“Lake Lonely”

Time, Passing Through and Around

An interview with the artist Sichong Xie
during the Covid19 pandemic
April, 2020, in Los Angeles, CA

vn-4: Hi Sichong, Thanks for participating in this interview.

Sichong: Thank you for inviting me.

vn-4: Let’s start the discussion about your video and performance project: Lake Lonely.  How did you come up with the title? It sounds poetic and personal.

Sichong: Lake Lonely is not a fictitious title, it is a real lake near the Yaddo Residency in Sarasota Springs, New York.

vn-4: The work is a video of a solo performance you did riding a bicycle with a parachute attached to the rear fender. The bicycle is white, the parachute is white and you’re dressed in white. You are alone on the path, except for the presence of the camera.  It is a durational work, starting in the morning and ending in the evening of a single day. The performance involves you riding the bicycle around the grounds of the lake without stopping.  The camera acts as your only visual witness, rendering us as invisible viewers. The soundtrack is a first-person narration of your inner thoughts and experience, a silent voice.

What’s the significance and intention behind using white as the predominant color. Does it have an affinity with memory?

Sichong: I consider all the wardrobes very carefully in my performance practice. The white garment was also used in another project I performed with Hadrien Gerenton, The Boat Has Sailed, Hasn’t It? in 2018 at the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in Maine.

I sewed the parachute by hand based on the template of a military parachute from WWII. The color white represents a “non-color” for me. Of course, WWII is a historical event—however it’s a past that I don’t have an actual memory of.

vn-4: Does white function then as an absence of memory?

Sichong: I come from a painting background and when I first encountered art in Xi’an, China, I would always draw or paint starting with a white canvas—a pure ground.

vn-4: Was it your intention, to link loneliness with the past?

Sichong: In the last two years, this project sat in my head for a long time. When I arrived at Yaddo, I had a feeling that this is the place I could finally produce the work. So, the title “Lake Lonely” came to me after the idea for the parachute and floating.  The sense of floating and nomadic living is something I feel most of the time as an artist. I sometimes need an isolated time and space to make work. At the same time, isolation brings about a sense of loneliness and nostalgia for a distant home and lost memories. In my work, I try to bring lost memories and fixed realities together.

vn-4: This brings to mind the idea of “sight/site”—a term used by Rebecca Schneider in her book, The Explicit Body in Performance [1] and also Robert Smithson’s idea of “site and non-site.” [2]

The viewer “sights” you in a video performing with the bicycle and parachute in a specific “site” that is removed from the present.  We can say, the work resides within a spatial and temporal paradox. Your body is both absent and present and the lake site is “sighted” by the recording camera—rendering it a non-site.

Sichong: I’m very interested in Smithson’s idea of “site and non-site.”  In Lake Lonely, a stationary camera tracks me riding along on the path searching for the lake. Over and over, I ride from sunrise to sunset pulling the handmade white parachute behind the bicycle. The riding gesture acts as an effortless and physical emotion, reacting to the local political issue that the lake has no public access.

The white garment refers to the absent body and the sensation of solitude that every artist experiences in their private studio. The act of searching for “Lake Lonely” becomes a metaphor or platform allowing for the whole public and private narrative to expand.

vn-4: The work also involves time and passage. Is it a temporal migration?

Sichong: Time and site specificity are very essential to this project.

I wanted the duration of the video to go from daytime to nighttime, a full day of me traveling around the lake like a satellite.

What do you mean by temporal migration?

vn-4: It appears like you’re documenting your own experience of being displaced in time. It reminds me of the Louise Bourgeois quote, “I no longer travel in space but only in time.”

I’m using the word “migration” as a process of moving through time. Your work The Boat Has Sailed, Hasn’t It? is also about traveling through time, as you float, barely moving—almost imperceptibly on the lake in Skowhegan. What is the connection between your body, the consideration of place and the action of moving through an indeterminate time?

Sichong: Both Lake Lonely and The Boat Has Sailed, Hasn’t It?” represents a state of mind—I’m looking for a way to be in time.

Being in such a natural non-industrial urban area like Skowhegan and Yaddo, brings me to a hyper-awareness of active looking within the present. “Migration” is a complex word for me to use as an artist holding a temporary artist visa in the US. The use of duration and repetitive gestures requires patience to see the whole work in real time. The repetition in durational work creates an interesting state of boredom.

vn-4: Whenever I travel, I feel momentarily displaced. I tend to lose myself and by “migrating” around a foreign city or landscape I slowly find myself again and the unfamiliar becomes familiar. I regain my ground by moving within the present. Does this happen to you?

Sichong: Yes, especially in a different culture surrounded by different language speakers.

vn-4: Do you see your hybrid practice of performance, sculpture and video as a way of “re-locating” yourself? Does making work ground you, a way of making yourself present through absence?

Sichong: My curiosity has always brought me to new sites and new materials. The hybrid practice between performance, sculpture and video is a meditative practice, a way for me to combine my mind and body together through a time-based medium.

There is an abstract way of storytelling that resides behind each project. I relocate myself in this video as a persona searching for Lake Lonely.

vn-4: Frederick Wiseman  would call his films, “reality fictions.” Does the parachute act as a device for a “safe landing” ?

Sichong: That’s an interesting question. Parachuting acts as a safe landing device for the military. Also, the parachute functions as a way of reducing the speed of a race car.

It’s a push and pull relationship, similar to the gesture and choreography in the video. The gravity holds me and the bicycle down, but the wind through biking hard lifts me into the air.

I want to share an Emily Dickinson poem with you. It speaks so much about solitude and isolation. It also speaks to the current moment of covid19.

The Loneliness One dare not sound—
And would as soon surmise
As in its Grave go plumbing
To ascertain the size—

The Loneliness whose worst alarm
Is lest itself should see—
And perish from before itself
For just a scrutiny—

The Horror not to be surveyed—
But skirted in the Dark—
With Consciousness suspended—
And Being under Lock—

I fear me this—is Loneliness—
The Maker of the soul
Its Caverns and its Corridors
Illuminate—or seal—

The title is, “The Loneliness One dare not sound”.

vn-4: Thanks Sichong!

Sichong: Thank you again for inviting me to do the interview.

vn-4: Safe journeys on your future paths!

Sichong: You too. I hope our boat can sail again soon.


[1] Schneider, Rebecca The Explicit Body in Performance New York: Routledge, 1997. ISBN 0-415-09025-3; p. viii

[2] Smithson, Robert A Provisional Theory of Nonsites: https://holtsmithsonfoundation.org/provisional-theory-nonsites