Photographer, writer and musician
Interview on 28 October at Beetle in a Box, Beixinqiao
KL: Before, when I met you, you were really focused on the band photography but it looks like now you're branching out and doing a lot more street, almost fashion type, photography.
JONY: The girls are my friends and I would like to take photos for some special girls. I think they are special. The girl is a singer in a band.
KL: Which band?
JONY: 八仙饭店 Baxian Chophouse.
KL: So did she ask you to take these portraits or did you offer?
JONY: I asked her.
KL: Do you feel shy when you're taking photos?
JONY: Sometimes. In the beginning I felt shy and the model felt nervous too. But during taking photos we talked with others and then we all felt comfortable.
KL: So it's part of your job as the photographer to make them feel comfortable.
JONY: Yeah, it is very important.
KL: Do you think you're good at it?
JONY: Yes. [laughs] My father bought a camera for me in April this year. And I brought the camera to Beijing. Last year I worked at Old What Bar and there I met Nathan [Borofka previously featured here] and then he told me to take photos of him and Robin [Koob of Remedios the Beauty]. They were the first band I took photos of. I think Nathan helped me a lot. Without him, maybe I wouldn't have taken photos of bands.
KL: So you think that collaboration is important in Beijing?
JONY: Yeah, because in Beijing many people have his or her talent and we can chat with each other and we can grow together.
JONY: This is from my first show in 69 Cafe.
KL: I've seen some of these photos but I didn't know it was the first time you'd done it.
JONY: Before April, I'd never taken photos so I called some girls and some bands and asked, “can I take some photos for you?” to improve myself. And they said yes so I practised my skills. So the photos were all free because I asked them.
KL: So you give the photos to the bands you shoot? Do you think you'll move into taking photos for magazines or other websites?
JONY: I've never done it. I hope I can do that.
KL: Did you build relationships with the bands that you asked?
JONY: We're all friends. These pictures from Mushroom Music Festival, I am not friends with them. I think if we knew each other, their photos could have been better. Because we would have been emotionally connected.
KL: Do you think when you know somebody, you know their personality and you're looking for it in the pictures you shoot?
JONY: Yeah yeah yeah.
KL: Do you still work with Nathan a lot?
JONY: No. I don't know, lately I've become a little busy and I don't have time to take photos for his band now. It's been a long time since Robin's farewell show. I really miss her.
KL: So have you been working with other bands between then and now?
JONY: No because I've been working on this book since July so from July till now I haven't taken any photos.
KL: So working on the book has taken up all of your time?
JONY: Not really, do you know the band The Paramecia? I'm Su's [Zixu苏紫旭] assistant to help
with his work such as taking photos of him, helping with the shows and recording albums. It also takes up much of my time.
KL: He's quite famous, right?
JONY: Maybe. He took part in a TV show, Song of China.
L: Did you meet him through Nathan or did you know him before?
JONY: No. He searched for an assistant on a website and I like his music so I applied.
KL: Are you still going to see a lot of bands?
JONY: No, I have too little time. Last year I saw many bands play.
KL: Do you think your photography will change now that you have less time?
JONY: Yes. I have started a project. The photos are taken by me and my boyfriend. The project’s name is tricky. There is a famous dish in Sichuan, the Chinese name was 夫妻肺片(fu qi fei pian),it literally means Couple Lung Slices. But it was actually made of guts of ox invented by a couple. The “lung slices” has the same pronunciation as “abandoned photos” in Chinese. We used 废（abandoned）to take the place of 肺（lungs）in the name of the dish to name our project. So its names means “the abandoned photos of a couple”. That is how my boyfriend and I came up with this project. We aimed to recycle the photos that are not attractive at first sight and use some method such as cutting, zooming out and combining, in order to find something interesting or revealing something.
KL: What are you trying to say about Chinese life?
JONY: I don't know. Sometimes I still explore.
KL: You're exploring and finding your vision? Do you ever go out looking for something in particular?
JONY: Yeah. When I'm on the subway, always.
KL: Are these places that you go to often or do you really go out exploring to find them?
JONY: No, not often.
KL: So you put some of your band shots in here as well.
JONY: They are all taken with my phone.
KL: Is there a reason you've chosen black and white?
JONY: Because black and white gives people a feeling like restriction and serious. They also make photos simple.
KL: Even from the first time, looking at those first shots of Remedios, you've always taken really beautiful detail shots. Instead of showing the whole scene, you cut into something closer.
JONY: Yeah. I like it. Some people don't like to take some close shots but I think, like a mouth, it can, oh my English is letting me down.
KL: I should be better at Chinese.
JONY: Because sometimes people don't notice these things. Maybe a big picture has surroundings which can give people some feeling but a close shot can give a different feeling. In closer shooting, the details become the main body. You will focus on them. Besides, details give an index to people’s character.
