthetic of the shoot to be modeled on the work of British artist Gary Hume, who paints in the household gloss paint on the aluminum panels, often using appropriated images. Their forms and colors are dramatically simplified, with people being reduced to just two or three colors. I reinterpreted this stylistically, and kept it very simple with the colors and forms.

We shot the images like any other editorial--with a team of professional hair and makeup stylists, model and stylist. Then I was given the freedom to play around with the images in post, and kept closely to the concept. My work mostly involves printing a large amount of images, then cutting and pasting, then re-photographing the final photo sculpture to flatten it into a photograph once again.

This project was interesting because I was working within some boundaries and couldn't go entirely crazy on it, which was an amazing exercise in simplification. It kind of led me to start thinking about my work in a much simpler way.

Check out more of May Lin Le Goff's work here.

Carolyn Lang, who likes to write and travel and spends most of her time in Middle Eastern restaurants. She is the combined effort of everyone she's ever known. Carolyn keeps track of things that fascinate her here.