A few weeks ago, Mreeuh (pronounced Maria) Chang debuted a new exhibition in which her original artwork of fantastical dreamscapes, mermaids, and mythology plays postscript to the main event. Everything We Need is in Us isn't a traditional gallery show but a Tumblr page with a clever domain name (everythingweneedisin.us) that houses a perpetual scroll of love notes handwritten by Chang on the flip side of her artful postcards.
An Atlanta native of Korean descent who traces her artistic roots back to City of Ink Tattoo & Art Gallery, where she began hanging out while in high school, Chang has become something of a transient and transcendent figure since leaving her hometown five years ago at 17. Today the three-time college dropout and self-taught artist resides in Cincinnati when she's not crisscrossing the country. After giving away most of her possessions and purchasing a one-way ticket to South Korea last July, she returned to the States in October and printed up a batch of postcards to auction off at Art Basel in Miami. She put the remainder to practical use, writing friends, collaborators and admirers collected through her travels.
"Love is an art form," she writes, explaining how she decided to put those private letters on public display. Through her revealed intimacies and intellectual ruminations, Chang turns social media into a social experiment. Yet it feels emotionally interactive in a way that's totally atypical of the Internet. On the eve of Valentine's Day, it seemed fitting to trade emails with her about the project.
Let's start with a simple question that may or may not warrant a complex answer: How do you plan on celebrating Valentine's Day?
Mreeuh Chang: Practicing self-love and moderation. (Masturbating but not too much.)
The funny thing about social media is how anti-social it can be. Yet this feels more intimate than anything web-based I've ever experienced. Was there any hesitation about revealing so much of yourself?
Social media has become a viable preferred method of communication, no matter who is watching. Business and technology combined to create an economy of keeping in touch and in order for the social media economy to sustain, there must be a degree of isolation in our analog lives. I explore this juxtaposition a lot: being alone together, the lonesome crowd. It's not just digital spheres, it's cities, it's public transportation, it's work staff, it's classrooms, it's our families, it's the skeletons in our closet, it's the voices in our head. Our audience is anonymous and ambiguous. We are alone, together.
I feel no sense of hesitation when writing the messages, the words come easily and I always feel that the back of the photo is a safe place between the recipient and I. The crippling hesitation only starts and ends in front of the screen. I still hesitate when it comes to posting the link. Once it's published, I'm seeing my intimate exchanges in third person and that is what unnerves me, the exhibition aspect of it. It is the difference between dancing with someone in your living room versus projecting a movie of you dancing to a potential crowd of people.
Can't a girl expel her thought process and revelations to thousands of people in privacy sheesh
- Mreeuh Chang (@MREEUH) January 26, 2014
Because the postcards are addressed to anonymous people, the reader becomes a substitute for the intended receiver. The more we read, the deeper we fall into this vortex of existential seduction. What are your intentions with our hearts and minds?
All art is a process of embodying something the artist deeply desires to see or experience in the world, the art compensates for what reality does not provide. I have such a potent degree of love, passion, curiosity, and insight that is so unsafe in one world that it is only marvelous as an exhibition. There is something in the postcards that clients, customers and Mreeuh-enthusiasts will not find in anything else I create. These remnants of my relationships are precious because I am so often alone, enraptured in private exchanges, and under the distant gaze of unfamiliar, unidentified persons. This experiment sort of dismantles the singularity of my selfhood and proves I am not so alone. I am functioning and developing ideas in the position of someone's sister, lover, acquaintance, admirer, collaborator, visitor.
The message announces itself: Everything we need is in us. So much of us revolves around feeling that what we need is in another person, somewhere outside ourselves. We want so much that is not here and do not know where to seek. Often we lose sight that we are the person that another person needs, the place that another person seeks, the validation that saves another's life. Everything We Need is in Us collapses the selves into the "we," the "us." In that sense, the interplay of being alone together is not so paradoxical.
You seem to explore the relationship between carnality and consciousness a lot through these postcards. Even "fucking" becomes a metaphor for finding yourself. How did you develop such a profound appreciation for the seemingly profane?
The brain is a sexual organ, I am a highly sexual person as a consequence of being a highly intelligent person and I've grown to be less apologetic about both. The only context it would be appropriate to conceal these attributes is to an audience that is dumb and sterile and I'm not here for that. Such erroneous ideas of race, wealth, religion, health, and sexuality are constantly administered to us, to be conscious while navigating these lies involves being honest about who you are, what you experience, and connecting it to something greater than yourself.
Women face a smart versus sexy binary that I don't feel is innate. In many cases, if a woman garners much attention for her appearance, her personality, intellect or as you say, "consciousness" suffers. If this woman remains unsexualized through the course of her development, more cerebral advancements occur. I don't believe highly sexual women are stupid, I don't believe highly intelligent women are sexless. That dangerous myth creates this suffocating algorithm in which brilliant women play dumb for dick, erotic women feign chastity for respect and the men that receive us are short-changed every time. I've done both and I'm not interested in either. A high libido is a genius trait because we are psycho-physically wired to re-enact how we got here.
Love is fun and educational as fuck. Like what are my limits? What kind of people do I attract? How do I ruin things? Let's find out.
- Mreeuh Chang (@MREEUH) November 23, 2013
Are any of your relationships too sacred for public consumption?
It depends what you consider public consumption. I've held hands in public. I'll post photos of myself with friends. As far as publicly identifying as someone's lady friend, I have a hard enough time publicly identifying as myself, all my selves. I am not a woman of public affairs but the privacy doesn't make them any less real. Quite the contrary, the relationships and experiences I've been most profoundly affected by, remain off the grid. Private affairs are often associated with a sense of shame and forbiddance but I am almost completely absent of shame. I do not broadcast my partners the same way I do not broadcast aspects of myself or my upbringing, I don't think most people would understand. It's a three-way protective measure, protecting me, the other person, and the witness. Even if I put my relationships up for "public consumption", no one truly knows the relationship except for the people in it. That's why this project is so special to me. I can be heartfelt and transparent in my love for everyone while still protecting the identity of the recipients.
i'm going to be homeless for the next three years, the irony is that i make things for people to put in their homes
- Mreeuh Chang (@MREEUH) December 6, 2013
You seem like a bundle of contradictions: a college dropout with a keen intellect, a twenty-something with an old soul, a daughter of Korean immigrants who's a cultural chameleon. (I'm sure I'm missing some.) How do you reconcile all that?
My flesh is firmed in one place while my blood came from the other side of the planet. Perhaps I've been imbued with this restless presentiment since birth, this impending curiosity to explore the geography of my anatomy, the anthropology of my psychology. Me, you, and everyone we know chose to reincarnate at a very special time under very special circumstances. These schemas you listed are crumbling, the educational system is crumbling, the age model for development is crumbling, archaic race concepts are crumbling, every infrastructure imaginable is crumbling. The world is round and if you go straight long enough you end up where you were. A relentless embarkment or two will prove that these extremes are not so extreme after all. How do I reconcile all of this? The arena of reconciliation resides in my personal relationships. If these seemingly polar sides of myself can coexist in harmony, then I can coexist in harmony with other people, and back to myself again. Once again, everything we need is in us.
my true gift is understanding, mastering & manipulating emotions. everything else is a derivative of that.
- Mreeuh Chang (@MREEUH) September 12, 2013
What do you do when you're not actively thinking?
Actively dreaming in my sleep.
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