KL: Your detail shots are definitely what stand out in your photography. Particularly with the band shots because people consider the celebrity of bands and the idea of taking unrecognisable photos of them isn't what they're looking for. They always have to display them in the context of their fame.
JONY: Yes, maybe for the celebrity, a recognizable band’s photo is better. I think both the photos are necessary for the band if the photos are nice. However, everybody has his own taste. For example, the first time I took photos for Su, he didn't like them because they were too close. He likes surroundings to create atmosphere .
KL: He likes that better? Su and I have different taste in photography. I guess for him it's a different game, I'm looking for some visual aesthetic and he's looking for ways to sell himself. Do you feel like the work you do for Su is more like commercial photography?
JONY: It is really a job but I like these photos too. I also enjoy it.
KL: Is that start of the reason you started the new project?
JONY: Yes, and I want to search different ways to express myself. Through many things, not just photos. Some poetry. Do you know these things?
KL: Oh you've been making stencils.
JONY: I like to make stamps.
KL: The way that you've cut them out makes the actual stamp quite a beautiful artefact itself. What material are they made from?
JONY: It's like an eraser.
KL: Oh, of course, rubber. Do you feel influenced by people like Andy Warhol?
JONY: I like Andy Warhol. I wrote an article about him. A school assignment.
KL: What do you think of him as an artist. How does he inspire you?
JONY: In the beginning, I knew him because of the Velvet Underground and I liked his pictures. But I didn't know the meaning, I just liked it. But then I read some of his books and... some people say Andy Warhol pictures are useless but I think he started a movement, pop art. I think pop art has his meaning. It has a social relationship with people.
KL: And that's important for you in your art?
JONY: Yes, I also adore a Japanese photographer, 荒木经惟 [Araki].
KL: So his photography is a big influence on you as well?
JONY: Yeah I like his photos. I think he is a person who can chat with people easily in the street. He is an interesting old man. Some people might think he is wild.
KL: Well it's important that art is challenging, right?
JONY: I really like his photos but I don't want to shoot a girl without clothes. Maybe some people like it but I like social things. Because now I am still very young, I am nineteen, so maybe I don't have many of my own ideas. I think maybe I should listen to others and accept others' ideas, I have time to grow up.
KL: So right now you feel more like a student of art rather than an artist?
JONY: I'm not an artist. I am student learning to do things.
KL: Do you ever get to use your work for your university degree?
JONY: No, they don't like this kind of thing. I showed some photos to one of my teachers and she said I take photos for a bar but I take photos for a live house which is different, I think. But she doesn't know that.
KL: As a young woman in China doing this kind of work, do you often come across people who don't approve?
JONY: In the beginning my parents didn't like it but they knew that I liked rock music so we talked and talked and talked. And I also gave the book to my parents. They don't like the girls smoking. My mother said, if that girl was holding a book in their hands rather than a cigarette, it would be great!
KL: You're not from Beijing, are you?
JONY: No, I'm from Zhejiang province.
KL: Do you think if your parents lived in Beijing they would understand your lifestyle more?
JONY: I don't think so because some of my Beijing friends, their parents don't like it too.
KL: Is it just because you are a woman?
JONY: My parents think that a girl is not safe and also they want me to be a woman who works in an office and has a stable job. My mother also thinks that taking photos is dangerous because if you take photos at night you're alone. In my childhood, although I learned to draw traditional Chinese painting and play the piano, my parents still thought that I should study hard to go to an excellent college. Until now, they thought those things, too. Sometimes, my family enters into endless arguments about my future. I am the only child in my family, they put too much of their hopes on me and want me to be the person who they adore , like some posted people in society. I understand them very well but I still want to listen to my heart and build myself. Anyway, I am proud of myself that I have courage to try things..
KL: What do your parents make of your friendships with people like Nathan?
JONY: My mother is very traditional but she understands it. I told them about Nathan and that he is a really great friend who helps me a lot.
KL: They gave you the camera and you started doing this, do you think when they look at the book they trust you more and are proud of you?
JONY: They're proud of me, I think. Although they worry about me sometimes, they support me to do the things I like. My grandfather takes photos too. He is a person who likes culture and arts, he writes down or cuts down some things from what he read. He also knew how to play a Chinese music instrument which called ”Xiao”. However, it broke when my father fought with his sister when they are young. I have a photo I really like. I really adore my grandparents they are really in love with each other. My grandfather only takes photos of my grandma. She has a lot of books and they are full of pictures that tell their story. My grandfather has been taking photos for a long time but he never told me about it. Last summer he gave me a very old camera.
KL: Have you tried to use it?
JONY: It's broken. This is my grandma.
KL: What a great picture. He obviously understand how to frame things.
JONY: My favourite photo. My grandma is young. When they retired they went to some foreign countries to travel. I think they are so in love. They have a romantic life. My grandfather is now 82 or 83 and he still drives a car. My grandparents, after they retired they learned to search for things on the internet. I think they are very fashionable. They are on WeChat. I also gave them the book. They liked it.
