Linlin and Naoko found many common threads through their conversations. They grew up in different cultural environments and speak different languages, and their ways of expressing themselves and describing the same subjects are also different. For example, when Naoko brought up using meditation in her work Tearism, Linlin thought of Zen and Buddhism. Many of Linlin’s works were constructed intentionally in collaboration with marginalized migrant workers in Beijing, and Naoko thought of her hyperlocal approach when creating community engagement through her work. As women, they also exchanged their thoughts and experience on being women in Japan, China, and the U.S.
Linlin was visiting the villages in Fuzhou, Jiangxi when she took the call. On camera, she was constantly moving between the bus and the ground, from one place to another, from a state of action to a state of seating. This encapsulates a larger state of being that our society has normalized: the pace of our life has accelerated, and we are busy and multitasking all the time.
参与式艺术, 交换和社群 Participatory Art, Exchange and Community
Since 2016 I have been intentionally working with hyperlocal communities, extending my research around local cultures to make my work. When researching local communities, I always find that local nature is inextricable from the locale’s charm and history. There’s a study called bioregion–looking at the geographic map by nature and how nature affects the livelihood and culture of its people. A bioregional approach to the research inspires me to celebrate the uniqueness of a community on every scale.
Part of this interest comes from learning about gentrification. A hyperlocal approach is one way to combat the capitalistic system that creates a false sense of a singular center. Instead of assimilating into a homogenous society and aesthetic, I ask us to recognize all the histories and cultures of our immediate surroundings.
A lot of places are facing gentrification–I feel they are losing the identity of who they are. I use my art project to highlight who they are, and I see the common thread of empowerment between my work and LinLin’s.
I agree with what Naoko said. Hyperlocalism–I care a lot about local people and villages too. My studios, when I was in school as well as now, are very close to the suburb. I am fascinated by old architectural structures, buildings, materials especially the color and scent of wood. I am also interested in the way people live their lives. When I create, I rarely think about sales of artwork, or how would this work fit in the art market or gallery scene. I am more interested in having my work be in conversation with people, life and the environment.
Participatory art plays a substantial role in my practice. Participatory art is full of unknowns and I like that. It’s like life practice. Local community members become participants in my work and are invited to react however they naturally do. This mutual exchange between me and the participants is of utmost importance. I want there to be something they can take away from my work, rather than the idea that they are just here to help me complete the work.
Therefore it’s important for me to be accountable to communities that are open to developing a relationship. I spend at least a few months before I execute my project. I visit them a lot. Even after the project is finished, we often continue to be in touch.
This reminds me of my experience creating work in Beijing. I hire many migrant workers from the local area to help me produce the work. On the one hand, I create works to realize my vision, to collaborate with local cultures, to bring an artistic experience to people. On the other hand, this gives me an opportunity to collaborate with the migrant workers, as I usually have a budget for manufacturing and can pay them wages for them to support their families. This to me is meaningful. This echoes what Naoko said.
These days, many Chinese towns and villages are eager to host visiting artists. Every place is so unique–the plantation, architecture and aesthetic styles can be drastically different. They all want artists to work with their local culture specifically. Today I am visiting the villages in Fuzhou, Jiangxi Province. Peking University organized this trip. We are hoping to see if local townships and villages have the potential to become artist residencies and be involved more with contemporary art. This is my first time here. Although I grew up in China, still there are a lot of places I haven’t been to. This might be a good chance to show you some of these local Buddhist Temples.
I want to do some charity work, or involve charitable acts in the work I do. China has a lot of left-behind children in the rural area and countryside of extreme poverty. There is a charity project called “The Power of an Egg”–can you imagine that, some children in China cannot even afford the lifestyle and living standard of an egg a day? I want to be able to contribute to people and society, and bring positive changes to my surroundings through the work I do.
The production process at Yinchuan Contemporary Art Museum for Li LinLin’s exhibition: RECONSTRUCTION SERIES–MY SONGS FROM HEART, 2019
禅修, 冥想和艺术 Zen, Meditation and Art
I felt “zen” in Naoko’s work–something religious and Buddhist feeling. Has the word “meditation” originated from the Western world? What do you think of meditation?
The first time I ever meditated was in Hawaii where I ended up creating Tea(r)ism. I only had four days to be there for research before I had to submit a proposal for the exhibition. I was nervous about coming up with an idea, and my friend suggested I should try meditation. On the first try I got the idea for Tea(r)ism. This experience has led to a long term commitment to meditation.
Can you talk a bit more about Tea(r)ism and Umami Taste Development Center?
While preparing for this interview I was reminded of my desire to study Chinese tea when I was a teenager- I have always liked tea ceremonies. In retrospect, I see the connections between my interest in tea and Tea(r)ism. I made Tea(r)ism in 2017. For Tea(r)ism, people were encouraged to cry throughout the meditation. I hoped this meditation would provide a real cleansing experience for the participants.
I researched the function and benefit of tears; how crying can bring awareness and provide catharsis. I also learned that meditation stimulates certain parts of your brain which makes you enter a focused state. Combining both into this participatory project created a synergy that led to an ultimate cleansing.
