a story about losing wonder and finding hope,
tentatively, ferociously.

an art show by shirley wu

ft. data visualizations,
water that drips and flowers that light up

v1 9.9.22
✨ reprise 3.25.23–4.22.23

ev gallery, nyc
videos by
Ready Steady Cinema
photos by
Tuan Huang

on taking up space

There are two parts to this story.

The first is about the pandemic, told through the 21,000 photos I took between 2018 and 2022. The second is about gathering the courage to take up space.

I'm loud and opinionated by nature. But in the process of growing up, that was stamped out of me. I forced myself to be "socially acceptable"; I made myself as small as possible, and in denying my very self, I lost my voice.

I'm done with that. Taking up space is how I'm regaining my voice. It is how I'm finding myself again.

This is that story. It is very personal and extremely vulnerable.

please enter with kindness.

🔊 please turn on sound!

v1 9.9.22
reprise 3.25–4.22.23

✨ omg it's coming back for a month!! ✨

@ ev gallery, nyc

mar 2018—tokyo

Pre-pandemic, I used to love being outside. I loved looking up at a bright blue sky and feeling the wind on my skin and the sun on my face. I’d see the flowers blooming or hear the birds chirping and be overcome with a sense of wonder.
When I moved to Tokyo for three months in March 2018, I spent a whole month chasing cherry blossoms.  I have fond memories of growing up in Japan and seeing the streets lined with pink every spring—and to be able to see that again for the first time in two decades, my heart burst with joy and nostalgia.

how to read this viz

each dot represents a photo I’ve taken:

✿ = flower photos
◎ = food 🍽 photos
◦ = rest

and colored by the most predominant colors in the photo.

apr 2018—tokyo

I also used to love traveling.  I’d tack on a few days (or weeks) before or after a conference and explore the area.  And in April 2018, I got to spend a whole week traveling through southern China with my mom and grandparents.  They were 81 and 82, but they hiked to waterfalls and hotels with little help.  And in every place we stopped, my grandpa would proudly tell anyone who’d listen: “这是我孙女,她特意从美国回来陪我的! (my granddaughter came back all the way from America to travel with me!)”.

(omg I cry.)

how to read this viz

each dot represents a photo, positioned by where I took it.

may 2019—san francisco

In May 2019, I was able to fulfill a years-long dream to create a physical data visualization.  I collaborated with my super talented then-studiomate Alice Lee to create a data-driven window display of 30 women Nobel Laureates.  It was a series of firsts: buying wood panels, figuring out the laser-cutter, inviting friends over to paint the laser-cut flowers, being part of my very first art show.
That show gave me the courage to create “One Amongst Many”—a physical data installation of sixteen women in computing—with Tina Rungsawang and Christina Dacanay during my artist residency at NYU ITP.  I will never forget the story of an older woman from the university’s computer science department, who said the installation made her hopeful that maybe one day someone would honor her work in this way.

feb 2020—san francisco

During my three-month residency at ITP, I had Airbnb’d a single bedroom in Brooklyn and ate out most of the time.  So it was a relief to get back home to our own kitchen in San Francisco and cook for ourselves (which is reflected in the photos, hehe).  At the same time, we were becoming increasingly aware of a new epidemic making its way across the Pacific and after one last Napa trip in mid-February, we hunkered down at home—hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

how to read this viz

each dot represents a photo I’ve taken either at home (inside solid circle) or outside.

in this moment the world is still.

wonder, 2022
3min 40sec

custom code, solenoid valve, custom PCB, projector
*rate of water drip is mapped to covid data

apr–jun 2020

San Francisco issues the first stay-at-home order on March 16, and it lasts well into May.  We’re thankful that our friends and family are safe, and that we maintain the roof over our heads.  But at the same time, I lose all potential clients to budget freezes and go without income for seven months.