KL: Did they think the smoking was bad?
JONY: Of course, but they didn’t mention that.
KL: You told me earlier that you are interested in screenwriting.
JONY: I want to write stories for movies or theatre.
KL: So you study writing and in your spare time do all of these visual things...
JONY: Yeah I think it can help me to grow. I also do music. I think all the art forms are related. I think doing all these things can help to reveal Jony.
KL: Do you want to become expert at these things?
JONY: Yeah, but I'm busy and I'm lazy sometimes. I have too many things to do. At first I was confused because I was working at Old What and also taking photos and also studying for my major, and now I play music shows and became an assistant, too. Finally, I realized that I am a person who enjoys a busy life and I adjusted myself. I can hold onto this. To be honest, to be an expert in one thing is enough.
KL: You're happiest when you're busy?
JONY: Yeah I'm really happy. I think when you are young if you are busy it is good for you. You should learn many things. And finally you will find what you're really good at. I'm still finding out what I'm good at. I'm not sure. Some people say, you're only 19, you've got a long road to walk, you needn't think of too many things, you just need to stay in university and study, but I don't think so. I think, if you stay in university for four years it is useless. You should go out into society to know more things like relationships between people and also to promote some skills to find what you are really good at and really like.
19-year-old Jony 周宁 moved to Beijing from Zhejiang province to study Chinese Language and Literature at China Youth University and began toying with a newly gifted camera. She proved an instinctive and talented lens-woman and has taken photographs for several local and international bands including Su and the Paramecia and Remedios the Beauty. Her artistic curiosity has led her into new creative endeavours and the publishing of her first book. For more information or to get a copy of the book contact her on Weixin: zn_27_v
Illustrator, toy maker and musician
Interview at Shuangcheng双城 Cafe on 10th October 2015
KL: Tell me about your current projects.
NG: Right now, it seems like almost three years since I started a new work. It's like I have my own brand and my brand is a toy but it's not a toy. It first started as a toy but right now it's a character. She's a deer, her name is Ruby. Right now, me and all my friends and my boyfriend too, we work together on this little deer.
KL: You're creating a personality for her?
NG: Yeah. We want to make a film of her story.
KL: I'm interested in how your work has progressed. You were saying that Ruby started as a toy and she's grown into her own little character and personality.
NG: Yes, I've worked on this thing for almost four years but this year I want to have something come out. Many people in China or, at least, some people in China know my painting so I made this last year. It's a stop motion. Me and my friend made it together.
KL: How is she made?
NG: She is made of polyester resin. Do you know BJD [ball-jointed dolls]? It's not a Japanese invention but they have a lot of brands that make toys like that. It's the same thing. There is a ball here [in the toy's elbow and knee joints] so it can move around. It has a very old history. In Victorian times they had this kind of thing. But right now these toys have developed a lot so it's not just human-being shapes there are a lot of animals or aliens. There's a huge amount of information you can find on the internet.
KL: Is the film still a work-in-progress?
NG: No, it's not. This is just a test. So if we want to make a movie we need to find people to work with and people to give us money to do that. Right now we want to bring all of the parts together and show it to the audience and, if some people are interested, maybe they can help us.
KL: Are you thinking of crowdfunding on something like Kickstarter?
NG: Yeah, I am thinking about that. Before I never thought about it because I thought I could make money by myself and support these things but now me and my friends want to work together and have a company. Before, I started to design this and I asked another of my friends, “do you want to make a toy?” because his job is making toys. So I connected with him. I was painting a deer and I thought it would be very interesting if it could become a toy. So we thought let's try and we made the toys and then we had a toy and thought, maybe we can sell this. So we limited it to fifty but during that time we didn't connect with other countries, it was just in China, but some people in other countries found out about it. If people are into these toys they will look for information on them. Now it's been three or four years and a lot of people want it, so, the price before was lower but now it's higher because so many people want it. You buy the toy and, if you sell it to another person you can make the price higher.
KL: Will you issue another release of Ruby Deer?
NG: I will make more different things but not the original one. The original one is limited because I think it's kind of like fate. If you have the original toy, maybe you are one of the first people to know my work. The next one you have is like the next life. If you have the first life it's like you are connected to each other. I won't do anything to change this.
KL: Are you going to stick with the same character. With Ruby?
NG: If Ruby wants to have a story, it won't be just herself. So Ruby will have a huge web of things connected to each other. So, right now, we are working hard on her story. Some people will think, let's make a movie, let's find someone's story, but I won't do that so right now I'm just looking deep to find myself, what I need and what I want to show to the world and what the world is showing to me. I work very hard at this. It's like you find yourself inside. It doesn't come from outside.
KL: So you're trying to work out what character Ruby is? I'm interested because, of course, I've seen you around Beijing, you play in a band and you seem kinda rock'n'roll but Ruby seems so sweet. Is that true? What is Ruby's character?
