Mousse: Nav Haq in conversation with Guan Xiao
Published in Mousse, Issue No. 45, page 208~211, 2014
By: Nav Haq
Oct 14, 2014
Nav Haq: Art education in China remains traditional to this day. Could you tell us about your background, how you became an artist, and your trajectory towards experimental art making across media?
Guan Xiao: I consider myself a self-taught artist, and therefore not an artist with a Chinese educational background. I really didn’t consider myself an artist, at the very beginning. Actually I couldn’t. In college
there is no such subject as “fine art,” and at that time the environment of Chinese art was really bad, full of “Political Pop” artworks. Everybody did the same thing more or less, and so everything looked the same. It was all very ugly and I found the aesthetic really the opposite of my own interests. It was hard to find galleries or exhibitions that looked interesting. So I really didn’t want to be a part of it. I just went to the Internet and taught myself about art and culture, and kept doing my own things, which I found really comforting.
As I have a self-taught background, I have always believed that all kinds of media should serve your thoughts instead of marking their limits. You just need to consider which media can bring your thoughts out better.
NH: I can see much of the content of your works focuses on the flow and accessibility of data, as well as the profound impact this is having on our lives. When did you start to think about how this was having an influence on your work as an artist at the level of content?
GX: The Internet is like a massive materials bank. You can find almost everything you are interested in online. Everything relays in front of you, and you just need one second. Meanwhile, as an artist, people keep telling you that you can do whatever you want. But people focus on the “do whatever” much more than on the “what you want.” I mean, of course you should care about the new trends and directions, but the first important thing is that you should take time to think over what interests you about such media. In 2012, when I started to prepare my first solo exhibition, I realized these situations make working even more difficult. Such a promise of freedom has become the biggest obstacle to freedom itself. So I shifted my thinking about this from the outer world to my inner world. I tried to find out why these things were so fascinating for me—how do I understand this world, and what are the things I most desire to express?
NH: You are part of the first generation of practitioners that have grown up with the Internet, many of whom have been labeled as “post-Internet” to describe the current tendency in contemporary art towards use and portrayal of our interface with this influx of information. It seems to be a global trend, but the focus of this debate has been mainly on the dominant cultural capitals like Berlin, London and New York. What is your perspective on this phenomenon in art?
GX: I think this tag is too simplistic, and looks suspiciously like the following of a trend. For me, the Internet is just a tool. If we can call something “post-Internet” as a kind of art, does this mean everybody who’s using the Internet to post things could be making art? I think the point is about how the Internet influences the way we make art—for example, the pressure on the individual to see things the way the Internet does. And then there are the possibilities and forms for value judgments under such an influx, such a free flow of information. On the Internet, the possibilities for “seeing” new things have a much broader range than ever before, and the relationship between seeing and hearing becomes closer than ever. Our various sensory experiences begin to compress into one layer. Some people may consider this a simplification, or we might wish to take this as a restoring of our original senses. I find this very interesting. I’d like to explore this situation from several perspectives: seeing, and asking what it is we have seen. Why would we like to see it? How could we see it?
Meanwhile, the other thing I think is very interesting about the Internet is that it’s very much like our raw awareness. The fact that our awareness has never been fixed, since it is always encountering something else. That’s very much like the experience of browsing online. If you notice every point in these meetings, you can find methods to link everything together in your own way.
NH: Your sculptures often use different kinds of simulated camouflage patterns as a skin. We see it in works like The Documentary: Geocentric Puncture (2012) and the series “Cloud Atlas” (2012-13). What is the thinking behind this visual thread?
GX: I like to put some elements on my sculptures as a hint, to build a link to the possibility of a background. I prefer to sense my sculptures as being something alive, like creatures. These kinds of skin patterns or other special textures that I make manually have a kind of vitality characteristic for me. I like to build links between the various elements in my sculptures. After you give some directional hints to a sculpture, the things you can and cannot comprehend will work together towards the formation of your own reasoned understanding.
For my sculptures, I always try to let them tilt away from balance a bit, the balance of what is perceived as “good” or “just right,” and I think that’s where the chemistry can come from to achieve different e effects.
NH: In your video works such as David (2013) there are soundtracks you have created yourself. I know you also produce music. How does this activity relate to the ideas in your work and your everyday practice?
GX: In David, I wrote the lyrics and sang the part with the rap. Music is very important to me, or the various structures of music are important to my practice. It has very big influence on how I understand the world. I’m always feeling the world as being in a state of flux. Every time you experience the same rhythms running or happening alongside you, you can really feel like a part of them. My new video Action has to do with this comprehension of the link with music and rhythm. I really hope to have the opportunity to cooperate with a musician, in a situation of mutual esteem.
NH: You are working towards a solo exhibition in Shanghai, for which I understand you are developing new work. Also a duo exhibition with Katja Novitskova, at the Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler gallery (AKTNZ), I think. What might we expect?
GX: I will have two exhibitions in Berlin in September. One is at AKTNZ and the other is at the ABC art fair. I’ve thought of the two titles of these shows together; one is “Something Happened Like Never Happened” and the other is “Something Always Happens, Keeps Happening.” In March or April next year I will have a solo show at Antenna Space in Shanghai. I’m working on new video works and sculptures. The title hasn’t been decided yet.
During the current period, I’m thinking about ways of creating correlation. As I mentioned before, for me Internet browsing is somehow very similar to our general awareness. It is a very good way to observe how our self-awareness is relevant to things beside us. The way we infer things from the Internet, through the idea of “correlation,” is always my favorite method for finding out about the themes that interest me. So I think this time I’m going to refer to it more clearly. But even I don’t know exactly what I should expect until the moment of completion.
The duo exhibition with Katja will be at Art Basel Hong Kong next year, with AKTNZ. I really think our new sculptures work very well together. Though we work with different forms, somehow there are connections, and I like to think that our works could actually be each other’s contexts.