"She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy" Artist Statements: Daniella Thach on "As An Aspara" and "The Tower of Angkor Wat"

Daniella Thach. Image courtesy of the artist.

Neon is a master-apprentice trade; those holding the knowledge control to whom it is passed. Our newest exhibition, She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy, tells the story of this evolution playing out in real time, as custodians of the craft become more intentional with how, and to whom, they pass their torches.

Daniella Thach uses neon, projections and other light-sensitive mediums as conduits to bridge cultural gaps in diasporic first-generation identity. Thach illuminates Cambodian iconography in both analog and digital forms to honor family and heritage while contemplating generational identity loss with the passing of relatives and the absence of their mother tongue. They hold a BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and are based in Illinois. Thach is of Khmer and Vietnamese descent. They identify as non-binary queer and use they/them and she/her pronouns. Thach was taught by Kacie Lees.

Daniella Thach (Cambodian-American, born 1998). As An Aspara, 2020. Krypton, transformer, digital projection, and artificial intelligence. 60 in. Courtesy of the artist.

She Bends: Tell us about your works in the exhibition.

Daniella Thach: I reconcile the gaps in my cultural identity with the use of analogue and digital materials, bridging old and new technologies to create a new visual language to replace the spoken one I did not inherit. Learning the craft of neon from Kacie Lees, I am empowered with the ability to create my own light forms, breathing life into ancient cultural iconography and honoring the ancestry from which I feel distant. 

SB: What motivates you? What are you trying to achieve through your work?

DT: My work is an ongoing peacemaking process with myself. It is a working reminder that I am neither an insider nor an outsider in my heritage, that I am among the diasporic generation of makers and beings carving out a new path in foreign lands. My work aims to bridge the gap between my Khmer roots and my assimilated American upbringing. It is an ode to the relatives I have lost and a beacon leading me to forge into my own identity. 

Daniella Thach (Cambodian-American, born 1998). Tower of Angkor Wat, 2022. Krypton, GTO wire, and transformer. 60 x 36 in. Courtesy of the artist.

SB: How did you begin working on this type of series or art in general?

DT: I have always been interested in recreating the forms I saw floating on the walls and shelves in family homes and religious centers. When I was a student in Kacie’s class, I immediately knew that the neon I wanted to make would resemble the objects and deities of my culture. They begged to be made in light! And the process of neon bending is entirely powerful. 

SB: Who has influenced you as an artist?  

DT: Diasporic and first-generation visual artists have been my inspirations, such as Sopheak Sam and Michael Khuth. Neon artists working in large-scale sculptural pieces really help me to expand my scope of the capabilities of neon, including Chryssa Vardea-Mavromichali, Emma-Kate Hart, Kate Hush, and Leticia Maldonado. Women pioneers in projection art who have also inspired me are Diana Thater and Jenny Holzer. 

She Bends: Redefining Neon Legacy opens at Museum of Glass on February 11.