NG: Actually, I can show you Ruby. This is the first time I drew Ruby. She seems very cute. I should say, I've always believed human beings, no matter how old you've grown, inside you're... do you know yoga? If you do, you'll know we have seven chakras. This one is at the top. If you can open it you will feel all the love in the universe because all human beings, all nature, all souls start from here. So even if you grow up you'll feel you are a child. So even if you're evil or you want money or you want social recognition, on the inside you are still a child. You'll still feel like you like trees, you like flowers, you like the beautiful things. It's natural for people to love beautiful things but what kind of beautiful things depends on how you grew up, your experiences. It's different. So even from the outside, when I'm looking goth, or death metal – the anti things – inside you want to find truth.
KL: So Ruby's like your inner-child?
NG: Yes, the inside child. I just use very simple language and want to tell people, not all people, the people who want to listen. I don't want to push them. I want to use Ruby to connect with people who are fated to each other. It's like they know me because we have a connection. All the people in the world, you can't have a connection with everyone. So maybe some people who are on the same level, you have the same fate, you were meant to connect. I want to say something about art. Art is something you put all your energy into, all your experience into one thing. Painting, music even this cup of coffee, this is art too because they put a lot of energy into it. So if you are a good cook or a good painter, you will think this coffee is good. But if you can't feel that, maybe you are on a different level. So I never push anyone to know me, I just want to connect with people on the same level.
KL: By showing your inner-Ruby you attract the people who she appeals to?
NG: Yes. That's why people always say, just be yourself because if you be yourself you can find people like you. Then you don't need to be afraid of other people, what they say to you, if you just be yourself you can find the right people and everything that belongs to you.
KL: As far as Ruby being you inner-child, does that mean she's always been there or have you developed her? In your life as an artist, did it take awhile for her to evolve?
NG: Your inside child is always with you and, I should say, your inside child belongs to your childhood memories – something we can't escape. Maybe someone grows up to have a lot of money or fame but they always want to be with people, this could be because, as a child, she or he felt alone. So they always want to find love from other people. That's a very normal thing in society right now. So my point is, no matter how far I go, when I grow up, inside I'm always the same. As you grow up, it feels like you die many times, but each time you die a new person is born.
KL: So the people attracted to Ruby share the same inner-child?
NG: I should say, Ruby is me but from a parallel universe. It's a parallel world I create but it's not just something I hope for, I believe the world really exists. Kind of like when we're dreaming we have so many different things. Scientists say we dream because in the daytime we're collecting all this information and it goes through your brain and some is left and it becomes a dream. You can describe it like this but I don't think it's that simple. Our inside potential, we only use ten per cent so we're left with ninety per cent we don't use. So how could it be this simple? Every year we find another star. Every year we find something new inside our bodies, so you can't just say that the world is like this. That this is our real world. Nothing is real and nothing is fantasy.
KL: It seems like you are very in tune with yourself and with the universe...
NG: I have to tell you that, before, I didn't have this knowledge.
KL: So you believe in fate?
NG: I don't believe in fate, I believe that everyone has their own trajectory. If you've ever played the game, The Sims, you have people and you can give them something to read but you can't tell them how much to read or what to do with information. Everyone has potential and we can choose to use it. I believe there is a design.
KL: So these kindred spirits...
NG: All the people who are around me, my friends, they all have the same feelings about things. They have the same feelings about art, this coffee, this computer. We understand each other. That's the most important thing in communication - understanding. Sometimes I think, you're a foreign guy, I'm a Chinese girl. How is it that we can talk to each other and understand each other? We have different culture, we have different skin colour but all things become one. If I was to talk about this to a hutong ayi they won't understand it. Even though I'm Chinese. I live in this hutong. I eat the same food as them but in your spirit, inside your mind, things are totally different. I always think people need a revolution of the mind. It's not that you'll become more rich, you'll become more powerful, you have to go deep and find the place where you understand each other. That's why art and artists never disappear. Through art you show your inside mind, your inside spirit.
KL: So when you show your art it's like a beacon to draw other like-minded people to you?
NG: I just show my inside mind and, if people get it, I'm thankful. If people don't get it, I'm thankful too because I know I can separate this person from this person. I can connect with this person. That they will choose by themselves for me. I never choose. Many artists are not very good at socialising or talking because they know they already use their inside language to talk to people. They don't need to use their mouth or their body. But artists need to use the media to get their work to the audience. But do you think artists really need media? I have my phone, every day I use my phone, you know facebook, twitter and also Chinese Weibo, WeChat. For three days I haven't used my phone to do this. I haven't posted any words or checked out any friend's information. For these three days I've felt really happy, much happier than before. Why? Because when I read that she said this or that I feel these things influence me. It will influence my emotions. For the whole three days I just focussed on work. I learned more and I created more and I communicated with my boyfriend more. Every day I post like ten WeChat moments and each has nine pictures. For every picture I have to use another app to make the photos look good. It takes a lot of time. You spend all this time just to prove to people what you've done today. I always focus on the audience and I worry that if they look at me and I don't look good that they won't like me. We need people to think we are beautiful and we need people to think they can respect us, but you have to respect yourself. Then you don't care about fashion, you don't care about how people see you.
