Artist and knitwear pioneer
Interview on March 10th at Stuff’d, Jianchang hutong, Dongcheng
KL: okay, you’ve just recently had an exhibition in Arrow factory gallery in this hutong (Jianchang, Dongcheng) with a lot of knitted green hats, can you explain what you’re trying to do with these ideas?
HYP: The green hats on this exhibition were initially made several years ago by my mother. Actually in 2015, when I went back to my hometown, I found that my mom had knitted two big bags of beanies. That was her routine task.
KL: 最近你在 Arrow Factory 画廊（东城区箭厂胡同）里办了一个展览，都是关于一些手工编织的绿帽子。这些帽子怎么来的？是什么突然让你办这个展览呢？
KL: So, your mother’s work made you sad because she works so hard to make them, are you telling this story or there is a big story?
HYP: Basically, during my mother’s era, there was a tradition that a woman has to learn a skill before she gets married. Because hand knitting was a necessary and valuable skill in the 1980s when people lived an impoverished life, it was also an essential requirement of a prospective wife. After China’s reform and opening up, knitting was gradually replaced by mass production of factories and began to disappear. I was born in 1983, life was so difficult at that time, I still remember when I was young, my family didn’t have spare money to buy new clothes, so my mom made all of the clothes for the whole family, including scarfs, sweaters, pants, hats...if the clothes were worn out, my mom would mend them, even sometimes I had to wear my sister's cast-offs which had a lot of patches.
KL: So, you were born in Deng Xiaoping’s period of opening of China. Is the idea that China has changed so much but your mother hasn’t, so the hats come to symbolize the big change before Deng and after Deng?
HYP: Yes, kind of, in fact, the impact of any national policy on a small town was very profound, I believe that many people who were born in the 80s or 70s all dressed in clothes knitted by their mom. When I grew up, I left my hometown and went to a high school in a city. When I moved to the new environment, I was so impressed by the outside world and how life was so different from what I had in my hometown. I found that the clothes shopes sell are really stylish with good fabric that I’ve nerver seen before. By contrast, the sweaters my mom knitted were out of date . I still remember that when I was in junior high school, I had to pinch and scrape in order to save money for buying some trendy clothes, such as LI-NING, ADIDAS, METERSBONWE. So from then on, I didn’t dressed in the clothes my mom knitted anymore, and my mother gradually gave up this work.
Due to reform and opening up, a lot of people of my age left their hometown and chose to work and live in metropolises, such as Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou. This is a very common phenomenon in China now. I’m part of this migration wave. I left home and went to Chengdu for study, then came to Beijing for work and have stayed until now. Now I usually go home every two years.
KL: Where is your hometown?
HYP: Luzhou, Sichuan province.
KL: Where is it? Like near Chengdu?
HYP: I think it’s about three-hour drives to Chengdu. I’m a typical local person from Luzhou.
HYP: Once, I returned to my hometown for an exhibition and didn’t let my mother know, and I found that my mother was knitting hats, and I was told that a purchaser from a hat factory wanted to buy my mother’s hats and was going to pay my mom 2 yuan per hat. Usually, one hat is around 7 to 8 yuan, the purchaser pays too little, and I asked her why did you start knitting hats again? And she said there is nothing to do in her life, she likes to kill time by knitting hats. I suddenly realized that my mother still hasn’t changed from the way she used to live.
There are a lot of women playing card games and Mahjong in the town, this is what the housewives often do, but my mother holds the opinion that as she always loses at cards, she would prefer to spend her time doing something meaningful rather than waste money on card games, even though the salary is meager.
KL: That sounds like my mom, too.
HYP: I understand my mother, she was born in the 50s to 60s in the days of planned economy. Thrift is implanted in her character under the background of food rationing and other hardships. She is accustomed to living in a way of saving money that determines the way she looks at the world. Then she would think in this way: “ if someone pays me, I will knit hats no matter how much he gives me, even 1 kuai, 2 kuai.” But you know, some woolen yarn is of such poor quality that sometimes her hands blistered.
HYP: I can’t tell her about all of things I’m preaparing because I want to pretect her. I have to pre-arrange all of stuff before she involves in this project. I don’t regard myself as an artist, I feel more like a director, you know, because this story is like a movie which exists in reality. So that’s the story about the hats from my mom.
