Tufts graduating senior Cecily Lo poses outside Sophia Gordon Hall on May 5. Sofie Hecht / The Tufts Daily

Senior Profile: Cecily Lo explores discomfort in performance, film

Graduating senior Cecily Lo made her first film, a stop-motion animation of clay figurines, at the age of 15 with her cousin. Years later, as a student at Tufts, she continues to explore her passion for film, dance and performance art in short videos that she posts on her personal Vimeo channel.

“I’ve always been pretty interested in video art, but I never really took it seriously until two years ago. It kind of stemmed from when I became more serious about dance and choreographing in high school,” Lo, a computer science major, said.

Lo jokes that she is a “bad” computer science major because of her extensive involvement with artistic organizations on campus. The Rockville, Md. native is a co-producer of Sarabande Dance Ensemble and a dancer for Spirit of Color. In addition, she creates freelance art and designs for different organizations and publications on campus, such as the Tufts Observer and the Tufts Public Journal. Most recently, she showcased her work at “Polykhroma presents: Utopia/Dystopia” and created visuals and an installation for Tufts Applejam’s 2017 Spring Thing concert.

At the beginning of the semester, Lo organized “NASTY WOMEN x TUFTS,” a feminist art show and fundraiser for Planned Parenthood in response to the presidential inauguration. Nasty Women, a global art movement that began in January in Queens, N.Y., inspired Lo to host a sister exhibition at Tufts.

Femininity and gender are prominent concepts in Lo’s work. On her Vimeo channel, she describes her film “Nothing can hurt you if you just close your eyes!” (2016) as “a performative exploration of personal insecurity and the male gaze.” In the film, she smears blue lipstick all over her face, an action inspired by a fear that she frequently experiences in her daily life.

“I wear a lot of lipstick,” she explained. “Sometimes I have this fear that it’s smeared on my face and I’ll be really paranoid.”

By intentionally smudging her lipstick, Lo turns anxiety into empowerment.

“What if I put that into my own hands and purposefully smear it? It became this performance of putting on makeup in a way that you’re not supposed to … This makeup is mine, this is how I want it to look on my face right now, and I think I look great,” Lo added.

“Nothing can hurt you if you just close your eyes!” is a component of a larger performance art piece that Lo showcased at a student art show last November put on by Polykhroma. The video played behind Lo as she danced and repeatedly asked the audience variations of the question, “Do you think I’m pretty?”

Having danced since the age of twelve, Lo has overcome stage fright from years of performing. However, she described experiencing discomfort while performing this piece at the Polykhroma show.

“It was the first moment in which I was performing with my body and actually did feel uncomfortable,” she said.

Lo believes that discomfort and awkwardness can be great artistic tools.

“When I was younger and I first started choreographing, I was only interested in aesthetic and technicality, but as I’ve matured and gotten more comfortable with choreography, I’ve tried to embrace the awkward moments,” she said. “If the audience feels uncomfortable, maybe that’s a good thing.”

Lo employs discomfort in her film “A / WAKE,” which was created as a midterm project for a class she took this semester, DNC 77: Dance on Camera. The film is a single shot of Lo dancing through her house overlaid with a voiceover of a poem about her struggle with depression.

“‘A / WAKE’ is about dealing with depression and feeling trapped in this cyclical, oppressive state of being depressed,” she said. “Those are themes that I deal with a lot in my art.”

Lo reflected on the ways that life struggles can strengthen one as a person and an artist and even lead to beautiful moments in one’s life.

“I think that sadness, pain and darkness are vital to being a more emotionally fulfilled person,” she said. “I think it broadens your emotional spectrum, and having experienced those lows informs how you experience the highs in your life … Who I am today and where I am today would be so different had I not experienced these low points.”

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