In those same months, we read article after report after personal anecdote of anti-Asian hate crimes.  We don’t go outside for weeks at a time, and in the rare times we go out for errands, we never go out by ourselves.

sep 2021—brooklyn

We get vaccinated in April and I’m excited at the thought of being outside again, to ease into a “new normal”.  But the first time I run an errand by myself, I’m gripped with fear.  It’s a path I’ve taken dozens of times pre-pandemic, but I’m now shifty and on edge—a worst case scenario looping through my head, of someone coming up and hitting me over and over like in those videos I tried not to watch.
We move to New York so that I can start grad school in September.  My fear and anxiety spike as I start a daily commute to school and I keep my head firmly down.  I’m scared of looking up and accidentally making eye contact, and for that to be the trigger for a hate crime.

mar 2022—brooklyn

I realize that I’ve lost all sense of wonder at being outside.

​​(Most photos I take “outside” during this time are actually inside other buildings—at school, in museums and galleries, at restaurants.)


After that realization, I force myself to look up and around whenever I’m outside.

Then one day in April, I look around while waiting at a red light in the East Village.  I see a beautiful building that would have filled me with wonder pre-pandemic, and am disappointed that I feel nothing.  But when I look up again, I come across a tree in its first blooms—and for the first time in a long time, I’m overcome with joy again.

In this moment, I feel hope.

hope, 2022

motion sensor, custom PCB, acrylic
*each flower represents a week of flower photos I’ve taken, sized by the number of photos. they light up as people pass by.

so so many thank you's

This show is my very personal story about hope and healing.  But it’s also about courage and taking up space.

I’m a Chinese American woman, I spent my most formative childhood years growing up in the Japanese countryside (if you know Sino-Japanese relations, you can imagine what that was like lol), and I spent my early 20’s working as a software engineer in Silicon Valley (if you’re a woman in tech, you know what that’s like—I salute you).  The cultures I grew up in told me I should be humble and obedient, I should know my place, I shouldn’t ever attempt anything bigger than myself.  I got used to making myself small, to not be “intimidating”, to not take up space.

Until a few years ago, when I first realized how small I had made myself.  Ever since, I have been pushing myself to take up space—and the transition from purely digital to physical work has been so liberating and empowering.  But even those projects were well within what I could handle by myself, because I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to help me on such personal projects.

Until this show.

This show is well beyond what I could do by myself, and my heart is so full with the friends, family, and community that have surged up and together to help me tell my story.

Thank you so much to Nicole and Kerri for giving me this opportunity and space so that I can literally take up more space.  Thank you to my incredible friends that are always down to give design feedback, words of encouragement, and answer my panicked calls for help—I was able to gather the courage to ask for your help precisely because you entrusted me with your generosity.  Thank you to my dearest, most loving husband, who mod-podged cardstock paper to acrylic, assembled acrylic flower to acrylic plate to PCB (and only made fun of me once for forgetting to add tolerances in my design), tied dozens of knots for install (he a boulderer not a rope climber tho lol), and scooped me up into countless hugs—almost always after a long day of work, and always without complaint.

And thank you to you.  Thank you for coming to experience my story.  Thank you for sharing your story with me—after the last two years, these little sparks of connection feel invaluable.

Thank you, because your very presence gives me the courage and fuel to keep going.


Most invaluable design feedback
Nadieh Bremer
all the circles, none of the lines
Sarah Kay Miller
layers on layers

Best fabrication
Sarah Kay Miller
the most beautifully bent flowers
Nicole Aptekar
the highest quality craftsmanship

Best debugging
Paul Mandel
seriously, why would they label diode and LED polarity differently??
mechanical engineer who used to specialize in piping = zero leaks

Josephine Wang
lighting lighting lighting
Adnan Aga
“I’m only here because I’m tall”
“well you also have long arms”
Leia Chang
what would I have done if you weren’t here for install??
Tuan Huang
“the best design eye”
Suraj Barthy
“The best of Adnan and Tuan”
husband, mechanical engineer, enough said

Zoran Prodanovic, Ready Steady Cinema

EV Gallery
Kerri Lindstrom