HYP: After that, I decided to help her. Initially, I wanted to collect my mom’s hats, but I knew she would not be willing to give them to me. Then I found one of my college classmates - Xiaofang. (I named her) She would love to help me after she knew this story, and then under my instructions, she found my mother and told her that a French hat company based in Lyons wanted to buy her hats and provided her a good price. My mom was so happy and agreed to cooperate with Xiaofang.
My mother can’t speak Mandarin, and doesn’t know how to use Wechat, so it was a little difficult for her to start business with Xiaofang, especially when Xiaofang paid my mother by WeChat, my mom didn’t know how to withdraw money, as well as she fact she doesn’t trust the internet, so for a long time, she thought if she would suffer a loss through the internet. But after several deals, she gradually got used to WeChat and knew how to accept the “transfer,” although she still doesn’t know how to pay by Wechat.
Once, I put the bag of hats in my studio and my friend Hezhi who is also an artist, asked me what was going on, and I told the story to him, then he put forward an idea that I should hold an exhibition. Later, he spoke to Arrow Factory and they gave me an exhibition in November last year. Wangwei, the boss of this project, approved the proposal after only 10 days.
Then I began to prepare but I didn’t want to sell these hats, because the products are my mom’s painstaking effort. I want to collect “her time,” and, as she is far away from me, these hats became a way in which to understand my mother’s life. But one day, an idea came to me. What if I arranged for a factory to produce and sell them? So I went to a factory and asked them to produce some hats the same as mine, but they told me that these hats cannot be produced by machines, only by hand, they have to find the folks who have the knitting skill to finish them, so it reminded me of the hat purchaser in my hometown, they all act the same way, so I would prefer to have my neighbors earn money rather than let these purchasers and factories take my money.
The hat was 3 kuai in the beginning, while I paid 30 kuai per hat to my mom under the guise of Xiaofang. My mother made a good profit, while some of the neighbors are jealous about this, and they made ironic remarks to my mom: “What ‘s the point of making green hats?!” “Are you making your husband a “green hat”? (This is a Chinese idiom, in English it means the husband is cuckolded).
I found these neighbors (middle-aged women) to knit hats with my mom, and I set up a special purpose entity (a fake company) and had these neighbors work for me. Now there are 30-50 people working for me, but they don’t know I’m their boss. In their mind, their boss is Xiaofang. Currently, We are trying to knit more hats with other colors, because green hats don’t meet the customers’ needs and Xiaofang is in Sichuan province to supervise the process.
KL : How much you selling them for?
HYP: It varies. Between 90 and 300 yuan per hat, depending on the quality of wool.
HYP: I’m developing a new brand called “Hu Xiaofang” in Taobao store, which aims use knitting to spread the warmth of family to everyone so they will recall their childhood memories. Also, I wanted to provide jobs for these women who other than gossiping and taking care of their children are idle and fooling around every day, .
KL: Will your mom find out?
HYP: Not yet. I hope not, she is so busy now, she has endless hours to knit and work, and teach her neighbors how to knit and sew. These neighbors have three-days training before they can knit by themselves.
KL: These are designed by your mom? She made the pattern?
KL: Why you still get your mum to knit hats in green wool when no one would buy them?
HYP: Because green color was better for her eyes .
KL: How much profit do you hope to make? Do you think you will sell a lot then make a lot of money? Is the art or story more important than profit?
HYP: Actually I hope I can make money from this business, because it can keep my mother’s job and provide these neighbors a long-term job. As for me, I don’t depend on this business to make a living, the art exhibition will end, it’s temporary. Every hat has its own story behind it, I hope people buy the story behind, not just the hat itself. I don’t think selling these arts works will reduce the value of arts. And I don’t believe that arts are only displayed in gallery, arts should be in everywhere. The original intention of this exhibition is not for art, I just want to help my mom and these middle-age ladies, and show them a new lifestyle.
2016 "Thanks", Space#3
2016 "ID", 魔方MOCUBE
2013-2015 "Boss Club" (9 exhibitions)
2013- “Big Philosophers Project" (4 exhibitions)
2011-2012 “@ Dang (Party)” (8 exhibitions)
2010 “Express Delivery Exhibition" (4 exhibitions)
CV Group: 2014 “Unlived by What is Seen”, PACE Gallery Beijing
2016 个展 “谢谢” 3号空间
2016 个展 "身份", 魔方MOCUBE
2014 “不在图像中行动” 佩斯北京
2013 成立 "Boss俱乐部" 一至九回
2013 参与策划“大哲学家项目" 一至四回
2012 策划组织“@ 党事件” 一至九回
2010 策划组织“快展快递" 一至五回