Olivia, you’re one of the founders of Jespionne, and someone I incredibly admire. Thanks for making the time for us to update your file.
My pleasure. How you liking the arctic freeze we are feeling across the big apple. I was regretting taking this interview when Napoleon confirmed you were coming !! There is no way I was going to be getting out of bed before noon when it’s below 20 outside. But anyhow, glad Napoleon coerced me into this, I know you need this for the task force journal and to get the big picture on how we started the agency. Most of the stuff you can get from Napoleon, but I just funded the thing … it’s Tao and me, we just wanted to find a way to make a difference given what we both went through the last few years with our families.
You live in Brooklyn, how do you like the neighborhood?
I adore it. Sometimes I think I could live someplace else, but then I travel and spend a few weeks away from home and realize that I would never want to leave. This kind of lifestyle I lead lets me explore all sorts of countries and their cultures, but none feels as right as Brooklyn. In fact, I don’t think anything has come CLOSE to the way it makes me feel. It’s a fantastic city that allows you to explore your identity in ways that you’d never imagine. There’s a rawness to you that lets you find yourself in a way that’d take YEARS otherwise. The pace the city lives at also feels incredibly right to me, it’s no NYC with that kind of hectic lifestyle, but definitely with a bite of its own, a singularity that I can’t find anywhere else.
Profile interview by Linn Bjork for
Have you always lived here?
No. When I was little, I lived in the Connecticut, with my parents. Even then, though, I spent some time throughout the year traveling out of the country to explore. I always missed the city during these trips away though…despite the companionship at hand, I missed ‘home,’ as cliché as that sounds. I think their deaths are what pushed me to take a break to Brooklyn for a while for sure, though. And I’m not sure if I’d ever have come back if I wasn’t reminded of the promises I’d made to myself years ago. It feels like I made the right choice, though.
It’s an amazing city that allows you to explore your identity in ways that you’d never imagine.
What about your job? Are you enjoying it? It seems like it’s the type that would drive someone crazy with pressure.
I’m a little crazy, but I don’t think that’s due to my job (laughs). Maybe, if we learn a little more about each other, I’ll pry my heart open to you! Actually, I can’t believe I just said that, so cheesy…Anyways…I like it; I enjoy the pressure honestly, it keeps me on my toes. Without anything high-stakes to keep me going, I get bored quickly, and there’s something incredibly self-destructive about that. I also inherited a piece of my father’s company, something he helped build when he was young – it occupies a lot of my time… but honestly it’s in capable hands, but the work is engaging, and I don’t mind it. Working from home as often as I do is very freeing;
I honestly love being able to keep my work schedule at my own pace, and it allows me to explore my other passions more as well, such as my physical training and painting. Shiu Lin from southern China has been such a huge and meaningful outlet for me ever since I was young. The physical aspect of it all helps keep my mind clear, my body sharp, and my thoughts crystallized in a way that nothing else can really replicate. Can’t say it’s a TOTALLY charmed life though. Sometimes, the noise of the political climate makes me want to step out of the ordinary and just be an activist, be a voice for those that need it most, beat the system I am so much a product off … but on the lighter side, other times, I just want to…I don’t know. Indulge myself in some kind of escape from it all. That’s life, right?
Do you sometimes sacrifice your social life due to the responsibilities placed on you?
Not really (laughs). I think I’m pretty good at managing my time. If I don’t go out, it’s because I don’t want to. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I didn’t let myself go out because I didn’t feel like I deserved it, you know? It’s probably surprising but, I’m a total hard ass when it comes to my schedule and organization. Get the work done as neatly and concisely NOW, so you don’t have to suffer for it later. That’ll just leave you miserable with a lesser-quality output, and there’s nothing I want less than bringing anything that isn’t my best.
That’s wise. Can we talk a little about your family? You have a very interesting past it seems.
I think my parent’s story is pretty famous. They’re dead, that’s it. That’s all I can provide for now. You gotta work for the rest, you know. My grandmother was a huge part of my early life. She was always around when I needed her, and we became rather close. We spent a lot of time together, experiencing all kinds of things, and I think she was the one who instilled such a good work ethic in me. All that sappy stuff. It really never left me feeling like I was lonely, she was always there if I needed any kind of help or companionship. She was also pretty politically oriented. Guess that’s a family trademark at this point, not that I’m complaining though.
You’re an accomplished painter. Is it something you got from your grandparents or early on in your childhood?
Well, none of them painted, not that I know of, but they were surrounded by a circle of writers and musicians where the collaborations were organic. Singing is a no-go for me outside the shower since it’s something I’m pretty awful at doing. Writing…I’m okay at that, I guess? Nothing super special. If anything, my family nourished a love of the arts in me, and for creating content that would be meaningful, both for myself, and with any luck, the world by extension. Painting is a great escape for me and helps a lot … clear my head and make sense of everything happening in my life and the world at large. Hopefully, that doesn’t sound too pretentious or nebulous. (laughs).
Sometimes I think I could live someplace else but then I travel and spend a few weeks away and realize that I would never want to leave.
Ihe drive to surround myself with people I admire is what fuels me to better myself in anything I do in life, New York has no shortage for inspiration.
NYU / Vivienne Gucwa / Mario Tama / Dasic Fernandez / Stephen Holl Architects / Tom Barnes / Ansel M Kiefer / Pelli Clark / David Smith / Ryan T Conaty / Clara Lieu / Reggio Emilia / Character images by An Le
Brooklyn / MOMA / Bloomberg Tower / Reggio Café / Billie Holiday / Grimes / Maison Premiere / NYC nightlife / Concept Stores / Mayor New York City / Rhianna / Wall Street Journal / Robert F Kennedy / Martin Luther King / Kristin Gillibrand / Stephen Colbert / Bill Gates / Gates Foundation / F Scott Fitzgerald / Bloomberg Foundation / RISD / NYU Stern / Occupy Wall Street / Black Lives Matter / The Hall Foundation / Storm King / Brooklyn Bridge.
January 1 st, 2019