whitehot | October 2011; An Interview with Yan Xing
In his latest exhibition, Yan presented another performance-based work, REALISM, which featured himself and seven actors reciting and discussing quotes from Andre Breton’s Surrealist Manifesto while pondering a replica of Michelangelo’s David, as well as They Are Not Here, a filmed experiment in which Yan placed seven men in a cramped hotel room for a single afternoon and refused to allow them to communicate with each other throughout the duration.
As one of China’s few openly gay artists, Yan Xing’s work—and, arguably, his very presence, which is so often tied up with it—continues to ruffle feathers in a country where cultural norms are only slowly being broken down.
TRAVIS JEPPESEN: Your educational background is in oil painting. What made you decide to switch to performance?
YAN XING: First of all, the medium itself is very important for me. The medium has its own logic and system, which does not happen by accident. What I really want to stress here is that I have never been away from or given up painting—even while indulging in performance. In addition, I never avoid classical art; to some extent, the fear of art makes me feel that what I am doing is far from what I expect. However, maybe this is not art at all, just experiences. China’s art education follows the Soviet Union’s approach; therefore, students have to choose their department according to the medium when they enter university. Ultimately, graduating from the oil painting department in the art academy has nothing to do with my art practice, as I am neither a good student nor a good example.
JEPPESEN: Can you talk about your current performance installation at Galerie Urs Meile?
XING: This is my first solo exhibition, which features two projects. One is a work I finished last year, They Are Not Here, and the other one is called REALISM. REALISM is actually not a work about the performance, or about the sculpture, video, print and installation. In the scenario that I constructed, there is a huge sculpture, which reflects my internal desire. On the opening day, seven actors and myself did a two hour-long performance. The whole practice—including operations, descriptions, rehearsals, occupations, negotiations, handwriting—could be defined as the plea or defense for an “imagined reality.” I want to spark a thorough discussion about the generation of mechanisms of art history. This attitude reflects my persistent sincerity towards “the creation of a reality without any difference,” or, better, my insane stubbornness aimed at “the full accomplishment of the unavoidable mistake.”
XING: This is a performance that I dedicate to my DADDY. I spent more than one hour facing a wall talking about my special personal experiences. When I look back at this piece afterwards, it at least demonstrated that I am a good narrator. Narration bears endless charms.
JEPPESEN: You are a founding member of the artist group COMPANY. What is the history of this group? What have been its aims and projects? How does this project differ from your solo works?
XING: COMPANY is a continuous project. It is not an organization, nor a team. Since last year, we have done four projects. As I wrote in the statement in 2008:
COMPANY is a company without an employer, employees, or salaries. The concept of COMPANY is as vague as its infrastructure. COMPANY has no set principles or precise characteristics. The artists of COMPANY rarely communicate with each other. They work independently with no prescribed aims or obligations towards any goal. COMPANY was named and founded with this intent collectively by the founding artist members.
JEPPESEN: You have a blog in China that has been very controversial. Would you consider blogging to be an important part of your art practice? What role does blogging play for you as an artist?
Thanks to Mengzhuo Zhao for her assistance with translations.
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