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Candy Chang:
kinship with everything

Candy Chang is an artist who creates public spaces through which people can connect with and share what it means to be human today. She explores how we can create more infrastructure for the soul – to reflect, to forgive, to atone and to see ourselves in each other. Having spent time bearing witness to the confessions of thousands of people around the world, she has seen just how much we want the same things for our future and how important it is to create new spaces for emotional communion.

Made by Jo Barratt. Conceived by Jo Barratt and Gemma Mortensen, with Iris Andrews and Lily Piachaud.

Music is made for New Constellations by Art School Girlfriend.


It’s winter. So it’s dark most of the time. And I like it like this. I’m nocturnal. The sun rises and sets in slow motion. It feels like eternal dusk and that makes me happy.

I feel paralysis from all the options.

Impressing other people is killing the true me.

I’m afraid to connect with others.

I’m afraid of getting yelled at online.

Being misunderstood is scary.

I tend to seek numbness out of fear that I will be overwhelmed.

I’m afraid of solitude.

Our apartment has a big window that looks out onto pine trees and the Baltic sea. We can see a ferry that comes and goes. It’s the only way to get on and off the island. I’m here with James. We spend our days reading and working, taking walks, enjoying the sauna downstairs. We live off of squeaky cheese and salmiakki, Finland’s salty licorice. We have dozens of kinds of salmiakki. I love it. Some are mild and delicious. Others are hardcore like salt bombs. We dump them all in a bowl. So it’s like salmiakki Russian roulette. And we laugh when one of us ends up with an extreme one. For the first time in a long time, I notice I get excited to get out of bed early. I’m excited to organise people’s reflections.

Uncertainty is frightening.

I’m afraid to take the leap.

I’m afraid that chasing my dreams will lead me to a dead end of ruin and failure.

I fear the rampant distrust and violence in our society.

We just collected thousands of people’s handwritten reflections on their emotional barriers, their inner obstructions, their resentments, doubts, fears, anxieties. They come from a public art project we just made in Los Angeles called “Light the Barricades”.

I spend a lot of time bearing witness and it feels very meaningful to me to take in the confessions of thousands of strangers. I find their honesty refreshing, especially in our performative age. And they remind me that we’re all walking wounded and they point to where we need help from our communities today. They remind me of the things that help us hold on and persevere. I stamp them like visual meditations. I sequence them in videos. I try to find ways to return them to the public, all of these voices that form a larger story about the human condition, about our longing and pain in the 21st century.

I worry. I will never be good enough.

I am my biggest enemy.

I care too much about what people think of me.

Missing the people I love that have died, waiting to feel happiness again, since he’s been gone.

I don’t know if I belong.

Everyone else is okay. Not me.

My work is driven by confusion. When I’m struggling or wish things were different, when a question kind of gnaws at the mind, that’s what leads to most of my experiments. After the death of someone I loved, I felt destroyed. I was completely unprepared and I ricocheted from grief to gratitude, to despair, to deeper and deeper cynicism. Everything in public life felt absurd. Crying while buying cheese doodles. And I remember feeling jealous of my religious friends and their rituals. When I felt like I was releasing my grief, like a splatter painting.

I grew up without religion. My dad is agnostic. My mom is kind of Christian in her own personal way. And they let my sister and me decide for ourselves the kind of relationship we wanted with religion or not. And I’m grateful for that. I admire certain aspects of religions, but I couldn’t get fully on board. So the closest thing to religion in my life is philosophy and art, museums, books, films, music. I have playlists called “Blade runner”, “Caravaggio”, “Noir”, lots of ambient music that evokes a sense of dread or heartbreak. Right now we’re watching movies that have sad astronauts. There are a lot.

My most spiritual experience was watching Cosmos by Carl Sagan, the original documentary from the eighties. After Joan died I watched it for the first time online. And then I watched it obsessively for months. I fell asleep to it every night, like a benediction. The way he talks about history and the universe. It made me feel existentially connected to all of time, all of space, all of life ever. And that feeling pulled me out of despair. It’s what I think of when I think of God. That widescreen feeling, a kinship with everything. It immediately obliterates the trivialities that I can get caught up in and puts me in my best frame of mind.

