Embodying both a fluid grace and fierce intensity, each volume of Far-Near, which collates works across creative medias on the Asian diaspora, makes for a captivating read. Lulu Yao Gioiello, one of the publications Editors-in-Chief and its initial founder, has used Far-Near as a method of collecting, archiving and sharing experiences of Asian identity and belonging across borders. She reaches into many folds and clefts of experience, from Japan to Iran drawing out photographs, poetry, family recipes and more incredible examples of art which engages with diaspora and its effects. Today, we get the chance to speak with her about the process of creating each volume of Far-Near and her own personal experiences which have informed the genesis of this most important of productions.
Far-Near is currently in its third volume; to begin, could you perhaps describe the motivations for constructing this creative project? Where did it begin for you?
We’re actually working on the fourth one right now, with the third released in the beginning of last year! My identity, as for most people, is a work in progress since childhood. I think the motivation started there, just from physically being Asian and experiencing life from that viewpoint. I always felt like I wanted to understand more about the various cultures within Asia, which are so vast and diverse and make up 60% of the population and yet there is a very limited availability of lived and learned experiences depicted in Western and sometimes even parts of Eastern media. Reaching adulthood, I developed a career in advertising and media and it became even more apparent to me that there’s a huge gap and opportunity for Asian voices to be able to freely express themselves and be heard, without stereotypes, limitations or presumptions placed upon them.
I’d be interested to hear about your process for choosing a theme for each volume of Far-Near. So far, you’ve had taste/distaste, movement, and devotion as creative principles; I wonder how each theme is curated to speak to the wider intentions of the publication?
I have an ongoing list in one of my many notebooks of potential themes. They’re meant to be a little vague and open to interpretation. The best ones are less commonly used as themes for books and magazines, and are also broad enough that the artist can decipher it as they like–for instance, taste could be seen as aesthetic, food, or even as the opposite: distaste. I like that these themes can produce more questions than give answers, in some way, too. It’s up to the artist to interpret and translate into their work.
Each volume publishes such an amazing variety of content, from family recipes to individual histories, poetry and photography. What made you decide to make this a strong multi-disciplinary creative project?
I feel like a lot of what we see on Asian creativity and art is often pigeonholed and over-categorized, whereas I believe that cultures and disciplines are interconnected and each aspect of life influences the other. A family recipe tells so much more than how to make a tasty dish, just like a poem speaks not only about the individual writer but their environment as well. When you can see it all in one place, in one book, there’s a fluid cohesion that I think tells a bigger, more open-ended story about the people involved in its making.
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The project is also notable for extending conceptions of what constitutes ‘Asian’ past Western perceptions. The volumes include work by creatives from places such as Turkey and Armenia, and you note that the boundaries between the landmasses of Asia and Europe are largely artificial constructions. How do we begin to deconstruct some of these imagined boundaries between people, place and culture?
I think part of this is learning about people outside of our lived experience and seeing them at a more human level. I do think to a certain extent, when we consume their media, especially a wide range of it (books, films, poems, art, etc.) we can get closer to the similarities we have as humans, and be able to empathise more with their reality. Also being conscious of how we impose ideas of a person or a culture vs. witnessing what they choose to express, create and share with us. Having more of an open discourse is definitely a way to start.
Did any formative experiences of growing up in New York inform the innovative individual you are today, particularly in relation to your work on the Asian diaspora?
Definitely. I grew up without a very defined connection to my actual heritage, but spent a lot of my childhood in varied Asian diasporic communities. I grew up going to predominantly Indian and Filipino meditation and Korean Daoist gatherings every Sunday up unto adulthood. The diversity of the New York public school system also seamlessly involved me in lifestyles or cultural and social class upbringings outside of my own. Another experience that really affected me was studying abroad in Okinawa in high school. It opened my eyes to a world outside of just New York, and dynamics that felt totally different but welcome and familiar to my own desire for human connection.
You’ve spoken before about creative, artistic or otherwise cultural compositions acting as a process of "unlearning the dominant mode." How do you think that process works for people, speaking as a creative yourself?