KL: As far as Ruby, as your childhood self, is she more self aware? Is she less worried about what people think?
NG: Before, my inside child was always like that. The time I was born, in 1987, was the age between nineties and eighties. I have to say, the children born in the eighties and the people born in the nineties, in ten years, they are totally different. The nineties kids are more focussed on the internet. The eighties kids are more focussed on work. Before, when we're young, we just want to connect with the world because we have the internet. It's fucking interesting. I have to say the people born in the nineties, I don't want to talk about other countries only China, they don't have respect for people. They don't have any responsibility and they always want others to give them love. Their parents will give them a lot more money than when I was a child. Many parents think, because we have money, my parents didn't have money, they think the good thing is money so we should give that to our child. Many parents think we'll just give them money, we don't need to stay with them, we don't need to care for them. So many children don't feel like they've been with their parents so when they grow up the way that they deal with responsibility, they will escape. They will have many excuses for this. It's totally different between eighties and nineties people. When we grow up we want everything, now I just pick the things I need.
KL: Do you think your generation has the luxury to think about artwork and the inner self and communicating with others than your parents who had less money and opportunities? Do you think your generation has more freedom to explore these parts of life?
NG: I think about that a lot because it is a huge topic. I don't know about other people, I can only talk about myself. So when I grew up, my parents divorced. That shocked me a little bit because I was six when they divorced. I'd just started primary school and all of the other students, their parents were still together. In the whole class you are the first child whose parents divorced. So many children will say, you don't have a dad. They'll make jokes. So in my mind, it's like, I'm different and maybe they don't want to hang out with me. When I was young, I still laughed, I still hung out with people but my inside child was hurt. Even though my parents will give me money, they are still different. This month my mum will give me money, that month my dad will give me money. If my dad gives me less money my mum will yell at me, why did you only get this much money from your dad. But I'm just a child. You divorced so why do I have to have the responsibility of this? But the good thing is that my parents are not like other people their age. My dada is a doctor but he is always open-minded. When I was very young, like five, he listened to the Jackson Five. He listened to a lot of Jimi Hendrix. He was very different to other people in the nineteen-seventies and sixties, your parents generation they smoked a lot of weed and were fucking hippie style. Our parents were... not traditional... it was fucking chaos. During that time to keep your mind like this is very difficult. My dad is very clever but too clever. He doesn't respect others he always thinks he is the most clever. But a lot of people have a lot of self-confidence because they feel inferior. Both my mum and dad have this and I do to. Sometimes I have a lot of self-confidence because I want to prove that I'm not feeling inferior. My mum is a musician and plays traditional Chinese instruments like the pipa and the guzheng but my mum's mind, even though she plays traditional music she always wanted to leave this country. During that time many people had the American dream so she wanted to go to America to show the audience the Chinese things and live overseas. So that is why they divorced. My mum wanted to go overseas but my dad had to stay in the Chinese system. Even in their minds they want to go to another country together but they can't leave together. Before I couldn't communicate with my parents but now we have a good relationship.
KL: At what point did the artist emerge in you? At what point did you realise you wanted to communicate with the world through art?
NG: Because I felt that I was different than other children but at that time I thought, am I really different. If you can always hang out with other people you will go outside to play together but, at that time, for me I'm not really into playing with other children because they made me feel different. So I thought, go out and play by yourself, I will stay here and play by myself. So I had to think, what can I play by myself? So I tried lots of things like painting and building sculptures or maybe writing. So during that time I just create by myself. So other people at fifteen or sixteen start to think, what should I create by myself but, when I was six or seven, I learned to create and think by myself.
KL: So from six years old your art is a way to deal with being alone and now you've come to a point where art is a way of connecting with other people?
NG: It's different. Kind of like just being yourself or being alone. People always think being yourself is being alone. Lonely and alone is different too. I felt lonely when I was being myself when I was young because I couldn't find people to connect with but I never felt alone. It's totally different. Like other people will always hang out with others but they'll always feel lonely because they're never being themselves. Every time they are alone they want to find people to be with them.
KL: At what point did you start to connect with others?
NG: For the last four years I am always being myself. Time is relative to where you are. Before I found I would always copy others' work and I'd think, why do I like this? Why does it attract me? But after that you find everything you like, everything you feel, those become your experiences. Everything becomes you. You find out you are the most important thing in this world, not anybody else. Before I had a very bad experience, a very bad relationship. Last year totally changed my life. I went to Bali. I went to a meditation place. How do you say that some things are like fate? Before I didn't really believe in destiny but after that, it's like yin and yang – Taoism. Like you choose this, I decided by myself but everything goes through yin and yang. I can't say I decided myself but I went to Bali and I met someone who taught me this. Maybe you could say it is destiny but maybe, in my words, I say that I choose this fate. The meditation place taught me a lot. I know a lot about the universe now. I don't have any religion but I believe all religions are about sharing. Sharing the love, sharing the knowledge.
