Apiece Apart Woman: Su Wu

Words: Leigh Patterson
Photos: Maureen Evans
Styling: Tessa Watson

Su Wu is a great pen pal. 
We’ve never met in person yet have corresponded over email for years — and the whole time I’ll earnestly admit I’ve been a bit enamored with her. A writer, poet, and curator, Su lives in Mexico City with her partner, the artist Alma Allen, and their one-year-old daughter Isadora. When we first connected it was through Su’s blog, I’m Revolting, which she wrote while living first in a loft in downtown Los Angeles and then from Joshua Tree desert before relocating to Mexico City, where these photos were taken in her Roma apartment as well as in an old theater that she’s currently in the process of renovating; she also brought us to a new gallery, MASA, where she was invited to co-curate the inaugural exhibition. 

Su looks at the world and asks a lot of questions — it’s her ceaselessness that inspires me. A sharp critic with a poet’s vocabulary, she retains a sort of clear-eyed openness in a way that feels rare in the muddy present. As a writer — she is a contributor to T Magazine and an editor for n+1, among others — Su’s ability to draw out the unexpected and the beautiful is striking; she makes people in her world feel deeply, genuinely seen. She’s also just really funny (when I asked about what prompted a move to Mexico City her response was about a cardamom pastry; another time she suggested a potential photoshoot location to me because it was “totally haunted but maybe interesting.”) It brings to mind that quote about how the way you do anything is the way you do everything … Su reminds me to be all in.

What is a moment from your childhood that has deeply contributed to the woman you are today?

Once, on a hot delta day, a cheerleader drove past me in her red Mustang convertible and then backed up to yell, “Dork!,” and sometimes I still worry what white girls think of me. That same year, I was suspended from school for “defiance,” and I wanted to burn the world down, this world where I was outnumbered by normalcy, where every approval came with the exhortation to be pleasing and responsible.

I was unconscious with rage, and desperate to matter, and also maybe braver than I’ve ever been, and I can still sense the “freedom, fury, the power – for once – of being young and strong and agile and a homegirl,” which is from an incredible Jenny Turner essay about what slights we trade for opportunity, about honor students making trouble, about how fixed identities never work. 

 

Anyway, now I’ve lived longer away than in that valley, and would have almost forgotten except last year my childhood best friend came to Mexico City to be my doula. We had not had long, undefined time together for a while, not really since that last summer before leaving for college, a similar anxious waiting for another life to begin. She smoothed my edges: with flower petal baths, with cupping and acupuncture, and with soup made with seaweed she’d collected herself off the California coast. Then, after the birth, she took my placenta away with her in a mini cooler and entered a monastery, and took away some of my last grievances, too, about adolescence and its hazy damages. 

I think of her, and this baby we pushed out, reflecting her light, and how so often in this life when I was brave I was showing off for her. And I think, too: How strangely like my teenage self I have been in these first months of motherhood, so ravenous and physically awkward and hormonal and engrossed with, like, watching the baby eat bugambilia flowers, but also just unable to care. I am seeing the fulfillment of that long-ago insight! I am more and more of a dork.

What beliefs are of most value to you?

I am very lucky to be free to let my mind wander. I believe you can talk until a truth falls out, but I don’t know whether that’s so much a belief as an affliction.

Other than that, I believe in the limits of causality and in the inconclusiveness of fate, that we can never be assured of the outcome of anything we do – we cannot love with the expectation of being loved in return, and we don’t make mistakes for the lesson. 

What questions do you ask yourself?

I have been thinking a lot these days about knockoffs, or about the continuum from affinity to influence to fraud to opportunism, and my inconsistent outrage based on love and loyalty, and whether to just let it go. I’m starting to think that this is the central defining concern of my life, that I’ll never get over it, and I mean this in a crazy wild-eyed way, like maybe the only thing keeping me from really going off the rails is the desire for social acceptance, and also insufficient clarity. 

I mean, what is actually lost in imitation, other than what might have been said instead? What does it mean to see a path complete before embarking on it, and what kind of metaphor is that for how to live, to take our forms only with certainty? When did we all become such professionals, and begin to mistake for wonder the merely facile? 

Or maybe I’ll find my long lonesome way to some little theory of creativity and originality only to realize I got the perspective all wrong. Who cares what happens to our ideas after we’ve seen them through? Not the originals, I think, otherwise preoccupied; maybe only those beside protecting, or those who have something to gain. In the meantime, I’m scribbling notes on napkins and feeling overwhelmed by, like, capitalism. I feel like I have heartbreaks and indignation and things that don’t sit, but not anything close to an ethic, and this is truly compromising how I live.

Of recent interest —
The last thing I Googled was: Lauren Berlant’s new book
The best purchase I’ve made under $50: From the flea markets in Mexico City, two pieces by female designers: a Clara Porset writing desk in the original pale pink and a little yellow welded piece that turned out to be a Helen Escobedo maquette.
My favorite discovery: Water delivery in glass jugs
Something that’s underrated: Mornings
Something that’s overrated: Dietary restrictions
Reading? n+1

Of recent interest — 

A recipe/meal? A few of us started having potlucks where you bring a single sandwich, and then everyone shares them, and we call it Club Sandwich.
A tip? Fewer manicures, more slapping facials?
Something to see? Alma Allen and J.B. Blunk at the Nevada Museum of Art, curated by Brooke Hodge. There’s also an exhibition catalogue, with photographs by the incredible Leslie Williamson and Lisa Eisner and Lauren Coleman, published by August Editions and available through Artbook/D.A.P.