I am part of a growing population that isn’t religious. I didn’t have communal rituals or dignified spaces to reflect with others on the human condition. Grief, yearning, escapism, humility, redemption. I wish I did. Life is weird and difficult, but many of us have been left to our own devices. Left to confront some of our darkest times alone without the rituals and reassurances of community. And we could use some help here. We’re becoming pretty lonely. Loneliness and stress have been called public health epidemics. Political polarisation is on the rise, we’re surrounded by more and more distractions. We’ve created spaces that feed our worst impulses. Spaces that encourage constant comparison, judgment, extreme opinions, shaming, lots of nightmare fuel from middle school, which is the dream of no one.

My fear of letting people in.

I cut off so many people. I think this might be my undoing.

Going back to self-destructive habits, self-loathing and numbness.

I worry we are losing our humanity.

I’m tired of having to be resilient.

So I think this is a big question for our future. As the world feels more uncertain and distracting and alienating: How can our communities better serve our psychological health? How can our public spaces, our shared spaces help us restore perspective? How can we create more infrastructure for the soul to reflect, to forgive, to atone, to see ourselves in each other. I’ve made a lot of rituals in public over the last 10 years. Spaces for emotional communion to pause and reflect on loss, anxiety, addiction, doubt, resentment, judgment, hope. And after reading thousands of reflections from people around the world, I have seen just how much we want the same things.

I studied urban planning and I made street art. And I started making prompts in public space because I’m an introvert. It was a way to ask my neighbours things I was too shy to ask in person. And when I made “before I die”, I remember the responses that resonated with me the most were the heartbreaking ones, the tragic ones, the ones you don’t typically tell a stranger, because they made me feel less alone and they gave me courage to face my own confusions, to talk about them with others. So I saw the value of anonymity in these public spaces to shed facades, to be more honest and vulnerable, without fear of judgment, to lay down our burdens, you know, what have you struggled with and what helped? That’s probably the best gift we can offer to each other.

My parents are from Taiwan and I was born in the U.S and when I visit Taiwan, it strikes me how most temples are a remix of a lot of religions and philosophies like Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, folk religions, all under one roof. Maybe because of Taiwan’s history and the many forces upon it, they ended up with a very roomy idea of spirituality. And it makes me wonder how we can continue to push that much further in a secular way. I’m part of a growing population that is not religious, but yearns for some kind of spirituality. And there’s a lot of room to re-imagine the future ritual in public life, speculative rituals that speak to the pains of our age, the absurdities of life and the dread, the beauty, tragedy, humour and pain and grace of being a person.

I need to learn to reach outside myself.

Coming to terms with who I am and what is happening around me.

My pride, my fear of being uncomfortable.

The courage to accept the unknown.

All the outside noise prevents me from hearing my true voice.

When I’m afraid to begin a new journey, I try to remind myself that I will never feel ready. That feeling ready is a myth. I can feel ready for bed and that’s about it. So I think more about willingness, am I willing to try? I think of rituals as instructions from my brighter self. And they remind me of all the things that are good for me, because it’s easy to blow your attention on stuff that bleeds you dry. My rituals change as I change.

A few years ago, I felt burnt out and I learned to say ‘no’, or ‘maybe later’ a lot. I stopped being reactive to my inbox. I started being more intentional. Now that’s second nature to me. And my problem now is that I forget to check my email at all. So now I sway towards being a recluse. I’m consumed with my work, which I love. I take care of over a million handwritten reflections from people around the world. But I can easily be a hermit and forget everything else. Like that I have a body that needs stretching. I do qigong. I take short walks throughout the day. So I see myself changing and I’m learning to accept that doubt is a natural part of the process.

When James and I are working on our own separate creative things, I will hear him sigh loudly, or he’ll come over and face plant into a pillow or I’ll come out and walk aimlessly with some kind of forlorn look on my face. And we know what those things mean. That’s doubt. And we laugh and we talk it out and it eventually goes away. You get back into it, you know, you get in the flow again. It feels like a cycle. You have periods of excitement and sometimes even a little pride and then self doubt and embarrassment, but it can help to call it out or act it out. Face planting helps, you know, slap away the judgment and return to curiosity. And that’s been an all around good way to live for me these days. Less judgmental, less certain with myself, with others, with everything.

And I’m hungry so I’m gonna eat now.