2023 Stephen Pace Artist in Residence and Past Fellow Maia Chao: Part I

Maia Chao had several projects brewing when she returned this past fall to the Fine Arts Work Center, where she’d previously held a 2017-2018 fellowship, as the 2023 Stephen Pace Artist in Residence. An interdisciplinary artist and educator who works in the media of video, performance, and social practice, Chao finds that collaboration is a vital part of her artistic process. She invited to Provincetown her collaborator, henry bradley, to embark on an eight-week project in the Hudson D. Walker Gallery.  

Describing change as inherent to her practice, particularly when making art that requires collaboration with people and institutions, Chao notes that the project she focused on during her residency was not the one she had originally planned. While she’d intended to edit footage from a video installation filmed in a Philadelphia dump with collaborator Fred Schmidt-Arenales, she found when October rolled around that the work was already well underway, having connected with a video editor who was interested in the project. Instead, she and bradley conceived of a new project centered around youth debate, a subculture that fascinated them. The collaboration met at the nexus of their shared curiosity around “language, performance, power, education, and pedagogy.” It was, Chao explains, “a perfect little ball of intersecting interests.” 

Chao and bradley began by traveling to Boston to film the Boston Debate League. They were curious to witness how teenagers consider and address global issues, and found it particularly meaningful to see debate happening in public rather than private schools. Climate change was a frequent topic of discussion for these high schoolers, and for Chao and bradley the urgency of these conversations was only amplified by being in Provincetown, where seasonal changes to the ocean landscape are mirrored by the town’s swelling and receding population. When Chao returned to Provincetown after several years away, the immediacy of climate change felt “present in this visceral way,” she says. Chao and bradley’s video installation, titled Inheritance, is still in progress. 

Chao works almost exclusively in collaboration with other artists. She believes the value of working closely with a partner is how “it holds a mirror up to what your assumptions are and the ways that you work that you might not be aware of, and all of the feelings and emotional terrain of moving through a creative process.” Chao finds moments to celebrate both the ideation and execution phases of her collaborations. Describing the process as both enlightening and humbling, she says: “I think what makes me believe in art-making isn’t always the product, because you never know how good it’s going to be—or what it’s going to be—and you have to kind of be okay with that. But at least when working collaboratively I have so much faith in the value of that process, whether or not anything visible comes out of it.” Chao learned from bradley’s film background and research-based approach while they worked together on Inheritance. She notes that different working styles can lead to the occasional butting of heads, but that more often the attempt at bridging those gaps is worthwhile and instructive. “It’s therapy-adjacent,” she jokes. 

Now that her time at FAWC has concluded, Chao is looking forward to next projects, which include serving as Public Artist in Residence with the Times Square Alliance, as well as developing a commission for the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden’s 50th Anniversary. The FAWC community is excited to follow her wherever her career goes next, and is especially interested in the final version of Inheritance, the work she and bradley undertook while in residence this past fall. 

For past Visual Arts Fellows who are interested in returning to the Work Center, please note that we are currently open for applications for the 2024 Stephen Pace Residency; the application window will close on April 5th. Apply here. The residency is supported by the Stephen and Palmina Pace Foundation, whose mission is to perpetuate the artistic legacy of Stephen Pace and to promote art as a cultural necessity through the support of working artists and educational programs.

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