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

Visual artist Maia Chao returned to Provincetown this past fall, six years after completing a First-year Fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center. As the 2023 Stephen Pace Artist in Residence, Chao spent eight weeks working in the Hudson D. Walker Gallery, not only realizing a new project with her collaborator, henry bradley, but also building community with the 2023-24 Fellowship class, whose arrival overlapped with Chao’s time in Provincetown.

Chao found the opportunity to cross-pollinate with artists working in different disciplines to be rewarding, echoing her previous experience at the Work Center. During her own Fellowship year, she began a friendship with the late poet April Freely, who was at the time a returning Second-year fellow. After the Fellows shared work with one another early in the fellowship season, Freely sent Chao a poem that touched on some of the same themes as had Chao’s artist talk. “It meant a lot to me that she was paying close attention to my work and reflecting back to me something within her field, a linguistic and structural approach to some of the things that I was talking about,” Chao says. This exchange marked the beginning of a friendship that would extend beyond Provincetown, which Chao describes as an “interweaving.” 

Chao counts among other mentors the artist Jane Fine, whose mid-career residency at FAWC overlapped with Chao and Freely’s fellowship year in 2018. Recalling how Fine’s arrival in the spring marked “an injection of new energy” for the Fellows who had spent a secluded winter together, Chao describes Fine as a fiery artist, always ready to have deep conversations. Chao appreciated then, as an emerging artist, her mentorship with an older, more established artist. 

This time around, Chao was in the position of a returning artist. As the Stephen Pace Artist in Residence, she and her collaborator, henry bradley, made time for studio visits with the Fellows, in addition to being present in an informal way with the community, and pursuing their collaborative practice. Her schedule was an act of “layering”—fitting dune walks, studio time, conversations with other artists, and activism all into the day—and she was inspired to see the Fellows’ different practices, whether they focused on making radio stations, mining archival material, or building large-scale paintings reminiscent of Where’s Waldo?

She describes the experience as mutually enriching, particularly because the cohort was able to connect over social issues they cared about, apart from their artistic practices. Chao cites planning activities around calls for a ceasefire in Palestine as one of the most meaningful aspects of the residency. She describes the feeling of dissonance this past fall, being “in a beautiful place making art but then feeling deeply disconnected and upset when reading the news.” In those moments Chao “appreciated having a community and coming together around it.”

Chao’s body of work, spanning many years, demonstrates her desire to connect with others. She frequently seeks out artistic collaborators and invites audience participation into her work, as with the long-running, socially engaged project, “Look at Art. Get Paid” (2015-2021) with Josephine Devanbu. Chao explains: “There can be a kind of loneliness to being an artist where you have to be the engine of everything. At its worst, it feels like you’re making things that you’re asking people to look at—making something that they didn’t ever ask for. It can just feel isolating, it can feel like what’s the point—on your darker days—being your own boss and your own cheerleader and your own administrator, applying for things while also trying to play in the studio. I think that is something I will always struggle with about being an artist and probably why I have a more socially engaged practice is that I don’t tend to want to be alone in a room by myself for hours on end like some artists do. I really value being able to be in the company of other artists and see how they work and just feel a sense of community and collective process and togetherness.” 

For past Visual Arts Fellows who are interested in returning to the Work Center, note that we are currently open for applications for the 2024 Stephen Pace Residency; please apply here. The application window will close on April 5th at 11:59 pm Eastern Time. 

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