Whitehot Magazine

Gabriel Geng Questions The System

Gabriel Geng, Ailun Li and Handwriting. Courtesy of artist

By NOAH BECKER, September 2019 

I had a chance to speak with the prolific Chinese artist Gabriel Geng about his series of works that dive into situations with foreign students applying for a Visa. Gabriel Geng is a New York based artist and photographer whose work examines reflection of the interaction of Chinese and American contemporary cultural ideologies with the social status quo. Geng integrated handwriting into his work, along with the images, to create a comprehensive and complete scenario. He received his MFA in photography from Columbia College Chicago, and BS in Economics with Financial Applications from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. Eddie Adams Workshop XXXI Alumni.

Noah Becker: Where were you born?

Gabriel Geng: I was born in China, a city called Jinan. That's my city. It's north part near Beijing.

Becker: The north Part.

Geng: Yeah the North part.

Becker: And did you go to an art school there? Or did you go to an art school in North America?

Geng: It's pretty complicated. I did half my high school in China, then Canada first to finish my high school. I stayed in Canada for one year.

Becker: What part of Canada?

Geng: Toronto.

Becker: Okay.

Geng: So yeah my uncle immigrated to Toronto. My mom thought, "Oh that sounds pretty good place you might want to go" so I just went.

Becker: What is your artwork about?

Geng: So my work its about our generation, its about Chinese students who study in America. So after we graduated we faced our previous struggle situation based on everything, so I want to make a voice for our community - also the situation with myself.

Becker: What's the situation about yourself?

Geng: So it's totally about the political policy, immigration policy. If you are a foreigner or international student, after you graduate, you only have one to three years, it depends on what kind of nature you have. You only have a short period of time to find a job and try to get your working Visa. That working Visa stuff is more like a lottery, a lottery system. If you don't get a Visa, you have to go back to your country immediately. If you win the lottery you can stay in America and keep working.

Gabriel Geng, Xinyu Meng and Handwriting. Courtesy of artist

Becker: Okay and how does that appear in your work? How do you integrate that in your work?

Geng: So my work is like, different people in different situations, so in my work as you can see, I interview people. So different people have different situations, some of them want to stay in America, keep working, find a job, and try to stay. Some of them they just want to be back to China, but some of them they just don't know. They just want to follow the rules step-by-step, and if I they can't get work here will just leave the USA. I interview them, I take a formal portrait. I like taking their portriat in the bedroom - it's a good place.

Becker: So how do you decide were they're sitting in the bedroom? Or what their pose is? Or is it just natural?

Geng: Just natural poses, and for the environment or the scene it's just how real the apartment If they are already back in China, I will take the photo in China, in a Chinese apartment. If they stayed in America I'll just take the photo in their American apartment because an apartment's environment can show a person's personality I think. There is some small stuff that shows a lot of detail there...

Becker: Is there a name for the series? Or is it an ongoing project.

Geng: There is a theme titled "Where to Go".

Becker: So the series is called "Where to Go"

Geng: Yes.

Gabriel Geng, Yiying Zhang and Handwriting. Courtesy of artist

Becker: ...and it tracks the lives of students that are trying to get Visas to come into the United States?

Geng: Yes, correct and also there is a direct community for the exchange students born between 1990's-1995.

Becker: I see, and so you're presenting it, how does it get presented in a museum for example?

Geng: The meaning of what I want to tell right?

Becker: How would it be presented? Is it mostly photographs?

Geng: Oh, okay! Yeah, most are photographs, it's a combination of representation there. I print in the catalogs at a size around 8 inches by 10 inches, so one portrait and handwriting together.

Becker: And do you have some shows coming up?

Geng: I just have a solo show in China. It just started in April, a couple weeks ago. It's my first solo show in China and also I have a couple of group shows in the States. WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


Noah Becker on Instagram

Noah Becker Paintings

Noah Becker Music

Email: noah@whitehotmagazine.com

view all articles from this author