Artist of the Week: Celebrate U with Lien Fan Shen

Artist of the Week: Celebrate U with Lien Fan Shen

By Haley Oliphant, Editor-in-Chief

On April 5, the U hosted  “Celebrate U: A Showcase of Extraordinary Faculty Achievements.” An event that spotlighted professional achievements of various faculty members at the University of Utah in 2016. Honorees included book authors, creators of a realized creative work, an excellence in commercializing research or those selected to represent the top research within their respective college.

This year’s line-up for creative works was remarkable. Carol Sogard published Chew This, a creative magazine dedicated to raising awareness of food consumption waste. Miguel Chuaqui and Steven Roens were celebrated for their individual compositions and intellectual albums. Chuaqui presented “Confabulario”, a collection of works for small chamber and solo instruments. While Roens’ “Specific Gravity” showcased his own unique style of composition through the blend of soprano voice and various instruments. Donn Schaefer noticed a lack of trombone repertoire and promptly delivered two etude books for trombonists. While each candidate was to be celebrated in this event, one particular project stood out among the rest: Lien Fan Shen’s short documentary about lesbian women in Taiwan.

Shen is an associate professor in the Film and Media Arts Department at the U. She began her studies at the National Cheng-chi University in Taiwan, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in urban policy and planning. Her graduate degree in computer art was then completed at the School of Visual Art in New York. She received her Ph.D in art education at Ohio State University, where her project was on “the pleasure and politics of viewing Japanese anime.” Shen’s work includes manga, animation and digital arts, all of which have been showcased internationally. She has received several grants through the U as well as other outside resources to fund her creative research. She has also won several awards, including Best Romantic Comedy in Taiwan for her manga “Clair de Lune 1-2” and the Silver Award of Digital Animation for her work on “The Buddha.”

Shen’s Celebrate U project is titled “Seeing Through the Eyes of Crocodiles.” It’s an animated documentary exploring the sexuality, pleasure and views of female masculinity in Taiwan. The focus of this project is on “T” (a term that refers to masculine lesbians in Taiwan), and the country’s cultural views surrounding similar topics. “Seeing Through the Eyes of Crocodiles” was originally screened at the Beijing Queer Film Festival in 2015 and went on to win Best Editing in the ShanghaiPRIDE Film Festival in 2016.

Though this project has been in the works for over five years, the inspiration behind it dates back to Shen’s college years. As an undergraduate at National Cheng-chi University in Taiwan, she noticed a negative stigma surrounding lesbian culture in Taiwan.

“The discourse of lesbian identities T (similar with butch lesbian in the U.S) and Po (similar with femme lesbian in the U.S.) has been around in Taiwan since the 1990” Shen explained, “when there was a feminist backlash against ‘female masculinity’ and ‘mimicking heterosexual relationships’ […] [I] heard a lot of lesbian friends talking about this T and Po culture negatively. However, I was always interested in female masculinity and started studying theories about it after I came to the U.S. for my graduate degrees. Since then I have always wanted to create a piece about female masculinity in Taiwan that is informed by queer theory.”

Animation is Shen’s medium of choice. She believes the art of animation is its ability to exist between reality and fantasy, forcing viewers to “see the fabrication of reality in images.” Shen is able to convey the desires and perspectives of “T”s through this artistic interpretation. The animation also allows her to unveil the truths behind “T” in a meaningful way.

The project’s unique title was inspired by the novel, “Notes of a Crocodile” (1994) written by Taiwanese lesbian author Miaojin Qiu. Qiu uses the image of a crocodile to represent the lesbian identity, but Shen’s interpretation was a little different. Rather than using “crocodile” to represent the entirety of lesbian identity, she sees the crocodile as specific to “T” who “encounter struggles of their sexual pleasure and masculine tendency on a daily basis.”

“I use this term and try to present their views,” Shen said. “However, media arts are only able to accomplish certain levels of representation. Thus the title is ‘Seeing Through the Eyes of Crocodiles’.”

Even with this huge accomplishment under her belt, Shen is not slowing down. Her next project is set to tackle the issues surrounding Utah’s polluted landscapes. She plans to “use 3D printing technology to produce the ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock print) style landscape images that depict various environmental issues in Utah.”

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