Su Wu is a writer based in Mexico City, an art editor for n+1, and the co-curator of the current exhibition, "Collective/Collectible," at MASA gallery. We caught up with Su in Roma at the V.V. Sorry studio, the former residence of writers Joan Vollmer and William Burroughs.
What is something you have recently rediscovered?
My baby Isadora has two bottom teeth, and each time I see them I am reminded that she is growing bigger and apart from me, that she is a being unknowable and not mine, not owned by me or by anyone else. This makes me almost unbearably happy.
What book do you always recommend to friends?
Sharon Olds has a poem in Stag’s Leap that I think about all the time, about a certain feeling I know too, of being so proud of your partner and the hollow that can form around this. She remembers being on a plane, and the swell she feels when a doctor is called for and her partner rises from his seat, and then she — Pulitzer Prize-winning Sharon Olds! — wonders if he was ever proud of her; when words were needed, and she rose.
Please share the story behind a modern “talisman” you own — an object in your possession that you consider either a token of good luck or energy.
Not everything has to be your identity, she said and she’s right, of course, but then again the premise of a critic’s life: that you can figure out who you are by loving things. I have taken in more than my fair share of objects I thought would ease the sadness or keep me from harm, and I have lost a lot of things, too; things I thought I would hold near until I died, and I’m better than I used to be about letting go. However, I will say I am irrationally convinced of the power of my belly button lint — everytime I clean it out I get a cold.
Can you share a recipe or idea for a simple, healing meal that you make for yourself often?
FORTIFYING CHICKEN SOUP
Dried astralagus slices, about 6 the length of a thumb
Dried red jujube dates, 3
Goji berries, about 20, dried or fresh
Whole black peppercorns, more than a couple
Knob of fresh ginger, sliced, unpeeled is fine
Green onion, about 12 whole stalks
Chicken leg and thigh, 2 of them, skin on
Salt to taste
I made this soup for a friend recently, one week when something was going around, and now I think of it as her soup. Astralagus boosts the immune system, red dates soften the edges of moods, and goji berries grow in my parent’s backyard, and ginger warms the limbs. I put everything in an Instant Pot with 6 cups of water and some salt for 30 minutes on manual. Then the chicken comes out and the skin is set aside for the dog, and the meat shredded off the bone with two forks.
Skim the soup if needed and strain the broth into a pot on the stove. I add back in the astralagus and the jujube and goji, because I want to extract every bit of that dirt/earth taste. Then a little more salt, and plate the chicken on the side with some sliced rounds of thai chili and more green onion, and keep the soup on a simmer until it is ready to eat, because soup should be served hot enough to burn you.
What books are you reading right now (or have read recently)?
A decade ago I worked for the journal Critical Inquiry, which published an essay on cuteness by Sianne Ngai. I’m finally digging into the book that came out of it, Our Aesthetic Categories, this examination of minor feelings in art, like, what it means to consider something “cute” or “wacky” or “interesting.”
The whole book overflows with insight, but Ngai’s take on conceptual art is devastating: that we’ve developed ambiguous, habitual appraisals like “interesting” in response to a particular type of aesthetic proposal and its proliferation: an artwork that elicits no particularly strong feelings, but that is only meant to generate discourse about itself. What’s left over for the senses, then, and for whatever deep well inside us, is just the “cognitively minimal act of choosing,” or the value shift from artist-oriented aesthetics to spectator-oriented aesthetics — that is, from “genius” to “taste.” I mean, it was hard to breathe when all I did was read philosophy of art, but I also am happy to remember that it can be necessary, if only to hold up against the consolations I am taking, and see if I am mistaking them for a life.
Photographer: Ana Laframboise @analaframboise
Stylist: Tessa Watson @tessawatson
HMU/Styling Assistant: Sofia Rodriguez Abbud @sofunnyface
Location: V.V. Sorry studio in Roma, Mexico City @v.v.sorry
Sculpture by Alma Allen