emily brandt: I want to acknowledge that you intended to record more of your cousin and his bees this spring, but in a Temp.Files meeting you shared that the bees unfortunately didn’t make it through the winter. How has your initial thinking about the bees informed the way that you filmed the real estate office?

Nung-Hsin Hu: It happened that during my [Temp.Files] production month, I would be in Taiwan, so I wanted to make something that is specific about my home country and my home town. My plan was to continue to document the beehive and to observe its progress. And I found this interesting parallel action–my cousin was building a beehive, the home of bees, in our original family home (extended family), and my childhood home had become a real estate agents’ office, where they reshape the value and definition of “home” in Taiwan.

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2022, Still from Amateur Dweller

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2022, Still from Amateur Dweller

eb: In describing your other work, you’ve named a tension between natural and social environments. I’ve been thinking about language and voice in your work. In The Texture of Home, termites ate some of your old writings and so had embodied your language, and then you used their wings in the art piece that you made. In Sponge Mushroom sculptures, you fed text to sponge mushrooms! And in “Amateur Dweller,” the world of bees is being infused with human language and voice. Can you speak a little about this form of literacy, of juxtaposing human language with the natural world?

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2019-2022, Sponge Mushrooms

NH: Yes, it was such a traumatizing event for me to have the termite nest in my room! But then, all of  the process and documenting, collecting of the wings, and reading about the termites–made me feel like I’m getting into their world. And then I did Memorable Text Balls Recipe to create a fictional recipe for termites to eat and build a brainlike termite nest that can help remember all the forgotten memories. I feel like this brought me into another world, an insect’s world. I also found out how the termites actually have a symbiotic relationship with mushrooms, which happen to be my other project’s main material. The termites cultivate a fungus garden in their colony, and mushrooms provide various enzymes for the termite to digest the wood. I now have more sympathy because I understand their world better. They are just another species trying to survive, trying to have a place to live. It just so happened to be in my room where I keep all my diaries. And I feel this connection: in the end they also lost their home, because a termite master came to my home, and took their home away. I too feel the sense of losing and the urge of rebuilding home.

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2021, Memorable Text Balls Recipe

NH: The termites have existed in the world much longer than we have, and then we go and build our home above their home. Of course they are moving up towards our house, that’s a way to survive.

In contrast, While my cousin was talking about bees, I found his to be  a very different perspective. He’s trying to tell me how human beings use bees to make what humans want. That perspective interests me. We basically train bees to work. However, we also co-exist.

eb: There’s an interesting connection between the bees and the real estate office. While both are about finding or making homes, there’s also the monetizing of space. You’ve talked before about attempting to reveal “invisible status” through your work. I’m wondering where you feel that happening in this video, and if it’s connected to capital.

NH: You definitely bring up a very important perspective about the real estate office. That’s why I also tried to include a little bit of the conversation I recorded. When they are talking about prices of houses, you know, they make sure they close the door. But I want to make it very subtle, because people can put so much context into that office: the concept of home in both ways, good and bad. And the way my cousin was talking about how he tricked the bees to produce honey, actually is similar to what real estate is about, they trick you in a certain way to make your move. And then all the cubicles parallel the beehive, there are so many things you can relate.

eb: In your body of work, there’s such a willingness to lean into your subject and let things unfold. How do you cultivate that patience?

NH: To be honest, before I moved to LA, I had a full-time job. I didn’t have much time to do my own work. I usually created projects in a very short period of time. And then about three or four months after I moved to LA, Covid happened. My sense of time has changed. I saw myself in a different world. I have had my own time and speed to digest, reflect, and make projects since then. So, I’m like ten times slower than who I was in New York. Maybe that’s what you can sense. Also the subject matter of this video is about time itself, about the past, about memory. So I slowed down a lot to look into myself and to reflect.

eb: That shows through your work visually and also through the sound. I notice you amplify or exaggerate the atmospheric sound and create a lot of space for the impact of sound to come through. What’s the role of sound in “Amateur Dweller”?

NH: This particular video is the first time I have created such a documentary type of work. A lot of sound is just the diegetic, surrounding sound. During the conversation where my cousin builds the beehive we were surrounded by nature, so you can hear a lot of birds singing and such. It’s a pity you couldn’t really hear the bees flying (laughter). I originally wanted to get my mic closer but I’m still a little bit afraid of bees. My camera actually stayed a bit far, but used the zoom lens to get the footage. That’s why the sound of bees wasn’t caught so clearly. I feel that’s a very important sound. But I also found a lot of silent moments when you look at my cousin’s family, their traditional style. There’s not much going on day-to-day, but it’s so interesting from my perspective. They still burn the wood in the stove to cook the water, to boil chicken. So I feel this work actually is very quiet but loud. I not only want to document the action but also intend to archive their traditional lifestyle, because it might be gone any moment.. This is another thing I’ve been doing a lot via my projects, collecting and archiving. Keeping the memory.

