Before Charlyne Yi set out to find true love alongside real-life (now possibly ex-) boyfriend Michael Cera in the faux-documentary Paper Heart, which opened in New York on August 7, there was Jessica Williams, a young Asian-American artist and photographer living in Brooklyn who, over the past eight years, has amassed a devoted fanbase through her website, paperheart.org.
Williams started Paperheart in 2001, when she was a 15-year-old high school student in Houston, looking to share drawings and collages. That's grown with her exploration of photography, zines, and video art, and In the past few years, she's had group and solo shows in New York, San Francisco, Sweden, Berlin, Seoul, and Barcelona, and published two artists books, Some Thoughts and Glance. A selection of of her Polaroids will feature in Everything is Possible, opening August 21 at Space 15 Twenty art gallery in Los Angeles.
Like Yi, Williams constantly probes the private, larger-than-life realities of relationships through her work. In fact, the resemblances are eerie:
KAELA NOEL: How did you choose the name "paperheart" for your site?
JESSICA WILLIAMS: I came up with the name by trying to think of two words that just fit together and that I knew I would be comfortable with having represent me for a long time. At the time, I didn't do photography, only collage and drawing, so the 'paper' part was easy. And then, well, heart seemed totally natural. I googled "Paper Heart" to make sure it was the only thing with its name that existed, and that's it, really. Now it's stuck to me and I don't think I'll ever be able to get rid of it.
KN: What was your initial reaction to hearing about the film and its similarities to your life, beyond the title?
JW: I first heard about it through an email from a friend who was attending Sundance this past winter. She seemed to think the coincidence was totally hilarious, and it was hard to disagree. But it's also about a young Asian girl looking for love—really uncanny. Ever since then I've been getting texts and emails and Facebook messages about it every week from friends and acquaintances. Many jokes, like, "Are they paying you?"
KN: Are they?
JW: Uh, no.
KN: A big theme of the Paper Heart film is that Charlyne Yi doesn't believe in romantic love. What's your take on true love?
JW: I neither believe nor disbelieve in true love. I think if there is true love, it can happen more than once—and like normal love, it can get heavy and messy and everything else. So in my own personal life, I'm not looking for it. What I am looking for—which is a lot of what my art explores—is trying to figure out how relationships (big and small, online and IRL) work.
KN: Yi takes a roadtrip to document her search for love. Your art and photography are about the documentation of relationships, too--"pushing the boundaries of intimacy", as you've put it.
JW: For me, taking a photograph–digitally or otherwise–is like a tiny meditation on a person, place, thing, relationship, etc. In Hinduism, looking upon an object or a person is giving that object or person power–it's a form of worship. I like to think about making images in a similar way. In 2006, I did a project called Trust Exercises that was all polaroids, and based off the trust building exercises children do in P.E. and summer camp. I was sort of dating the boy I did the pictures with at the time, and it's a true portrait of our relationship, which was a little messy then. We're good friends now, though.
KN: Based on the trailer, do you feel like you identify with Yi's character?
JW: I don't feel like I'm much like her at all–well, actually maybe when I was 15 (and chose the name for the site)!
KN: Are you going to see the film?
JW: My niece really wanted to see it today, but I was sort of sneaky and told her I was tired. I'm willing to go if anyone wants to take me on a date, though.
Everything is Possible opens August 21. Space 15 Twenty is located at 1520 N. Cahuenga Blvd, Los Angeles.