Lydia Pang: Cultural Polymoth
Photography _ MI LA
Writer _ James Oliver
Who are you and what you do?
My name is Lydia Pang. I’m a Wales-born, half-Chinese feminist goth gal living in New York.
I live with my boyfriend, Roo, and our miniature pinscher, Betty. I love food and art.
I’m a creative, brand director, art director, trend watcher, photography geek.
I work at ANOMALY NY where I curate brand identity and commission artistic talent across several clients and accounts. My job is awesome and varied. I work on experiential installations for Converse, recently commissioned the talent and art directed a print campaign for lyst.com, and I work closely with innovations to develop and launch exciting new brands and products. I’m also art agent to wild child Maisie Cousins. We make weird shit together, photographing bum holes and projecting them at Tate Britain. I also write about swag for Refinery29 now and then.
How did your childhood shape who you are today?
I had the most magical childhood. It entirely shaped who I am today. I just remember it being fun, filled with food and family and noise and adventure. My parents are incredible humans, you know, the type of people you just want to be. Fucking funny, liberal, mad, passionate and smart, generous and warm. They always pushed me to be bigger and louder and better. They pushed me to have love and passion. My father owns this no-bullshit approach, which I aspire to. He always said “just do what you are fucking obsessed with and one day someone will pay you”. My mother is a visionary, she sees things differently. A born curator, her artistic touch is deeply inspiring. We used to have photography shows in our house. I remember being in the darkroom with her as a child, just soaking it all in, deciding who I wanted to be. My sister is beautiful and eccentric, wildly intelligent, doing a PHD in Cancer Biology at the moment (no biggy) and we are best friends. So yeah, I come from pretty special stock. My mother and father, despite getting divorced since I was seven, were and are best friends. My family is enormous. Colourful. Their personalities can fill a room. And we’ve had tough shit happen to us and we’ve always all risen and gathered and supported each other. We are solid.
I find them all, individually and together, my ultimate inspiration. I hope to be just a fraction of their combined qualities and every single day I aspire to make them proud of me. And we have kept growing! My dad and his partner (Naomi) have their beautiful girls (Lilly and Aggie) and there’s my mum and her partner (Rob) and my 10-year-old brother Tiger and then me and Millie, the original batch. And not forgetting Roo, my boyfriend; he is part of the family too. And this truly is my happiest place. My favourite thing to do, IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, is to sit around the table with them all and feast on seafood and gossip. We are the ultimate modern family, everyone looks out for each other, everyone is honest and loves to be together. I think my parents have always put happiness and friendship before anything, and that’s why we are all so close, despite them not actually being together as a couple, our family is closer and bigger and better for that. Family is everything. I was brought up to have opinions, to push myself, to have strong family values and embrace the daily sweetness of life. We are hungry, life-greedy people us lot.
How about your education? Were there any elements in the process that were important for your growth?
My education didn’t happen in school so much. I always liked school. I did well, really well. I was smart but used to get into trouble for dressing like a tiny punk. I went to a comprehensive school in a little town in Wales and my best friend and I would get thrown out of class for pissing around and distracting people. We both came out with top grades and the teachers fucking hated us. We were too big and loud for that school, we wanted more, we wanted to question shit and learn about gender and hate and art, real fucking art. They couldn’t give us that so we jumped their hoops whilst causing trouble and then hunted for fresh meat in London where we both did our degrees. We could finally breathe. The school system is fucked, it doesn’t allow for you to be different; if you’re a different shape then you fail. I hate that because it lets down exceptional humans just because they don’t want to learn about longshore drift. You have to be square, and if you’re not, you’ve got to just squeeze yourself into that shape for them and go through their processes to win big. Which is what we did.
Mum used to teach me about photography. She did her photography degree while I was in school and I used to adore being her photography subject, going into the studio, learning about the chemicals she used in the darkroom, flicking through her books. I still remember them all now, Sally Mann, Julia Margaret Cameron… all the great women. I remember the feeling when she gave me Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida and when she showed me that chapter in John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, a visual essay of photographs. My mind was blown that you could shape a critical theoretical argument through imagery alone. We’d look through issues of Vogue and talk about cameras and authorship and subject and styling and lighting and branding. That’s how I decided who I wanted to be and what I wanted to know more about. School was just the dry chicken bones.
You live in New York now. How does the city impact you and your work?
New York romanced me hard. All of its dirty perfection and arrogance, it’s everything I ever wanted. The decision to move here was a big one, because we had everything in London. But it felt time for a change. I like being scared and New York certainly scared me! But I’m starting to conquer the beast. Everyone here has a story, a reason to be, and I love that. I love New York’s relentless passion for life. Everything is always new and changing. Sadistically, I crave that fear, I want to explore it all, eat it all, see it all.
It’s been six months and I’m starting to get into my flow now. My heart still hurts for the people I can’t see every day but I know I have to be here. I want to grow. I love walking my dog along the pier in Williamsburg and looking at that epic skyline. I love walking to work through SoHo and seeing all the characters, the smoke, the snow, the fog, the piercing sunshine. We got tattoos and sat in a jazz bar in Alphabet City the other day and listened to the barman tell us stories about musicians and my heart felt full. New York has given me the push I was craving in my job. I wanted to be challenged and I am. It’s opened my eyes to new ways of working and the different roles of branding. It’s made me want to create more immersive experiences and hunt for different types of artists. The art scene is palpable here. There is a tremendous sense of opportunity here. It’s all yours to take.
