Ting Cheng, born in Taipei, is an artist whose work is a delicate fusion of graphic design, photography, styling and installation art. Ting has established her unique style by using unexpected material, and always seems to be able to put a smile on the viewer’s face.
In her latest project What’s Up Plant?, Ting uses her iconic photographs of plants and juxtaposes them with a brand new series of sculptures, demonstrating her enthusiasm for all things plant-related. Ting reinvents the world around her into something surreal but at the same time honest. Through a personal interpretation of her environment, she interacts with these plants and shows them her love in a witty and humorous way. Neocha recently spoke with Ting about the inspirations behind her work as well as her latest projects.
Neocha: Photography is your main means of artistic expression. How did you get started with the medium?
Ting Cheng: I was a fine arts student at the Taipei National University of the Arts, where everyone had their own studios. But I didn’t specialize in illustration, so I didn’t have one. Without a workspace of my own, I had to come up with some other ways to create – methods that didn’t involve having a fixed space. That led to me taking pictures. I would often go out, and when I came across an interesting space, I would find ways to physically interact with the space. In the beginning, my camera was only a tool to document my daily life. I would hand the camera to whomever I was spending time with. I used an Instamatic camera and film that I bought from a flea market; this resulted in most of my photos from around that time being blurry and out of focus.
At the time, I didn’t feel like I was creating anything. I just thought it was fun. After a while, I began accumulating a lot of photos. I only started using a professional-grade digital camera when I came to London and began studying photography. For me, photography is a good way of turning my ideas into something real.
鄭婷：我大學的時候在台北藝術大學念美術系，大家都有自己的工作室。因為我沒有專門在畫畫，所以我沒有畫室，沒有一個自己的空間。所以我想找一個方式我可以創作，又不需要在一個固定的空間，所以我開始拍照。如果出去玩看到有趣的空間，我就會用的身體和環境做互動。一開始相機只是記錄的方法，如果有誰在我身邊就把相機交給他。我用傻瓜機和膠片 — 很爛的從跳蚤市場裡買的相機，所以那時很多照片都是糊的。
Neocha: Your work incorporates photography, graphic design, design styling, and installation art. How did you become interested in all these different mediums?
Ting Cheng: I’m not a storyteller and my mind doesn’t work in a linear fashion. All of my work tends to be quite spontaneous. I have lots of smaller ideas, and I string these together into a bigger concept. Basically, I combine these separate elements together into something more coherent.
I feel like everything is a form of arrangements, such as graphic design and styling. Whether it’s flat or three-dimensional, it’s still arrangements. Medium to medium; people and objects; combining colors; life, death, and everything in between – all of these things involve different forms of arranging things. When I first started to take pictures, everything was on computer monitors. Transferring it from camera to a computer, it was all flat and two-dimensional. But when I’m shooting, I think three-dimensionally because of the environment. Afterwards though, it turns flat, so I have to use different spaces and try to make my work more multifaceted.
My work started focusing on styling while I was still in school, people had a lot more free time and could model for photos. The school was very supportive, and everyone was motivated to help you work on your projects. After graduating, all my friends have busier lives and it’s expensive to rent out a studio. So I started thinking of how I can go solo.
Now I’m thinking of doing short videos, but my content will still be similar to my previous work. The concept of styling will still be evident, and I will combine all of my work. Thinking linearly is difficult for me, but I welcome the challenge. I have to consider different aspects when it comes to videos; I have to think about sound and movement. The more things I have to take into consideration, the more room there is for me to play around. I think it’ll be fun.
Neocha: Can you tell us about the inspiration and process behind your new series What’s Up Plant? How did you start working with plants?
Ting Cheng: I don’t consider any of my work a part of a series. I make a lot of things, but they’re all different. I usually don’t start off with any plans. I just start doing it, and then I work on it some more. I am definitely interested in creating a series, but I feel like my work are all quite different from one another. The one thing they all have in common is the playfulness. It just happens that I’m interested in plants right now. Whenever I go a new place, I want to do things that will allow me to interact with the environment as a whole. When I was in Taipei, there wasn’t a lot of space, and there wasn’t much greenery. After I moved to London for my studies, I felt there was a lot more plants and parks, even though it’s such a big city. Now I’m living on a boat, I see water everyday, and I’m more in touch with the changing seasons which in turn let me become more in touch with nature. So when I see these plants, I just want to spend time with them.
When you greet plants with a “what’s up?”, you’re no longer alienating them, but treating them like one of us. They are equals, if not even more important. The way you treat plants should be the same as how you treat animals: they require special attention and care. They respond differently depending on how much care you give to them. If you don’t understand their needs, then they will die. I have an illuminated board with a photo of a cactus wearing a sock. What I tried to convey through that is “I’ll help you put on socks, you’re sharp, I’ll protect you.” It’s just like relationships between people, everyone shows love in their own ways, but the good intentions might not benefit the other. Protection is a reoccurring theme in the majority of my work.
Neocha: 談談你最新創作《植物，你好嗎？》（What’s Up Plant?）的靈感和過程？為什麼會拿植物創作？
Neocha: Your work often utilizes strange materials. What’s your reasoning behind choosing these materials?
Ting Cheng: My ideas usually result from seeing the material. A lot of the things I use are purchased from thrift stores, and they tend to be common household items. I also like to go through flea markets for cheap things I can use. In What’s Up Plant?, there’s a cactus with a cable tie. One day I realized that they were the same! I don’t know how to describe the delight of that realization, it just felt right.
鄭婷：我通常都是看到材料才有想法，很多東西從都是從十元店買來的很日常的用品，從跳蚤市場上來的很便宜的材料。《植物，你好嗎？》（What’s Up Plant?）裡有一個仙人掌，上面有一個束線帶。有一天我發現“它們一模一樣！”那個驚喜不知道如何形容，就覺得”對了！“
Neocha: Your work contains a lot of humor. What do you consider to be your major influences behind that?
Ting Cheng: Both my parents were joyous and outgoing people. My father loved toys, and he didn’t really feel like a typical dad to me when I was growing up. He would collect toys that didn’t seem to have any value – I didn’t really understand it. Even now, I don’t really feel like I am creating, I still feel like I am just playing around. My lack of understanding is definitely an important aspect of my work. Sometimes when I place something on something else, I don’t really understand why I did it, but it just seems funny to me. So it’s really hard for me to define any meaning behind my work, what it represents. But when I put it all together, I think to myself, “What is this? It’s hilarious.” When I start working on something, I’ll ask people “Do you think this is funny?”, if not then I won’t continue.
I really like Pina Bausch, but it’s not because of her contemporary dance. I feel like she’s amazing at observing life, all the little details, and the relationships between people. She takes all the mundane things in life and amplifies them, and does it repeatedly. I find it very humorous.
I want my work to influence others to look closer at the things that people usually overlook – especially the smallest, most microscopic of things. I want people to smile. My work isn’t a statement or reflection of Taiwanese culture, I actually consider my art to be very simple. It just forces people to take a closer look at the things that’s always been in front of them from a different perspective.