When I am creating, such as adding stitches to a piece of cloth–that process feels similar to meditation. Both are highly focused on the work, immersing myself into something and doing the work with all my attention, even just adding stitches to a piece of cloth. To me, that’s meditation.
Naoko Wowsugi’s participatory performance: Tea(r)ism. Launched in 2017, Honolulu, HI. Hosted by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.
女性, 童年和意识形态 Womanhood, Childhood, Identity
How is it like being a contemporary artist in China as a woman?
My parents became divorced because I was born a girl. That was in the 90s. Even now, in rural Chinese places, families still prefer sons over daughters. This “male-centric” cultural phenomenon hasn’t changed all that much. As a woman and mother, I have to attend to general house chores, take care of my two children and their education, cook for other people in the family–all of these on top of my own life and studio practice, making my life extremely difficult. Sometimes I feel like being sandwiched between so many things and have little room to breathe.
In China, many womxn artists don’t want to emphasize their gender and hate people calling them womxn artists. At the same time, some do like wearing this label a lot. As for myself, I don’t really think about my gender when creating works. I do a lot of physical labor, get injured–I have expected all of that, so there’s nothing to fear. Some people attack me and my work. I’ve considered that as well. Perhaps it’s all part of humanity, things like jealousy and greed. If I see them as “this is how things should be” and try to accept that, it doesn’t feel as personal or worth feeling bothered by.
I think that’s really strong. Your ability to create from massive, immersive installations to more intimate, delicate sculptures is really impressive. On top of that you are a mother to two children. It is no easy feat to be a female artist and mother in the art world, but I’m certain that your perseverance and example will benefit everyone. We have liberated our own creative practices in spite of the limitations and expectations put upon us as womxn artists. In doing so I think we have been expanding positive possibilities for future generations.
Joseph and Yadi are both gallerists. At the same time, they are also artists, curators, gallery owners, art writers and critics. Joseph once operated a house gallery out of his home in DC. He had to give that up due to the rising house price. His new gallery NoMüNoMü is now in the adjacent city Baltimore, where the art scene is booming and prices are cheaper. Yadi has worked at both commercial galleries and nonprofit organizations, including big name institutions and indie spaces. She is now a staff member at SPURS Gallery. Both artists have experienced economic impact from the rising prices of urban environments, having to change jobs, change cities, and change apartments. As urban dwelling art practitioners, they both relate to phenomena such as gentrification, inflation and capitalism but from different angles based on different personal stories. Yadi and Joseph are based in different cities. Neither has been to each other’s city nor witnessed each other’s work in real life or real time. Their email exchanges are based on interpreting visual documentations of each other’s work. This conversation provides an opportunity for them to connect directly in real time, to learn about each other’s creative process and conceptualization without filters.
“乐观主义佛教徒”是在示弱吗？中国和美国的城市病 “Hedonist Buddhist” and Victimization: Gentrification in Chinese and U.S. Contexts
Can you talk a bit about “Hedonist Buddhist” and your work about gentrification?
I grew up in DC–not from a very rich family–we were affected by how housing prices rose and we had to leave after a few years. I started to see gentrification happening pushing people moving outside of DC–completely changed the landscape of my home.
I was born and raised in Wuhan, where the pandemic started. Coming to Beijing, I am technically a migrant.The gentrification you described is quite universal and I’ve observed similar things in my network and neighborhood. Yet in Beijing, my friends and I consider ourselves “salary people”. When faced with inflation, we would want to increase our work hours and overall income to maintain our living standard. We haven’t thought of creating an artwork to form discussion around it. For “Hedonist Buddhist,” who were the people coming to see the project, and what kind of feedback did you receive?
The show was meant to confront the wealthy. So there was a lot of tension that happened between the people walking in. It wasn’t very hostile. But people mostly walked in and thought it was just a store. It did help some people understand what they were doing–at least 2 people moved out of the condominium. One specifically was because of the show.
Another point of the project was to bring in activists and artists from different communities to come in–from that level it was well received–a lot of activists were happy that they were able to meet at a very comfortable space consistently as it was hard to do in DC.
It’s quite impressive that some people decided to move because of what they had learned from the show. However, my understanding is that the residents of DC were divided into class by accident–some are born with more resources, and some without. Unfortunately the people with less social resources have to move away from central locations. Does “Hedonist Buddhist” interpret this phenomena from a perspective of class confrontation? Is there a risk of “victimization”?
It wasn’t victimization because for me it wasn’t a cheap show. I had to raise 20k to make the show happen. And what we were presenting in the show was a lot of books that pointed to historical facts that were about systemic oppression. What we were pointing to was–yes there is class division in DC. In DC, it’s more normal like people were making 30k here and 100k there–it’s more stratified, but DC has become like people making millions now living on top of people making under 50 and we were pointing to the drastic inequality here. As far as victimization goes–I wouldn’t–we weren’t asking for help, we were just making our own space for people to meet in, and telling them that it’s a fucked up situation and we have to take measures to make a statement against and most importantly make spaces for ourselves.
