Mimi Phan is an artist and filmmaker based in Los Angeles. We first met her a few years ago when we commissioned her to create a film for the Elysian Valley Arts Collective entitled "Our River", which upon completion, was screened at the 2016 Frogtown Artwalk.
Mimi also created an installation she called Nhà : a house, a home, a family, that included art pieces and video for the 2018 Frogtown Artwalk. We caught up with Mimi to see what she's been up to and ask her a few questions about her art and experience as a filmmaker and visual artist.
Tell us about your background as a creator, filmmaker and artist.
I have a strong volition that when you are drawn to something, the universe has a way of directing you to that. For me, that was art. When I was in high school, I spent my last two years focusing on art. I was very lucky to be supported in that way from my high school teacher and dear friend Deb, and I gained local recognition for my work. However, when I headed to college at UCLA, I received the impression from the culture around me that I wouldn’t be able to make a career out of being an artist, so I entered college with an undeclared major, unsure of what I was going to do. My first job ended up being at the School of Theater, Film, and Television, of which previously I hadn’t even known existed. A co-worker recommended a class, and my teaching assistant was the first person to tell me that I should apply for film school. I have always found it so fascinating that despite my attempts to find something more culturally suitable for a financial future in a capitalist society, I have always found myself drawn to the arts. I was fortunate that in this instance, I gained another medium in which to tell my stories, my thoughts, and my impressions of the world around me. I’ve been able to make a living off of working in a creative field, learned from others, gained more stories, and I was provided the ability to continue my own art as well as helping others share theirs. I have been incredibly lucky.
I'm told you are in the IATSE Local 600. How did you come to join the union?
I joined IATSE Local 600 as a 2nd Camera Assistant shortly after my graduation from college. I saved money for four years and put it into a post college fund, and used most of that for my deposit to get into the union. I heard about how important it was to join from people I knew working in the business, and so I used nearly all of it to join. It was one of the best choices I’ve made, as I have been incredibly fortunate to be where I am career-wise in the time frame that I’ve been in it. I wouldn’t have been able to achieve any of this without the advice, help, and support of all of my colleagues that I’ve met throughout the past six years of being in the industry. I am incredibly indebted to their hard work and for graciously taking me along the ride with them.
How have you spent your time during the Covid-19 pandemic shut down and period of self-quarantine?
I’ve spent most of my self-quarantine time practicing self care. For me, that’s a lot of therapy, plants, reading, maintaining my closest relationships (friends and family), exercising via walking, yoga or workout videos. Especially now that it’s been five months into the pandemic, I think it is one of the best decisions I’ve made during this time. Working in freelance, I was already partially prepared for the emotional waves that comes with an unknown work future. However, I don’t think that any pre-introduction into an uncertain work and financial future can quite prepare you emotionally for what we are experiencing right now. I think that as much as we are able to ground ourselves into what makes us feel good as individuals, what keeps us connected and experiencing joy with the small pleasures in life, the more apt we are to deal with this uncertain future.
The I Ching says, “Then, in connection with the course of the day and the year, we are shown how past and future flow into each other, how contraction and expansion are the two movements through which the past prepares the future and the future unfolds the past".
I believe that this self-work, in which I have been teaching myself to pay attention to my physical and emotional reactions, has given me the ability to give myself a pass in these uncertain times, and to be especially sympathetic to those around me. I cannot be hard on myself for not meeting a career goal, when the entire world is shut down. In some ways, it has allowed me to relieve myself of the many social pressures that come with every day normal living. I’ve read more than I’ve had in a long while. I’ve finally been able to shed my perfectionistic tendencies and have developed a new perspective for my art. I’ve been teaching myself to relish this slowing of time and expectations because no other time have we been able to slow down for a bit and think about the things we really value in our lives.
You have worked with the Elysian Valley Arts Collective in a few different capacities; the Frogtown Artwalk and making the commissioned film "Our River".
Tell us about those experiences and how you came to participate in these projects.
I am continuously amazed at how seemingly random events are not so random at all. When I graduated from college, a hygienist from my home town of Sacramento moved to Los Angeles to a new office. I started going to this new dentist, and immediately became fast friends with the incredibly spunky, sweet, and thoughtful receptionist Diana. A year later when I was looking for a place to move, she immediately told me that I needed to meet one of the clients of the office, who lived near the neighborhood she grew up in. That person was Allen Anderson. In my search to find a new place to call home, Diana said that Allen would take care of me. I have to say that Diana has a way about her, and I am in no way surprised that her predictions have been incredibly spot on even four years later.
After meeting EVAC Founders Allen Anderson and Tracy Stone, they discovered that I worked in the film industry and commissioned me to create the “Our River" documentary for the 2016 Frogtown Art Walk. It was an honor to be asked, and I found myself falling more in love with the neighborhood I was living in as I learned more about the history of Elysian Valley, the people in it, and their relationship to the Los Angeles River. Not only was it incredible to have the documentary play at the Frogtown Art Walk, but we also screened our film at the New Filmmakers Los Angeles Film Festival, San Pedro Film Festival, and at Through These Lenses: A Glimpse Into the Diverse Communities of Los Angeles.
After the 2016 Frogtown Art Walk, I found myself exploring the meaning of my Vietnamese-American identity and the story of my parent’s escape from Viet Nam to America. This culminated into my immersive, experiential installation nhà : a house, a home, a family, in which the audience joins me through a journey of self-discovery as I revisit the path of my parent's escape from Communist Viet Nam to the United States, explore the intricacies of Buddhism mixed with Vietnamese culture through my paternal grandmother's funeral, and allowed them to participate in the various ways my parents have brought both identities into one home in the United States. It was very special to me to exhibit something so personal to me in Elysian Valley because this was a place I felt very close to because of the people I was honored to meet, the rich history of the area, and the stories of those living in the community.
I am forever grateful for my producing partner at studio black Tristan Valencia, whose encouragement and support told me that my story deserved to be told, and to Tracy Stone and Allen Anderson at the EVAC, who graciously gave me a space to tell my story for the first time.
Video Link: nhà - a house, a home, a family
What are you currently working on? Any upcoming projects or inspiration for the future?
My exploration of my Vietnamese-American identity is ongoing. I continuously find myself questioning how far out the roots of an individual’s decision-making extends. This dives into the questioning of the impacts of our country’s decision making and creation, and how that has impacted other countries on a global scale; the authors of our history books; the infrastructure in which we live and function; the economic barriers often created for or against certain individuals; and the future social, economic, and cultural contraction and expansion we will inevitably face. These result in a series of artwork from drawings, videos, to collages, that aim to debunk the history taught to our children and to ourselves over many years. Together, I hope that my collection of work will inspire others to learn more about themselves, their family, their history, and the role that they’ve played in the history of our world.
Using graphite, I’ve been working on this self portrait for about three years. It is a photograph taken of me when I was in a transitory phase, and during a time I was heavily working on my installation about my family.
You can find out more about Mimi Phan on her website: http://www.mimitphan.com
About the Author
Michelene Cherie is a Production Manager and Content Curator for The Elysian Valley Arts Collective. She works with non-profits, animal advocacy organizations and owns a boutique marketing and event company - Cherie Creative Company. In her free time, Michelene volunteers for several cat rescues in Los Angeles. More info at: www.cheriecreativecompany.com