KL: So what's the secret to happiness?
NG: Be yourself and be with nature. My hometown is Guilin. When I was young I'd always go into the forest and play with monkeys and fight with snakes and I think this helped me a lot. So right now, my paintings are always of animals. I just like to paint two things – women and nature. I never paint men. I don't know why. Every time I paint a man it just looks like a woman.
KL: So do you think gender comes into your paintings?
NG: I don't know. Maybe I'm a female painter. I paint women because I want to know myself but, right now, I have a lot of knowledge and think a lot. I'm not a feminist but I respect it and understand it because the world is controlled by men. Even though women live in society we don't feel respected by men. So when I paint women it's not because I want to show men that women are beautiful, it's because the start of life, creation, is women. Like the Earth. Why do we always call the Earth “her” and not “him?” That's natural. A lot of societies are matriarchies so, in history, in Egypt and further back. Do you believe history books tell us everything? I don't trust that. I want to find out by myself. Before I want to believe myself when I see something. Now I want to believe my mind.
Nanguazi 南瓜子 is a Beijing-based artist and musician. Her brain-child, Ruby, is a deer who has made the leap from sketch to doll and, in the near future, film star. For further information check out http://www.rubynan.com/ or follow her antics at http://ruby-nan.tumblr.com/ and watch local venue listings for upcoming Gui Gui Sui Sui shows and watch a film clip here.
Interview on December 20 by LOOK & Hannah Lincoln (interpreter) at Ramo, Fangjia Hutong
KL: How long have you been doing stencil work?
SHUO: Since 2010. I was about 18. I am from Henan and was living in Beijing. I felt like I was more emotionally sensitive than most people and I didn’t really know a good channel to express my sensitivity so I started to get into stencilling around the city because I felt like the city had a lot of problems and that was the best way to express my frustrations. In China, because people don’t pay attention to the shit that’s around them, I know that when I do these things on the walls, of ten people, maybe one will pay attention. Even then, I feel that society is very cold and so there’s really no point but I like doing it so I do.
KL: What was the inspiration? Obviously someone like Banksy shares similar themes so what inspired you to share what you do?
SHUO: I got the inspiration by first walking down the street and seeing the environment and looking at the iPhones and thinking, What’s actually happening here? If there were people around how would they be interacting with it? It looks like they all want to catch one. Everyone wants an iPhone so they are all in a crowd like, Give me! Give me one! So I had my friends line up and I took a picture of them and then I just made it directly from the picture.
KL: How did you create the stencil?
SHUO: I printed out a huge image from A4 sheets of paper and taped them together them stencilled from that.
KL: A4! That’s hard work!
SHUO: That’s only because I didn’t have a big printer. There’s no other reason for that.
KL: Does China have a Kinkos equivalent to help out stencil artists?
SHUO: Yes, but it’s expensive. A4 is much cheaper.
KL: How important is humour? Obviously a lot of your work is very playful, an ice cream cone on a dog poo, is that something that’s really central to your art?
SHUO: I use humour because it makes things more interesting. Irony points things out in society that you might not have realized before. This is a subway ad. I hate subway ads because I really feel that they are pushing us to consume. The person behind it is pushing for profits and I think this is bullshit so I like to make fun of the whole system by drawing on them.
KL: Is this something you’ve always done? I remember my mother used to give us pens when I was a child and encouraged us to deface catalogues and magazines. Did you do that too?
SHUO: When I was a kid, I just thought it was more fun to draw beards on the girls and stuff like that. In my textbooks, that is.
KL: IS there inherent danger in doing graffiti work in China, especially using images of Xi Jinping. If you’re caught for that, it’s not just defacing public property but it could be perceived as a political statement.
SHUO: I’m not really afraid of the police catching me. And in terms of themes, this image is not directly expressing anything. If anyone asked me, I’d just say I’m having a little fun, I’m not criticising. I had the idea for this one because when Xi Jinping became president I never really paid attention to the news but it’s always playing in public areas so I’d see it when I was eating lunch or whatever. I noticed that there was always clips of him shaking hands with foreigners or important looking people from other places and I didn’t really know what else he did other than being super busy meeting people and shaking their hands. I did this line up of random people shaking his hand while he told them how busy he was.
KL: Do you still create many stencils?
SHUO: I do, as an amateur.
KL: What’s your opinion of the graffiti and stencil scene in Beijing?
SHUO: In terms of stencils, I think it’s still pretty immature in China. It’s something that’s so easy to do that anyone can do it so when people do it they just do it for fun and they don’t have very mature concepts about it. At least I haven’t witnessed much maturity. Since I’ve started noticing it over the last few years, I haven’t really noticed a mature scene develop or seen anything really impressive.
