Interview mit He Xiangyu (english/chinese)
He Xiangyu interview by Roxanne Goldberg
10 March 2014
8:00 PM EST / 14.00 UTC
Translation by Lily Yuan-yuan Ma
Roxanne Goldberg (RG): Can you tell me about your methodology (artistic practice)?
He Xiangyu (HX): 我大学实际上学的是油画专业，大学毕业后去了欧洲看了一些展览，后来决定来创作装置。第一件作品就是“可乐计划”，本来我不会做装置，但是通过“可乐计划”我慢慢地了解了装置的工作方法和怎么去实践的过程.
In college, I majored in painting. But after I traveled around Europe after my graduation and visited a few exhibitions, I was inspired to start making installations. Through my first installation “Cola Project,” I slowly started to look into the working process and method of art installation.
RG: Your methodology is very process-based. I’m thinking of your recent work “Everything We Create is not Ourselves” in particular. Can you tell me more about that artwork? How you came to the concept and why you choice the ink paintings and copper casts?
你的艺术实践非常重视创作过程，你的近期作品“Everything We Create is not Ourselves”正是如此。能够告诉我这个作品的更多信息吗？你为什么会想到这个理念？你为什么选择用水墨画以及铸铜？
For me, making an object into a visual ready-made is not that important anymore. I think it is more valuable to think about how an artist integrates his or her idea into the work, rather than discussing what the work expresses.
RG: What is your creative process?
HX: 现有一个想法，先放在脑子放一段时间，用草图的方法画迟来，把草图放一段时间 慢慢思考 。
Every time I have an idea I let the idea set in my mind for a while, or sketch it out so I will have time to think about it. When time comes, I will make small samples out of it. After that, I will find the right material that expresses my idea in the best way to make the piece. When the piece is done, I put it in space and make sure it works well with the space before I show it.
RG: Can you tell me more about “Everything We create is not Ourselves”?
When I was in China, I could make work out of social relationships, but then I couldn’t transplant my practice in the United State after I moved here, so I started to practice by myself, in my own body. By speaking English, I realized the structure of the cavity changes. I thought that language system could change the physical structure of the human, so I started to use my tongue to sense my palate. I then expressed the sensation though art. At first I used drawings to flatten my sensation, and then I made them into sculptures.
RG: The curators of Die 8 der Wege told me the love story of you and your wife, who I understand is Korean and doesn’t speak Chinese. Does this experience of being unable to communicate relate in any way to “Everything We Create is not Ourselves?”
Could you share with me the story of you and your wife and tell me about how art and life intersect for you?
Like I said earlier, to interpret the sensation by flattening it or making it three-dimensional is important. The relationships between my wife and I is isolated from language communication. We communicate through sense and body language, and that has made me very aware of sensation.
RG: Can you speak more about how the relationship with your wife and life in general influences your artwork?
HX: I think she has a long-term subtle influence on me, on my way of thinking and my logic. Before I converted my ideas through objects, now I express my sensation through objects. It is a deeper understanding of my earlier works.
RG: One topic that Die 8 der Wege is interested in exploring is the differences and similarities between the Western art world and the Beijing art world. I understand you live in Pittsburgh and have exhibited internationally. How is your experience as an artist in Beijing different or similar from when you are living in the West?
The biggest difference is that I became lonelier. But I still drink tea and eat similar food that I had in China. The air quality here is much better than in China. Also, I do more paintings here, while in China, I did more large-scale artworks.
RG: Do you feel your artwork is received and interpreted differently in the West than it is in Beijing? For example, “Cola Project,” which has been shown in Beijing, Australia, Paris, and now Berlin.
HX: 总体来讲，中国的策展人和收藏家对我的不是很快的去喜欢，我不担心在国外有什么问题。可乐和口腔都在White Cube展出，所以我觉得对观众的反响来说应该不会有什么太大出入。
I am not particularly concerned with the Western audience. My previous works “Cola Project” and “Everything We Create is Not Ourselves” has been exhibited in White Cube, so I think I will not be surprised by the western audience’s reaction. Chinese curators and collectors didn’t like my work at first, but they immediately accepted my work after the West did. For example, I cooked 127 tons of Coca-Cola in “Cola Project”. The first reaction of Chinese audiences was like “How much does it cost to make this artwork?” while the Western audience thought it was amazing to see Coke turned into such beautiful rocks. Theses two reactions show the different values of China and the West. Chinese demand a more physically basis satisfaction, while the Western audiences’ understanding of art is out of material basis.
RG: At age 28 you are already very successful. What do you think makes your generation of artists in Beijing unique and interesting? Are there certain defining characteristics that you all share?
I don’t think I am successful because my works haven’t been shown in the major art galleries and museums. I am just a beginner. I also cannot make any comment on my generation of artists in Beijing because I don’t really deal with them. I am more willing to hangout with people of different professions. Most of my former classmates gave up on being artists because they think it doesn’t make a lot of money.
RG: Anything else you would like to share about your artwork and methodology that I have not already asked?
HX: I have nothing much to add. But Berlin is the first foreign country that I have visited and I like it a lot. I really look forward to the show.