More Than Mere Artists

December 26, 2018  Editor: Wei Lingling
More Than Mere Artists
[China Daily]


Liu Xin blends art and science not only professionally but also personally.

The New York-based engineer, who works for the MIT Media Lab's Space Exploration Initiative, flew to South China's Hainan province earlier this month in a capacity different from her day job — that is, as an artist presenting installations, videos and performances.

The 27-year-old joined a group show in the tropical city, featuring 20 young artists nominated for the 2018 Huayu Youth Award, an independent art prize focusing on artists under the age of 35.

She displayed her video, Orbit Weaver, in which she uses a homemade device to shoot string in the zero-gravity environment of outer space, and her installation, Tear Set, consisting of bottles of artificial tears she created based on her own actual tears.

Liu developed her second career as an artist after graduating from Tsinghua University's department of precision instruments. She also studied digital media at the Rhode Island School of Design.

"I believe humans are naturally polymaths," she says.

Liu is one of many contemporary Chinese artists with day jobs that are also core components of their multifaceted identities.

It's especially commonplace among young artists, many of whom can't make their livings through art-at least, not yet.

A Thousand Plateaus Art Space's founder, Liu Jie, says young artists must earn money through various channels when the global economy isn't good.

He says many artists he meets have multiple identities-sometimes out of choice and sometimes out of necessity.

"Young artists are more open to multiple careers compared with older, established artists," the gallery owner explains. He adds that many mid-career artists were able to make a living by selling their work just after graduating from art colleges in the 2000s, when the art market in China increased quickly.

Shanghai-based artist Guo Cheng worked for university labs, taught students and took jobs at art institutions before deciding to become a professional artist last year.

The 30-year-old hasn't yet sold any pieces, but he has captivated the art world's attention with his research-based art pieces that mainly explore the relationship between technology and humans.

He primarily finances his art career through an art residency.

Guo traveled to Amsterdam to join an art project with a chemist and environmental scientist, whose focus is on micro-plastics.

He spent three months there digging a hole and restoring the soil so that it's as pristine as it was before contact with human influences.

It took him half a year to produce the first series of photos, installations and videos based on the project.

"I create slowly," the 30-year-old says.

"I don't think I can live on art for long."

That's why he applies for funded projects and works part-time jobs, but he hopes to someday make it his main career.

Different lenses

Cameraman Liuzhang Bolong, however, describes himself as a "part-time artist", who only creates when he's off duty at his day job.

The 29-year-old returned to his hometown, Beijing, last year from New York, where he studied film and photography at the School of Visual Arts.

His photo series on university labs that he cultivated in the US city has captivated attention and won several major photo awards in China.

Yet, he still can't live on his art alone, since photographic art's value isn't fully realized in China, he says.

So, he took a full-time job filming documentaries last year.

"I have to pay rent and consider marriage. I only create art when inspiration strikes," he says, jokingly.

He's currently working on a documentary about students from migrant workers' families in China's capital that will be screened next year.

Liuzhang graduated from Tsinghua University's School of Materials Science and Engineering.

This background pushed him to focus his lens on university labs in the United States and China. He was able to obtain access through his friends who work in them.

He's the only person among his classmates to pursue art, but he's not sure about his future direction, especially in terms of media.

However, he is certain he'll balance two careers in long term.

"I'm not a typical artist," Liuzhang says.

Secret Identity

Fang Di, on the other hand, is.

But the video artist keeps his identity secret from his colleagues.

The 31-year-old works for a State-owned company that posted him to Papua New Guinea, a land from which he draws inspiration for his videos.

Fang studied oil painting at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and later enrolled in the Mount Royal School of Art in the US.

His work examines contradictions and trends arising from rapid urbanization, such as migration and immigration.

He spent a year filming a dozen Africans in Guangdong province's capital, Guangzhou.

Fang recorded their experiences as they explored the different lifestyle and culture of the southern Chinese city.

The artist makes excuses to get out of work when he hosts shows, noting that his employer wouldn't approve of his identity as an artist.

Fang doesn't know how long he can keep his secret.

But he enjoys both of his jobs, especially given that his day job often inspires his creative works.

For instance, he plans to create an installation using volcanic rock, a material his main job offers him easy access to.

Many hats

Li Weiyi, instead, is not only open about, but also celebrates her multiple identities — artist, designer, curator, publisher and online retailer — in an open statement on her website.

She often introduces herself as existing on five websites, each reflecting a different identity.

"I seldom go out," Li says.

"I love to gain exposure on social networks."

The 31-year-old records her life in words and photos.

She spends much of every day sharing her daily activities on social media, such as micro blogs, messenging-app WeChat, Douban (a Chinese platform for shared-interest communities), Instagram and Twitter.

"Many of my fans say that they feel like I'm an old friend, even though we've never met in person," she says, jokingly.

Li is currently working on a doctorate in innovation-design engineering at the Royal College of Art in London.

She earned her bachelor's degree in design at Shanghai's Tongji University and completed her master's in graphic design at Yale.

Li designs things she needs and enjoys, including earings, mirrors, art books and exhibition spaces. In her apartment in London, she makes almost everything for daily use on her own.

She opened an online shop several years ago to sell items she describes as existing between art and design.

For instance, she broke a mirror and reconfigured its pieces into art.

"It's still a mirror," she explains.

"But it's unique, since every mirror breaks differently."

She says there was no "aha" moment when she decided to enter the art world.

But she recalls being invited to stage exhibitions in galleries while at Yale.

"Many of the gallery owners saw my work online," she says.

"Some even follow my accounts."

Li doesn't take any one of her identities as the core, she says.

"I don't want to be labeled and limited to a certain field. I embrace all the possibilities," she explains.

"When what I create can't be categorized, it can at least still be called art."

(Source: China Daily)

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