Colleen Quen Interview
May 24, 2021
Couturière Colleen Quen (pictured left with her work, photograph by David Law) has collaborated with New Century Chamber Orchestra (NCCO) on a multimedia piece that debuts on Thursday, May 27 at 12pm.
The work opens NCCO's new film venture entitled the Resonance Series, which explores Bay Area artists from different disciplines alongside particular chamber music pieces.
Quen created a mixed media sculpture inspired by a performance of Debussy's Danse sacrée et Danse profane for harp and strings. Meredith Clark is the harp soloist and the ensemble includes violinists Iris Stone and Karen Shinozaki Sor; violist Elizabeth Prior; cellist Michelle Djokic; and bassist Anthony Manzo.
The delightful and effusive Quen spoke to me on the phone last week from her atelier in San Francisco.
How did you get involved with this project with New Century Chamber Orchestra?
They reached out to me to ask if I was interested in collaborating with the orchestra. One of the violinists, Iris Stone, has been a client of mine. I like to keep unfolding as an artist, so this was a perfect opportunity.
Tell me about your inspiration for the multimedia sculpture and how it came together.
(Executive Director) Richard Lonsdorf chose the Debussy for me. He just knew it was right for me, it is romantic and French, both of which I love. I create through paper first, and for this I put together the 90-piece sculptural couture creation in about 2 days. I went into the composer's world, cutting out shapes spontaneously. It was very meditative, translating the notes onto the dress form.
For the filming, I painted the paper pattern as the musicians played Danse sacrée et Danse profane. It felt like the musicians were wrapping their love around me and it was very healing. We've all been starved for togetherness in this pandemic, I feel.
How have you coped with the pandemic?
Covid has made an impact on me. I felt so suppressed as an artist, since my medium is human beings. I didn't design for about 6 months and all of my projects stopped, though I have continued teaching through Zoom. NCCO awakened me, the collaboration was a gift that I'm so grateful for.
I'm a fourth generation Chinese American from the Bay Area, so I was caught off-guard by the upsurge of hate crimes against Asians. Covid has made us so fearful of each other and all the more so for our Asian elders.
Based on your Instagram it looks like you've spent a lot of time hanging out with your super cute French bulldog Libai. Is he named after the poet?
Yes! My Frenchie has a Chinese name, it's true.