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Lily Kwong.

Checking In: Lily Kwong’s Letting the Light In

Last week, we hosted an Instagram Live discussion with landscape artist Lily Kwong. As hard as it is for the outdoor creator (who’s typically in the garden), she’s passing time inside in Los Angeles by reading, listening to her friend’s Spotify mixes, cooking, and having FaceTime dinner dates with friends.

As we discussed her happenings amid the global pandemic, her landscape design practice and focus on sustainability shaped the conversation. We spoke about greener cities, how nature leads to good mental health, the future of urban spaces, and how she’s staying inspired by kindness.

Lily Kwong. Photo by Gesi Schilling; Courtesy of Lily Kwong.

Whitewall caught back up with Kwong to elaborate on her happenings, which local businesses she’s supporting, and how she’s staying inspired.

WHITEWALL: How are you doing? 

LILY KWONG: I’m doing much better. Slowly coming back from the heartbreak and shock of the first few weeks of this crisis. Trying to stay in my gratitude, focus on the small things that are within my control and digging into the personal creative projects that I never seem to have enough time for when it’s business-as-usual.

WW: What are you listening to, reading, watch?

LK: I’m reading a ton—currently on rotation is Lo-TEK Design by Radical Indigenism by Julia Watson, Weather by Jenny Offill, and Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino. I’m listening to incredible Spotify mixes created by my best friend, Jess Cross. She’s a DJ and frequent collaborator of mine. Here is a link to a playlist she put together for a mushroom-inspired dinner I designed with chef Anne Thornton for Neue House Bradbury during Frieze Art Fair in Los Angeles. It’s mind-blowing to think that just two months ago we were gathering around art, food, and community, and celebrating the beginnings of a new year.WW: What are you cooking?

LK: My boyfriend and I are cooking constantly. Making dinner together is our big event of the day. We’re ordering these remarkably fresh and beautiful market boxes from Kismet LA and teaching ourselves how to make things like homemade pasta, pickled vegetables, and big soups & stews. We recognize we’re in a privileged position having a full fridge and access to healthy produce.

I really admire my boyfriend for organizing a big fundraiser for Feeding America, and I’ve personally been donating to small businesses and independent restaurants in my neighborhood who are struggling to stay afloat like OvenlyLoosie Rouge and Devocion. Now is the time to look out for one another.

WW: How are you staying connected?

LK: So many FaceTime dinner dates with friends! I’m making sure to check in with my parents a lot, and next week I’m going to start interviewing my 90-year-old grandmother about her extraordinary life & record the conversations on Zoom. I think now is a beautiful time to connect with our families and elders in a deeper way, especially since they are the most vulnerable to this illness.  I’m also reaching out to my community and trying to support local artists and practitioners by offering different classes and Q&As on my IGTV. IGTV is never a platform I’ve used before, but in this moment of social distancing I’ve found it’s a meaningful tool to share resources and ideas. So far, I’ve interviewed people like artists Curtis Santiago and Gary Gunn, and featured classes from friends like yogini Fernanda de la Puente and meditations from Sandra Sears.

Lily Kwong. Design for Glossier; Courtesy of Lily Kwong.

WW: How are you staying creative? Are you able to make work at this time?

LK: Like so many other creative practitioners, all of Studio Lily Kwong’s projects are currently postponed. It’s been painful, especially since so many of our projects focus on community-building and coming together. Plus, we had really exciting installations lined up for this summer. It’s been sad to let go of those expectations and grand plans and surrender to the present moment.

Luckily, I’ve been able to redirect my creative energy, and am focused on a writing project and a sustainable initiative that I hope can provide a direct antidote to some of the suffering inflicted by COVID-19. I feel a lot of sorrow for all tragic losses across the world right now, but also find hope in fact that we’re seeing the earth begin to heal as the lockdowns have sent pollution plummeting.  Air quality is improving, visible clouds of toxic gas are disappearing over industrial areas, and biodiversity is experiencing a small boon in certain regions.

WW: Where are you finding hope? Inspiration?

LK: The beautiful acts of kindness and solidarity I’m seeing within my community—neighbors helping the elderly get groceries, generous sharing of resources, the support of local businesses. As Julia Watson writes in the book I’m reading, this moment is a reminder that we must shift from the worldview of “survival of the fittest to survival of the most symbiotic.” If anything, COVID-19 has shown us how interconnected and interdependent we are – my hope is we emerge a more resilient and soulful society from this terrible crisis.

Lily Kwong. Photo by Luke Shadbolt; Courtesy of Lily Kwong.






For its summer issue, Whitewall spoke with Lily Kwong about designing the "Orchid Show" at the New York Botanical Garden.


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