Candy Chang visited Drexel University April 30 as the special guest lecturer for the College of Arts and Sciences fifth annual distinguished lecture series. Chang is a well-known urban artist who is recognized for her many artistic creations around college campuses. She contributed to the Drexel campus when she installed one of her famous “Before I Die” walls in fall 2014. Her topics during the lecture covered city development and ways citizens can affect the growth and changes in the places they live.
Chang is a Taiwanese-American who studied architecture and graphic design at the University of Michigan. Her talk focused on ways people living in the city are able to shape and influence the growth and developments of the area. She referenced gardener Joseph Paxton, who was responsible for growing the first giant lily pad and noticed that its structure made it capable of holding large amounts of weight. He later used the principle to design the Crystal Palace, a famous greenhouse in London. Chang celebrated this story because of Paxton’s openness of mind and encouraged that we try to do the same.
Chang’s talk not only focused on urban development but also on friendly advice toward the student body. She explained about the innate ability to create disciplines that are as small or as large as an individual wants them to be.
“There are many spaces between disciplines and no one says you can’t go outside the lines,” Chang said.
She continued by encouraging students to make their own disciplines out of the things that interest them. Her way, she stressed, was a very meandering path, having worked in various disciplines for a short period of time.
Chang’s other works include “I Wish This Was” stickers, which ask the participant what he or she would like to see an abandoned building become; a confession booth in Las Vegas, where people can write their most intimate secrets; a school classroom filled with balloons and an old desk, where visitors can contemplate the important lessons to learn; door signs that indicate what neighbors need and can borrow; as well as many other projects, which center on promoting self-reflection and community.
“My interest in art started at a young age,” Chang said. “The idea of the instability of the art world was daunting to my parents.”
She later decided to study architecture at the University of Michigan and eventually added graphic design because she wanted to have more control of her projects. She received a masters degree in urban planning from Columbia University. Chang was inspired to do so because she saw how large an effect community involvement could have. Some of her other projects include a set of flash cards, which illustrate tenants’ rights and a street vendors guide to their rights.
Much of the inspiration for her work often comes from questions she asks to herself. She poses questions to her neighbours or groups of people and then collects the answers. The inspiration for the “Before I Die” wall came from the loss of a loved one.
“I went through a long period of grief and depression. With time I felt gratitude for the time we had together, and I found clarity in my life by thinking about death so much,” Chang said. “I wanted to highlight the things that take precedence in life when one is faced with death and wanted those thing to be a reminder to us.”
Chang is also responsible for the development of an app called Neighborland. The app was a result of the “I Wish This Was” project. Having noticed how people would write on each other’s stickers and seeing the limitations of everything being on a sticker, she worked with her friends to create a tool that transcends public space into an online sphere.
“People have used Neighborland to create night markets and change city regulations,” Chang said.
Organizations have also used the app to ask questions of the people of the changes they want to see in their communities. The app is available nationwide.
Chang is now working with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program with the goal of installing a new piece in the fall near Broad Street. The project will be a device for philosophical reflection and will be her first permanent piece.