HL: Can you give us any examples? What does it mean to you to be mature or immature in this field?
SHUO: When I started out I was really immature. I’d do things like a picture of Osama Bin Laden with “LOVE, PEACE” written next to it. I was just copying Banksy or copying things that I’d seen overseas that I didn’t really get and had nothing to do with my life. Overtime I thought, If I haven’t something to express it’s gonna be in my own words and in my own context. It has to make sense to me as a Chinese person. So then I started to find my own way of expressing the tensions in my life in the context of China. This one is a good example. This is a QQ account where you can talk to the government – the official China account. You can log on and ask a question about taxes or something and they’ll reply and it’s supposed to be like, We’re open to talking to citizens! But I put the red virus alert next to it. It’s subtle rather than simple and foolish like “LOVE, PEACE.” It makes sense to me and it makes sense to Chinese people. This is an example of how my work has matured but I don’t see it much from other people.
KL: How political are you?
SHUO: Very little. The way I see it, it’s not like a political commentary and that’s how my generation sees it. It’s not like he sees the government as bad or doing something wrong it’s more because society is changing in this way therefore we don’t have time to stop and think about the consequences. For instance that website, http:china.com, it’s not China – our government, it’s China – our society. The reason it’s on this wall is because it’s something that’s getting destroyed and being removed. Where I grew up in Henan, I mean it’s happening a lot, it happens all over China, basically what happened was things got destroyed and they said, Oh but we’re gonna give you a nice house outside the city. Then they move you outside the city and it’s kind of a bullshit place to live and then, all of a sudden, there are advertising billboards everywhere that say, You can by housing for a thousand kuai per square metre! And it just leaves me feeling, What has happened to my city?
HL: What exactly is missing that was there before?
SHUO: I don’t feel like we had culture when I was a kid. I don’t know what Chinese culture is but I know it’s not this. And I know that, the more commercial we become, the further we move from what we should be.
KL: Obviously you have a sophisticated worldview and an idea of how to use art as a personal statement. Where does that come from? Is it taught or innate?
SHUO: I dropped out of school in middle school and I was spending a lot of time walking around because I had nothing to do and I noticed that there were cars everywhere and there weren’t when I was a kid. And the cars were always parking in the biking lane and the cyclists were always riding on the sidewalk and I just felt like society was getting so messy. So, it was from those moments when I felt I needed a way to express this and I knew I can start drawing in these public areas where I’m feeling this dissatisfaction, this is natural where I should express this. At the same time I started going to art and design school, a specific training school, so I didn’t take the gaokao [university entrance exam]. I went there for a few years in my home county and then I came to Bejing when I was 19 and did one more year of training here before graduating and doing animation.
KL: So you work as an animator?
KL: I’m really impressed. Seeing the world as you do usually takes some kind of guidance or education but you have come to it very naturally.
SHUO: Because of some things that happened in my childhood with my family were kind of unusual compared with most families so I think I from a young age I was forced to see that things aren’t always conventional. That unexpected things happen so I think from young I was trained to look at all sides of a situation and be more of a critical thinker. There is this phenomenon in China called fenqing 愤青 [angry or cynical youth] which was very popular in the early 2000s and it’s still a label that exists now. I pretty much had a very short stage of that because I couldn’t be just simply angry all the time because I knew that being angry wasn’t… it was too simple just to be an angry youth. Perhaps this is why I use humour so much because I was angry for a short time as a teenager but I very quickly realised that being angry wasn’t enough. To be able to express different emotions and different sides of a situation just showed more sophistication.
HL: Again, can I ask for some examples?
SHUO: This is a love heart I made of pubic hair. It was in Guomao. There was no particular reason, I just thought it would be funny to frame it and put it up and know that everyone is walking by not noticing it at all. And then eventually someone will take it down and notice what it is. I wrote on there what it was in very small letters. After a month, I went by and it was gone and I thought, Haha!
SHUO: Me and my friends were hanging out and we put this extension cord down so we could plug in our mobile phones and play on our phones and we were doing it and I looked up and said, It looks like we are attached to an IV drip and it’s powering us up. So I thought, wouldn’t it be funny to mix those ideas and paint them. So this is an example of my more mature, or just better, more thoughtful art that is just stuff that I see immediately around me that could be made ironic instead of the earlier cruder stuff.
KL: This [points at collection of drawings] is Fritz the Cat. The guy who made this [Ralph Bakshi] made lots of adult cartoons with socio-political themes. My question is, as an animator, do you aspire to produce something like this?
SHUO: I don’t think it has really influenced me. It’s just something interesting I’ve seen. It’s so foreign to me, it’s the 70s in the US and I recognised that the pigs are the police and the crows are black people but for me it’s just too foreign. I enjoy playing with it but I prefer to do 3D animation and when I do this kind of drawings I like to do everyday life and keep them simplistic.