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2022, Still from Amateur Dweller

eb: That connects to another recurring motif in your work: nostalgia. “Amateur Dweller” ends in singing, which is interesting.

NH: That’s the end of that day. My cousin said, “Oh let’s sing karaoke!” I asked, “Where, which room?” (laughs) and then he just brought out the microphone and the speakers, and then my mom also sang a song. I just realized that I have missed so much of my family’s daily routine. And that’s the one shot where you can see a more clear look of the house.. Otherwise, there are  all very close shots, so I want that to be the end. There are so few shots towards the end―people walking out, and then how the kitchen looks, how they dry their clothes. I know these moments that look like a very normal daily life for them are actually really precious. And I also don’t want to be nostalgic. Actually, I feel after the past two, three years when I’ve been working on the subjects of time and memory, I found that I’ve been moving on. Of course, I’ve been going through this process of mourning and letting go, and right now I have an open mind and am ready to start thinking about rebuilding my home. I feel like with singing, you share your voice with the surroundings. I find it a very generous gesture. That’s how this kind of countryside lifestyle is.

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2022, Still from Amateur Dweller

eb: You have such a tenderness for this family home. And you’ve also lived and made work all over the world: LA, New York City, the Arctic and Iceland and Berlin and other places too. How has your experience living and making art internationally impacted where you see your own home? Do you still feel that your family home in Taiwan is home to you?

NH: Before I lost my home, the childhood home that’s now the real estate agency, I felt like I had a base. I have known who I am since I was born. I feel like that home grounded me, so I could go far.

eb: That’s beautiful.

NH: Every time I’m tired or I need some energy, that’s always been a place I could go, and that’s home— that’s the room, that’s the place I have kept all the memories from the beginning of my life. And then once I lost it, I started to question all my journeys. That’s where the book Three Suns came from, which is about three slices of sun that I collected from the Arctic Circle, Taiwan and Iceland. I start to question why I even go so far north, all the way to the Arctic Circle while my grandma is losing her memory. The last two years of her life, I wasn’t able to make it home because I was very occupied with my job and projects. And the Arctic Circle trip coincides with almost the last chapter of her life. So, while I’m traveling, she’s losing her memory.

I realize that I’m a person who is very driven to the unknown. If I’m surrounded by things I’m very familiar with all the time, I lose the power of growing or searching. Towards the end of the book, I realized that although it’s a big loss for me, losing this important home, as a person I still need a faraway place to dream about.

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2022, Still from Amateur Dweller

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2022, Still from Amateur Dweller

eb: I love the different perspectives and different distances from your subjects. Why did you choose the particular sequence of events?

NH: It’s how that day goes. I re-edited a little bit, so you will end back to the beehive, while my cousin was talking about how he has to maintain the beehive every week, otherwise the bees will fly away and move out. I want it to end there (laughs). But you know I really want to continue  documenting how he rebuilt the beehive at our family home. Right now the weather is still horrible. I know bees don’t like rain. And, it’s been raining in Taiwan since I’ve been back. It’s just crazy compared with the weather in LA. I want to have more conversations with him. It might turn into a much bigger piece.

Nung-Hsin Hu, 2022, Still from Amateur Dweller

eb: How has your experience with Temp.Files been?

NH: I feel this is a really great opportunity for me to work on this material that I filmed a year ago. I’m back here in Taiwan again and I feel more connected to the content and ready to make a piece for the purpose of showing with Temp.Files. It’s great to have a perspective from people who are not from my culture, to see what makes sense for them and what doesn’t. It might be something different from a Taiwanese perspective.

eb: The last decade has been really intense for the Taiwanese real estate market. There’s a lot of big money to be made for extraordinarily wealthy people and not a lot of access to good housing for everyone else.

NH: Definitely. Then, on the other hand, my cousin being a beekeeper, I feel is so interesting. Talking about bees has been a very popular topic, even for people living in New York. The lack of this connection to the land might cause such an expensive real estate market in the big cities. The twelve people in my childhood home bought nine different houses, separately! Everybody wants a modern apartment, not the old-school structure of one family house. That’s how this concept of home is in most people’s minds. When people in Taiwan see the beekeeper, they will worry about him getting stung by bees, rather than how that’s actually good for the environment. That’s why this cousin and I have a strong connection. We care about something, maybe no one really sees the value in.

-April 2022

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