Hedonist Buddhist took place in 2019, at the Washington Project for the Arts, D.C.
艺术创作, 未来和成长 Art Practice, Future and Growth
Running and working between different roles–artists, gallerists, activists–how does that affect your work?
These roles are getting in the way of me making art. NoMüNoMü started as a platform for my friends and myself to make art. As it developed, my creative input became less and less and I kinda took a director role. Now the hard part is going back and making my own art–I feel that I’ve been just out of practice for like two years.
I can relate. We all have limited capacity and once we gain something, more than likely there are things that we have to give up. However, I don’t think being an artist is the only way to be creative. Everything you do involves your talent, resources and creativity. Perhaps the anxiety you are feeling can actually help you find your most comfortable way of existing.
I want to know more about the collector article–curious about this collector’s article that you wrote: Secrets those in art industry that can’t be said straightforwardly.
I wrote this article in 2016 when I just graduated from the art school. I was getting to know how normally galleries, curators and artists operate and wrote down my simple observations. Revisiting this article I felt quite surprised by how straightforward my thought process was–I feel that I am no longer able to think this way. Perhaps I need to reclaim the things I’ve lost.
Can you elaborate more on the things you have lost?
Well, perhaps I am gaining something new every day while losing something at the same time. Before entering the art field I had certain imagination about what art was, how art should be. These impressions are projections of my own personal expectations and world views. They might not be true. Once entering the field, all of these impressions and expectations felt blurred, which captions my current state of mind.
I read that there were different stages of personal growth. Once you’ve met your personal needs and goals, you can devote yourself into social practice. I respect your work for this particular reason, as you situate your work in the context of the society and are committed to help other young artists. I am not there yet, still need to prioritize attending to my own problems first. The art and cultural industry requires a lot of output of information and knowledge–via texts, visualizations, etc. To be able to output, one has to have rich life experiences and reflections, a strong base. On one hand I work at a commercial gallery; on the other hand, I don’t think my foundations are solid enough. However, perhaps one could look at this differently–some people might say that you don’t have to be super ready and perfect in order to start doing something.
Next year I will be curating a show at the gallery I work at. The audience most likely will still be the existing audience of the gallery–the gallery is a platform that represents the tastes and aesthetics of its audience and collectors, many of them are rich people and wealthy kids. In many cases, these people’s preferences define the framework of the gallery’s art practice, and we need to consider what content to provide based on our understanding of who will be consuming. As a staff member, I have to interact and make friends with this group of people, at the same time I still feel it’s hard to really become part of them. I guess, I am also trying to picture my future audiences and the groups I will be part of in order to come up with proper output. I still don’t know what that will be.
Opening reception for the artist, Wang Jiajia at SPURS gallery, where Yin Yadi curates.
独立艺术，政治与规 Independent Art, Politics and Human Scale
Is the art market in China similar to the U.S. market? Lots of rich people?
Rich people–it would be hard to avoid. Contemporary art is a product of the Western framework, of capitalism. Nowhere on the planet can escape this context. The class division and wealth gap you mentioned earlier might be more prominent in China.
I do want to know some artists to look at. I’m very interested in how we can start to articulate aesthetics of cross cultural dialogue–I’m not sure what that should look like but am eager to see what people are doing across the world.
Compared to commercial art, social practice and contemporary art practice is more ethical, especially when we work with communities. The work we are doing at Empathy Zone–facilitating direct conversations between artists from different cultures without government facilitation or interruption–artists can have a more direct role.
There was an exhibition at Taikang Space about history. When combing through historical facts on the war between Japan and China, the curator Hu Hao discovered a lot of documentation of individual Chinese and Japanese soldiers hanging out together, chatting and smoking cigarettes–when they are not in fighting mode. This actually illustrates this contrast between “official/national” way of cross-cultural interaction and the “casual/individual” way of exchange. The concepts of nation and country are constructed, but our exchange on an individual level and human scale is natural and part of our instinct. As individuals, we all have to deal with differences, but we will always end up finding groups of people who we share common traits. Joe, I know you are an independent artist and NoMüNoMü is an artist-run independent organization. Do you think being independent means being radical and marginal?
No. I think this is where I am–the balance is difficult–doing art is trying to break out conventional aesthetics, marketable aesthetics–NoMüNoMü started as a way to show my friends’ work because they weren’t getting any gallery representation. So it wasn’t very political–it was about the art–but it became political. I think all art is political. I think the market tries to depoliticize the work. I think that is the problem.
My relationship with art has evolved through many stages as well–sometimes I think, am I really going to be in the so-called art world for my entire life? There are so many other interesting things in the world. Sometimes I get tired–it seems like art, artifact, and artwork are all operating on their own orbit with little cross path. The process of art is terminated the moment the artist is done creating. However, later I realized that, I need to adjust my attitude. We can only be ourselves. There are no other choices. Once I came to this understanding, I began to learn to accept myself and find my own way. Switching between different roles, adopting different perspectives, allow me to look at the world in a more diverse way. Contemporary art provides different section drawings of the world. There is a lot to contain. In response to “all arts are political”–I think art can bear knowledge too.