When I moved to San Francisco in 2016, I often felt like an alien living in a strange land. I had left my home and tried to make something new. One day I took a trip to Angel Island and came upon the shuttered US Immigration Station. It had been a detention facility for those seeking a new life, but especially those from China. Some were detained for months, others years. I found Chinese poems carved into the hard wooden walls. Poems about sorrow, anger, and hope. For the first time I felt a connection with my home country since I moved here. The wall was like a miracle to me — infinite space in a sad place. Who were they trying to communicate with? Did they know their words could travel through time?

I try to capture the insurmountable on the canvas: the difficulty of words between two people; the frustration of being understood. Sometimes these problems are created by our distance between the real things — these digital proxies tear us from reality. Photos of outer space stuck to my studio wall are not the heavenly cosmos, but they help. I cannot experience outer space any other way so I must rely on this technology. Light from a star traveling through space for billions of miles, then bounced through a mirrored lens to be reproduced on flimsy sheets of film, printed out by me. I still think it is important to make the connection.

Sometimes I cannot look at my old work. I am too shy to look at them because I think they are not good any more or they are not me. The paint is a connection to the past. But my past makes me. I create versions of myself: a new version of myself as an artist, a new version of Ruxue today. I am not the same person from one year ago, five years ago, wherever I was. As Multiverse theory claims “the universe does not have just a single existence or history, but rather every possible version exists simultaneously,” might I exist in multiple realities?

—Ruxue Zhang