Tender Presence | Vivian Chiu

Vivian Chiu (she/her) was born in Los Angeles and emigrated to Hong Kong at age three. Her interests in creating objects and the visual arts led her to attend the Rhode Island School of Design (BFA ’11 Furniture Design) and Columbia University (MFA ’19 Sculpture). With an aptitude for problem-solving, Vivian creates optical sculptures out of materials such as wood and photography that attempt to formalize coincidental happenings in repetitive labor-intensive processes. 

Vivian has attended residencies such as Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, Sculpture Space, Haystack Mountain School, the Anderson Ranch Arts Center, and the Center for Art in Wood. She was awarded a 2020 NYSCA/NYFA Artist Fellowship in Craft/Sculpture and was a Distinguished Fellow at the Penland School of Crafts in 2022. She is currently part of the 2022 American Craft Council Emerging Artists Cohort. Vivian is currently teaching in the Craft/Material Studies program at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Self VI (Burr)
Oak, vinyl, plywood, packing blanket
40H x 29W x 29D inches


My work explores ideas of visibility/invisibility in relation to my identity as a queer Asian woman. Drawing inspiration from traditional woodworking techniques, I create large-scale wood sculptures through continuous processes of deconstruction and reconstruction. Optical works are guided by queer and feminist theory and engage the viewer through ideas of perception, disorientation, and camouflage. My recent work combines self-portraiture with niche craft techniques in wood and reimagines processes such as toy making, stack lamination, and split-turning. These labor-intensive methods are not only a catharsis to alleviate psychological narratives; they also pay a conscious homage to my family’s history and toils in factory work. 

Growing up in pre-Handover Hong Kong and now living in America, I am aware of the conflicts and commonalities of Eastern and Western cultures – a constant source of concern and inspiration in my sculptural practice. I investigate the relationship and tension between desired individual freedoms, such as outspoken queerness, and conservative Chinese cultural values such as filial piety. My practice builds upon ideas of racial embodiment and Orientalism, particularly that of the Asian woman, and examines the mechanics of identity formation through wood and portraiture. My work resides within art, craft, and design contexts, inhabiting a nexus of material and cultural intersectionality. 

Self V (Burr)
Poplar, vinyl, oak pedestal
66H x 17W x 17D inches

Poplar, braided cord
.75H x 96W x 96D inches

Ash, plexiglass pedestal
56H x 7W x 7D inches

gallery@penland.org   |   828.765.6211   |   Tuesday – Saturday  11:00 AM – 5:00 PM