What motivates and inspires you on a daily basis?
The people I love. Making them proud and being part of a legacy. My whole life revolves around this perpetual hunt for newness and more and pushing creative work. I love that energy. I am motivated by the power of imagery and visual communication. It inspires me that this tool can be crafted and used for good or to change a behaviour. I am driven by the notion that I have the power to curate imagery that makes people feel something. Visual communication is a powerful tool for good and, when used elegantly, it can shift perceptions. I want to make people think differently. And brands are a good vehicle for doing this, because we listen to our desires. They’re a great platform for change. One day I will make something great, really great. It will disrupt and it will be for good.
Do you have a philosophy when it comes to your work style?
I don’t really think I have a philosophy. I just like to give everything my all. That’s how I was brought up. All I know is to give a shit and put all your energy into whatever you’re doing. And despite how exhausting that sounds, without that I just feel sad and deflated. I like being pushed and positive and projected forwards and aspiring. It’s what drives me every day, from the little things to the big things. So I work this way: I take design decisions seriously and when I turn up on set I really turn up. All of me. Eyebrows and all. Sometimes it means I get into fights or I have a cry or I care too much, but I can tell you one thing, I always bring it.
How has your approach to work evolved over time?
I’ve always held the same values and truths, even in school. I love art and fashion and culture; it’s nourishing. I’ve never seen any real distinction between work and projects and my personal life. Some people think that’s unhealthy and weird, but I’m happy and I pity people who have to shut down from their jobs like it’s a horrible nightmare they live through every day just to facilitate the weekend. That’s not life! Work isn't work, it’s what I care about. I’ve realised over the years that if you just follow what you love and are truly interested in, with dedication, you will succeed in what you want to do.
I remember for my dissertation I chose a random subject that I thought I should be writing about to be smart and get a good grade. I struggled so hard. I sat in the library trying to get into it and feel it. I read papers for months, and nothing. It just was not happening. I pretty much lost my shit, I was (am) such a perfectionist and a hard worker, I believed I could just work myself into brilliance. But I was silly and young. A few weeks before the hand in, after some enlightenment/direction from my all-seeing parents, I realised I should’ve just written about something I gave a shit about and stopped worrying about getting the top grades. I took my eye off the ball. I projected to the end and scared myself with the potential of failure and disappointment. Silly girl. So then I themed my dissertation on my favourite artist and theories that excited me. I smiled the whole time, sipped my coffee and it felt like a fucking breeze. And of course I came out with a First, and was specifically highly commended for that essay. I think about this all the time in work; it reminds me to just go with my gut, go with what feels right and it will be the best solution. The key now is not caring too much or you go quietly insane.
How do you choose the people you work with?
I choose to work with good people who I want to spend the day with. People who care and who are fun and hungry. I love discovering new artists; I feel like I am constantly hunting for people to show me something new. I love to see fresh approaches and techniques. It’s simple really, when choosing artistic talent, you kind of know in your gut who is right while you’re crafting the idea. You’ll say things like “and it will be shot with the energy of X and lit in the way they lit X” and you build up this amazing picture in your mind of all the visual ingredients you need to bring that vision to life. There are so many incredibly talented people out there, but then there are those special stars, the ones that live and fucking breathe it. The ones who are technically perfect; you can see it in them that they love this shit and they want to make something beautiful with you. They know exactly who they are and what they are about. These people always have effortless portfolios and create inspiring personal work. They give a fuck about creating something special. They know how to work with people, motivate a team and make you feel like magic is happening on a set. I want to work with those people forever.
Which creatives are you most interested in at the moment?
I hate answering this question because it quite literally changes every single day and I always get this weird feeling of dread that I might find someone new the very second I finish answering it. Sigh. Nevertheless, recently I am loving and watching the work of Iringo Demeter, Till Wiedeck, Joshua Davis, Charlie May, Coco Capitan, Calm Collected and Lucy Hardcastle. And I spend all day posting creative talent on my tumblr so I don’t forget them. My god, if tumblr ever stopped working I’d have a hardcore “NOOOOO” movie moment, kneeling in the rain.
Any brands or creatives we should look out for in 2016?
There’s something interesting happening over at JACQUEMUS. I’m watching their every move. Folch Studio and their recent baby hybrid exploration of sexuality, Odiseo, feels like an exciting chapter in how we explore erotica in visual culture. They pair essay with sculptural photography addressing stereotypes and genres. Delicious and important work. Similarly, the brand THINX, who recently made all that joyous noise with their campaign for period panties. I love their disruptive and brutally honest brand persona. They’re unapologetic and strong, a brand that truly liberates women and uses beautiful communication to sell and say something fucking important with style and class. And they’re only pants FFS but there they go unlocking feminism for the masses, one subway poster at a time.
Going forward, how do you want to progress?
I recently moved to New York, got a new job and a dog; my artist was in a show at the Tate; and I had my 10-year anniversary with my boyfriend. So I’m feeling pretty good about my life at the moment! Going forward, I just want more of it all. I want to see everything the US has to offer. I want to keep making good work and push myself to learn new things and figure out new ways of commissioning and collaborating. One day I want to work inhouse, creative directing a beautiful brand, shaping its bones, and then I want to start my own brand studio so I can spend Monday mornings walking Betty, drinking coffee with Roo and browsing art shows to feed my brain and inform my work. That would be the best. I know that whatever I end up doing I’ll do it with everything I’ve got. That I know for certain.