I pulled the “inherent dominative mode” from Edward Said’s Orientalism. In it, he speaks about how we are all, specifically in the West but it can also be applied to the East, are raised to believe certain cultures or ways of being are the right or best way to be. In a lot of institutions and in the past, the dominant culture imposes their beliefs on the ones they believe to be the other, or lesser-than. They “learn” about the other culture without listening to them or allowing them to dictate their own story. With every interaction I have, book I read, or film I watch, I question my assumptions going into it and my reactions during and after that experience. I try to catch myself from making assumptions or imposing my own ideas onto the person or work. Same for creating something like this book series. I feel the more I question and challenge my initial ideas, thoughts or desires for it, the more I can catch myself falling back on generalisations.
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Considering this series of volumes is an attempt to subvert and challenge the stereotyped and often diluted perceptions of Asian identity that can be found in much western cultural discourse; in what ways can these reductive discourses change and adapt to represent Asian diversity in a more foundational manner? How would you like to see these dialogues improve?
I’d love to see Asian artists and people involved in Asian-related content put out by the West. I don’t think it’s ok anymore for a magazine to be about Japan, for instance and feature mostly European photographers, writers and models in a Japanese setting. I’d love to see Asian artists and creatives also involved in non-Asian-related content. We don’t need to only speak about our identity, just like Europeans don’t only talk about being European. Same goes for other minorities. I think the popularity of Squid Game, more Asian directors gaining notoriety and so on shows that there’s a demand for this, and that we’re capable of so many things. I’d also love for museums to categorise their work differently. Things like that.
You’ve described feeling like an ‘insider-outsider’ figure before, due to your Taiwanese-American heritage and the ambiguity that can arise from a dual cultural experience. Has working on Far-Near changed that feeling for you in any way, or been a centralising principle for your personal conceptions of heritage?
I think the insider-outsider feeling will always stay, just like it must for diasporic individuals or people who just think a little differently from the mainstream. Simultaneous to working on Far–Near, I’ve been working on connecting more to my family in Taiwan, which helps me feel a little more familiar. I also think speaking and learning from artists I work with for the book helps me realise there are like-minded individuals across really any culture and I feel at home with those people.
I’ve read before that answering a question on a favourite example of advice you’ve received, you responded, “Don’t be afraid to divert from your original path.” Have you felt you’ve taken that step off the ‘original path’ in your career? Or even, has Far-Near ever deviated from its initial roots?
I started out as a graphic designer and feel like I’ve made a few turns on my path, though I never really knew where I was going exactly anyway. Sometimes these things go in loops. I think my childhood dream to make book covers and I’ve always been an avid reader, so in some ways I’m living that dream even though I didn’t directly go after it. As far as Far–Near goes, I initially started it as a more submission-based free-for-all but have found it turning into a hybrid of submitted and commissioned work. I’m also considering expanding it further to incorporate North African artists as I feel as though there are overlap in this area of the world as well. The mission stays the same but the question of borders could be expanded.
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What’s the most rewarding experience of being the founder of Far-Near been for you?
Hearing people I’ve just met describe to me how they view the books or just realising that I’ve been able to create a platform I was looking for when I was younger is really rewarding.
I’d love to know what excites you the most about contemporary Asian culture and art? Could you talk to us about particular artists, movements or projects that personally inspire you?
I love independent filmmaking of today and from the older generations, I feel like they’re spaces where you can really see someone’s point of view. I’m super excited to see how young Chinese artists are responding to the changes in physical and political scenery in their country and abroad. I’m also very inspired to see how much more openly expressive Asian individuals inside and outside of Asia are being, how they’re incorporating inspiration from past artists and creatives, and that there’s some real demand for it. Whether the corporations and institutions like it or not, it’s at a point where we cannot be controlled anymore.
Where would you like to see Far-Near go in the future? Do you have a defined goal for the series you’d like to achieve?
If I had more time, resources and energy I’d love to eventually expand this to spaces specifically for younger generations and kids so they can grow up feeling seen and understood and that there are a whole lot of others out there just like them. If anyone’s interested in doing that feel free to hit me up!
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