By Contributing Writer Nicole O’Connell
This article has been edited for clarity. 11.13.19 The Artist-in-Residence position is open to all, it just so happens that multiple individuals from Portland State have taken on the position.
The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth has a new Artist in Residence. Xi Jie Ng, who goes by Salty, arrived on campus in mid-October.
Originally from Singapore, Salty moved to Oregon three years ago to attend graduate school at Portland State University. She now has a Master of Fine Arts in art and social practice from that institution.
From her website, Salty’s work is described as exploring, “possibilities in the poetic, eccentric and infinite everyday. She makes collaborative encounters that are intimate, semi-fictional paradigms for the real and imagined lives of humans. This context-specific practice is concerned with presenting diverse perspectives, challenging dominant power structures in offbeat, humorous ways and facilitating the unexpected, often serendipitous results of working in a socially engaged manner. She sees this as a kind of activism that implicitly proposes a world in which she would like to live.”
Two of her latest projects have been The Inside Show and The Grandma Reporter. For The Inside Show, Salty collaborated with inmates in a low-security prison to create a variety show. The Grandma Reporter is a publication on senior women’s culture; the latest issue focused on intimacy.
“The worlds that older women create are hidden universes,” Salty says. “There’s a lot there. Intimacy is such a taboo topic which is why I wanted to do it.”
Moving from Singapore to Portland, and now to Dartmouth is a big change. However, this is not Salty’s first time in the region; she passed through New England when she was twenty years old while travelling to New York.
“My glimpse of it was magical; wooden houses with mushrooms and fairies in the backyard,” she says. Her impression has changed a bit since coming to our concrete campus.
As we know, most people have opinions about UMass Dartmouth’s architecture.
“I was scared of it at first because of the word brutal, but then I found that the interiors were really magical and cozy. I had to go to the Foster building for HR stuff, and I just found it surprising and magical indoors. It is really surreal to see people doing HR work on the computers next to the concrete. I love it.”
The Artist in Residence position at UMass Dartmouth has been passed down to students in the art and social practice program at Portland State University. Though this only open to those who partake in this program it just so happens to be a coincidence they come from the same school. Salty was recommended to be the next Artist in Residence, and UMass Dartmouth reached out to her.
Considering Salty’s plans for projects while on campus, nothing was set in stone at the time of this interview, but she is meeting people around campus, exploring, and forming ideas. She thinks the first project she may be part of are some artist talks; in the future, she may teach a class.
Salty describes her residence here as, “a way for [the university’s] desires and my desires to meet and manifest.”
There are many groups on campus that Salty hopes to work and collaborate with including CVPA freshmen, the art students and faculty, and commuter students. She is also really excited about cross-department collaborations, being interested in gerontology, crime and justice studies, and the marine sciences.
Salty is also looking forward to connecting with the surrounding community, especially with senior centers and the Chinese community.
With all the discoveries of what UMass Dartmouth has to offer lying ahead of her, Salty knows her new location will bring new inspiration.
“My art is about responding to context,” she says. “I think that wherever I go, it will be different…I’m here to make art in response to the context of the space.”
Salty is currently living in one of the freshman dormitories, which she admits can be kind of creepy.
“It feels very odd, I suppose,” she says. “In Singapore I’m used to living in an intergenerational household. I’ve lived with my parents, siblings, and grandparents for my whole life until I moved to Portland where I lived alone but in a community of neighbors. Having neighbors is very important to me, and I strive to get to know my neighbors. Here, it feels a bit like I’m just floating through space myself in this apartment.”
Still, she has managed to make her new home cozy, saying, “I know it’s going to be my refuge, my sanctuary.”
One point of concern is that, being from the tropics, the cold weather can be uncomfortable for her. Furthermore, she has not lived through snow before.
“Bodies are so different; it’s incredible,” she says. “I’m thinking about how people survive winter physically and emotionally…I’m interested in how people can get through winter together and acknowledge the physical and emotional hardships, rather than those being things that are not talked about. I am going to have physical and emotional hardships of winter, so it could be a space where we all come together. I am anticipating seeing everything in white and how I will feel as a body moving through that space and living in that space. It’s going to be for months which blows my mind.”
Despite the oncoming winter, Salty is excited to learn from faculty and students here.
Considering advice she wants to give students, she shares her favorite quote which has helped her a lot. It is from Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
When asked if there was anything else she wanted to share with students, Salty posed a request: “I am curious about what people are eating for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. That shall be my final thing.”
If you want to learn more about Salty’s work, check out her website: saltythunder.net or her Instagram: saltythunder13