What does it mean for a person to be extraordinary? The O-1 nonimmigrant visa, issued by the United States government to foreigners hoping to reside long-term in the country, forces thousands to grapple with this question every year. Official parlance states that a qualifying individual “possesses extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business, or athletics, or who has a demonstrated record of extraordinary achievement in the motion picture or television industry and has been recognized nationally or internationally for those achievements.” To many applicants, this criteria is vague and obviously subjective; to the government, it typically means proving that you’ve been written up in the media, won an award, or had work exhibited or published somewhere prominent.
To artist Jenny Hung, the O-1 application “makes apparent a system whereby an artist’s work is not considered to be in existence — no matter how extraordinary it is — until it’s been written about and rendered in a published format.” So, to make very visible and celebrate the creations of immigrants who may not have had major exposure, she recently launched a publication of her own: O1, a serial magazine that features works by foreign-born artists living in the US, many of whom have struggled with the complexities and stresses of the O-1 application. Hung’s original concept stemmed from what she described as “a half-baked idea” to exhibit and publish all of her friends’ works, so that they could stay in the country, but the rise of xenophobia in recent months, following the election of Donald Trump as president, heightened her desire to bring their voices to the forefront.
O1 is concerned with “the foreign and the familiar,” aiming to communicate the experiences of and challenges faced by its participating artists in America, through both content and form.
“Although named after a visa classification, the magazine uses the term ‘O1’ as more of a metaphor,” Hung told Hyperallergic. “Like a marker of something or an arrival of someone foreign to yourself. It is also, in other ways, a questioning of our reading of what exactly is ‘foreign’ and what is ‘familiar.’ The line can be blurry and is most interesting at times when they appear one in the same.”
The inaugural issue, published in January, is guided by the many obstacles the eponymous visa poses to applicants; it makes visible the labyrinthine process. Designed like a map, it’s frustrating to peruse and difficult to fold and unfold, with large pages that make for clumsy handling. The issue costs $15.50 — a nod to the $1,550 applicants pay for the processing of an O-1 visa. Its total word count is 10,891, which reflects the 10,891,745 immigrant visas issued by the US in 2015. Hung also gave the 14 contributors an added challenge to work with individual word counts, each based on the number of visas that the US issued to their home country or region in 2015, with one word representing about 1,000 visas.
So, China-born Yuanchen Jiang‘s 2,447 words — detached but polite correspondence between a lawyer and applicant that relays the tedious, drawn-out nature of the process — occupies a sizable chunk of the magazine, since the US allots a very large percentage of its visas to his home country. On the flip side, Nejc Prah, from Slovenia, could only write one word. He chose “banana.” A mixture of experimental writing, poetry, prose, an interview, and one advertisement, the first issue of O1 pulls together a variety of threads that speak to the niche experience of what it’s like to become, and be, an immigrant artist in the United States.
Hung, who serves as the sole editor, with a small budget, plans to publish issues two and three later this year. One will center on impermanence and adaptation, the other on language and stories. The magazine’s physical design will to reflect the content, with each release taking on a fresh appearance that captures the spirit of its myriad voices.
‘There is something beautiful about the transitory nature of someone on an O-1: the pollination of ideas that comes with the constant movement and meeting of people, the courage and optimism of starting somewhere anew,” Hung said. “But this can get overshadowed by the tenuous situation surrounding the visa process. All of these are the conditions that O1 magazine is based on.”
The first issue of O1 magazine is available online.
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