Sagittarius: Helen Tseng
Yall this person is someone whose perspective I am so happy to share with you. Her work as an artist, designer, radio host, incredible conceptual thinker, all are expressions of her unique combination of Sagittarius, Scorpio, and Gemini, among other things! All of this can be found articulated beautifully in her interview below.
Helen Shewolfe Tseng is an interdisciplinary artist and designer living and working in an expanding universe. She co-hosts Astral Projection Radio Hour on BFF.fm and is the co-author and illustrator of The Astrological Grimoire (Chronicle Books, April 2019). Helen is currently a YBCA Fellow and a Designer in Residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts.
1. What brings you the most joy?
Being in a flow state: being fully present and absorbed in a task. I have a mark-making practice called growth spells that acts as a personal portal to autotelic experience, though I find myself there in other circumstances too, any states of being that are marked by a sense of intuitive competence and agency, as if channeling something beyond me. I've read that flow states induce a loss of ego and space-time perception, which happens to be one of the most joyful and expansive places our brains can travel to. I am drawn to this observation because it takes two vastly mysterious things – consciousness, the universe – and merges them into a tangible space that can be accessed, traversed, and embodied.
2. Do you relate to the common Sagittarius trait of knowledge / spiritual / adventure seeking? What do you find yourself seeking? When and how do you rest from seeking, if that's something you do, and if that's something you ever want to rest from?
I relate to my Sagittarius nature primarily internally, so that’s where I tend to seek. The realms of thought, perception, identity, memory, wonder, truth. Where disparate fields collide and connect. I freelance and keep myself occupied with an assortment of projects – it’s hard for me to do any one thing for too long. I am not satisfied with well-tread ground and I will seek out a niche or carve my own, and I tend to use my work as a bridge into all of my varied interests. And I don’t like being told something is true and just accepting it; I often feel the need to see the full ecosystem, to independently forge my own theories and impressions. I seek the secrets, the weird dark complex webs under the surface, the hidden levers. Knowing how a magic trick works doesn’t make it any less magical to me.
Because of this I can be a skeptical person, and I have sometimes had difficulty being present, because to seek is to always look elsewhere, and to be idle can feel fatal. Sitting with the unknown and unknowable is the kind of thing that keeps me up at night, but it can also be comforting and humbling. I am learning to rest in the abundance of that infinite void.
3. Some of your work feels abstract, as in, visually it's spacious and open for a lot of interpretation. How much do you feel the need to be 'understood'? How much do you feel the need to engage with the literal, especially in relation to the political realm?
My work is divided into a few distinct but overlapping categories: freelance graphic design, a witch alter ego that includes the radio show and a forthcoming book, a nebulous art practice. Design involves effective visual communication and problem solving, so understanding and being understood is fairly central to that work. When we started the radio show five years ago, it was kind of an irreverent performance rooted in the mystery of the occult and esoteric. But these days, we are more interested in how the emergent cultural phenomena of the witch correlates to the strangeness of being human at this particular moment in time. And the art side prioritizes the tangible the least, as it’s often process-oriented and exploratory. There is a lot of spaciousness here, as I am still relatively new to this landscape and have resisted drawing any boundaries around what my art might consist of. Right now, I’m very taken with coyote adaptation; before this, I was painting with fiber optic cable, and researching a cluster of small towns in rural Mississippi.
It turns out all the facets of my work have inherent political implications, even if I am not directly engaging with them. Design affects the ways people perceive information, the world, other people. Witch culture exists in part as a response to oppression, environmental peril, and a general atmosphere of instability. And when my art draws from personal experience, it is deeply intertwined with my existence as a marginalized person. How overtly I engage beyond that depends, though I do tend to seek out work in realms that I am curious about and care about. But I am less interested in being personally understood and more in broadening my understanding and shifting existing modes of understanding, applying the appropriate angles for engagement. With most work I have adequate agency over, I am intentional about maintaining an openness and depth that is accessible from multiple levels. Sometimes I build in a secret level, just for me.
4. As a continuation of our conversation about our internet lives, will you talk about your current relationship with the internet? Where does it feel good? Where does it feel bad? What's in between?
Some things that feel bad: That the containers of web content and social media distort things of varying gravities into a set of standardized dimensions, reducing some while amplifying others, which in turn distorts how I relate to those things in the physical world. That judgment comes so easily and brutally. When it consumes my time, energy, and focus in ways I resent. When the physical act of using an internet device results in chronic discomfort in my body.
Some things that feel good: Ease of access to incredible things, e.g. live streams of wolves in Yellowstone, footage of astronomical events of the distant past, a universe of subcultures. When it connects me with kindred spirits I would not have crossed paths with otherwise. When it deepens and expands upon existing relationships. When it acts as a near-infinite library of resources and continues to be a platform and medium for my livelihood, creative practices, and habitual seeking.
Some things that are in between: That the architecture of the internet and social media have become implicit in my dreams, e.g. using time travel in a lucid dream to go back and Instagram something. Learning to treat my phone as a difficult but necessary relationship requiring mindfulness and boundaries. The rabbit holes! So many rabbit holes to bury my muzzle in.
5. What feels easy and alive?
What feels alive does not necessarily feel easy, and the converse also holds true. I feel the most alive in ideation and creation synthesis, but those moments of deep knowing often come at the end of long, intense periods of trudging, scratching, combing, fine-tuning. That said, I reject the assumption that suffering is necessary for making art, so I actively choose ease in places that surround and support the processes of creation, which can require so much of me. Cultivating ease in relationships and with basic needs has afforded me the energy and resources to continue doing what keeps me alive, and the ability to do so has been the greatest privilege.