Interview by Christopher Laursen
Thu Tran is a multimedia DIY artist based in Brooklyn. Her work blends the everyday and the fantastical. She is most widely known for starring in and collaborating on the MTVother web series Late Night Munchies (2014) and the IFC program Food Party (2009-10). Food Party featured handmade paper sets, fabric puppets, and twisted tales, and has since achieved cult status. In 2014, Case Western Reserve University commissioned Tran and her friends to create a huge-screen, interactive video game using Kinect motion-sensing technology. She is currently developing a new indie video game that takes place in New York. She also works in glass and makes zines. My partner, the artist and video-maker Kristofir Dean, first introduced me to Tran’s work. We both love food, colour, and surreality, and Thu’s work embodies that like few other things.
CL: How did food end up being so central to your art?
TT: Eating, snacking, cooking has become an endless source of inspiration because it changes drastically depending on where we are at any moment, in life and geographically. Many things we eat create weird memories, like a warm pickle sealed in a plastic bag from a gas station, or a duck fetus with congee at my parent’s house, or a cow’s face at a fancy BBQ place. I found a love for cooking from my dad who spends a lot of time cooking. He has a bountiful herb, vegetable, and fruit garden and an ice box packed with an impressive dead animal collection. He impresses new friends by casually busting out some alligator or turtle or smuggled kangaroo meat. Later on, I found myself doing the same thing. Not only have I developed a taste for smuggled meats, I also learned sharing food is a fun way to show someone you care and spend time with friends.
Your work isn’t just DIY. It’s more like DIWF – do it with friends. Tell me about how collaboration is at the heart of your creations.
Every project needs something different, so when possible, forming a team to tackle it seems more fun and productive. Part of the beauty of DIY is that after you watch a couple tutorial videos, anything seems doable. The reality is most projects are more fulfilling when everyone can contribute that thing they’re good at and their time is valued. Different results come out of working with different people. Because friends can make each other laugh, working with friends sometimes has the added benefit of a built in gauge of whether something is a good idea or not, and we can push each other beyond what we would do for ourselves.
How has your artistic vision evolved since Food Party?
I moved in a more digital realm but still maintain a collaborative approach to making stuff. Finding a rhythm when working with a team feels good. I’ve been able to practice more illustration and animation, and am printing some books and zines. And am looking to get a cat and expand my house plant collection. I might eat some yogurt.
Screenshot from Thu’s competitive cooking game Hellmouth
Now you’re doing games. How does that compare to your material arts creations?
The biggest difference is making art for a virtual world versus IRL. Every idea still starts out as drawings and prototypes, and gets refined into something that kind of makes sense. Worlds can take place literally anywhere, and are built from scratch and seem unlimited in aesthetic possibilities. All the props, characters, set pieces are turned into 3D objects with lots of controls and settings. Games require lots of testing to feel fun and can go through drastic changes at any point. It’s a completely different sport.
The Devil shows up a lot in your work. How’d you become buds?
I wanted to pretend he’s a cool dude who gets blamed for stuff a lot. My family is Catholic, so the devil kind of matters sometimes. It’s cool that a serious religion has a cartoon bad guy, and that he’s red with horns and a tail. It all seems pretty goofy to me!
Christopher Laursen’s life as a writer is rooted in late 1980’s zine culture. He is currently finishing his PhD thesis on the poltergeist phenomenon. Recent writing credits include for Project Space’s Paranormal Activity (Dis)Ambiguation,and Jeffrey J. Kripal’s forthcoming Super Religions. He also helps artist and video-maker Kristofir Dean with the YouTube series Vegiterra. His website is christopherlaursen.com.