KL: As far as this series, the paste up sticker art, explain it to me.
SHUO: It’s just for fun. Me and my friends got drunk and I took pictures of them doing strange poses and I just did it for fun. And this one was an idea I had that was a hip hop pose but looking really stupid. I gave him a triple chin and he just looks like a dork.
KL: Is SHUO an artist’s pseudonym and this little creature here your tag? How do you want to be described on Loreli? Do you have a Banksy-esque moniker or is this just your name?
SHUO: My name is Wang Shuo but I do the pinyin rather than a Chinese character to emphasize the other meanings of shuo. You know in Chinese, shuo means to say? It doesn’t directly mean that but I like that it reflects that my work reflects what I have to say. Like logo-ising my name. When I was in middle school I liked to doodle so I’d draw this bandit dog and I think it’s something that represents me. It doesn’t have a deeper meaning, I’m willing to change it but I feel comfortable with it.
KL: How often do you sign your art?
SHUO: I’ve never signed my work before because I didn’t want it to influence what I’d draw. I wanted it to be pure. But when I see things that people have drawn he wants to know who’s done it so I’ll probably start signing things now to leave a bit of a legacy.
KL: So being on Loreli will be the first time you’ve taken ownership of your art?
HL: If you’re premiering yourself on our site, how do you want to be portrayed?
SHUO: I’ve no idea because I’ve never done anything public and I’ve never gotten feedback on anything, I’ve just been doing it so it’s up to you guys.
KL: How important is community as far being an artist? Do you work as part of a community or do you work alone?
SHUO: I don’t really have an art community because I don’t really consider myself an artist. I just do these things when I feel like it. Young Chinese people and Chinese culture in general has a culture of labelling things and, as soon as something’s labelled, you don’t want to be associated with it. Certain labels, as soon as they came out, people said, I’m not that. Like in the West you have hipsters. I’m very hesitant to use this term “artist” to describe myself because one, I’m not a professional and two, why would I give myself a label like that? I’m just me.
KL: I noticed with the photography you quite often like to juxtapose two images to tell a story. By putting two photos together it creates a narrative. What’s the inspiration for that?
SHUO: Look at these. I took these over four days. This is a process I was just photographing a friend, and at first they thought, This is cool, I don’t know what you’re doing. But then they started to get pissed off. And then they were like, What the fuck? And on the last day they just didn’t come. Yeah, it’s just to express a story, I didn’t get the idea from anyone in particular I just realised that I could tell a story with two or more pictures.
KL: It’s very effective. I do have to go back to what we talked about before because, of course, on Loreli we do label people. We have their name and what they do. So we need to decide what to write there.
SHUO: You can call me an artist.
KL: Artist, photographer?
SHUO: Just call me an artist because I’m not a photographer. I just take pictures with my phone so I’d feel weird being called a photographer. I don’t want to be known as a graffiti artist, just an artist because I use a lot of different mediums. In terms of graffiti, it’s great because it’s cheap and I don’t do anything with it after. It’s not like I have to go buy canvasses or craft something. It’s just free canvas so I paint on it and move along. I’m not especially attached to one form of art. I’m just doing what makes sense.
KL: You say you do this unprofessionally and part-time, how often do you do it?
SHUO: Three to five times a year I’ll do a stencil or graffiti.
KL: And the other artwork?
SHUO: Because I use so many mediums, I can’t really count what I do the most. I do the stencilling the least actually because it takes effort but in terms of this kind of stuff, I’ll be drawing all the time in my notebooks and stuff. I was born in 1992 and I just started working recently so there is pressure, I don’t really have a lot of money and free time so I’m kinda hustling at work. I don’t make the time to go out and stencil but I have pages and pages of ideas. It’s like I have an order sheet that I’ve made with all of these ideas and when I’m more stable, money-wise and time-wise I do plan to go out. There’s a tension in my life. A lot of my ideas come from the complicated fast pace of a big city life but at the same time I know that, because of the complicated fast pace of big city life, people won’t notice my artwork. For instance this phone booth, I think that it’s really cute and really appropriate for the big city but, at the same time, no one is going to notice it.
HL: Will that prevent you from doing it?
SHUO: No, that’s just the nature of it.
KL: So many of the artists that I’ve met create art compulsively. Could you ever stop?
SHUO: Yes I have the compulsion. I’ll never stop, it’s part of my life. I have this problem that every time I take a picture of what I’ve done and put it online, everyone that comments just writes: Banksy. Just the word: Banksy. And I’m like, Dude, it took me ages thinking of the idea, I’ve finally had time to go paint it, can you not appreciate it?
HL: I read an article by Ai Wei Wei from a few years ago. He said he sells his artwork but people don’t even know how to appreciate it.
SHUO: This is definitely a big problem in China, they see it and say, Oh Banksy. They don’t even care what it’s about and that he did it. If people paid attention they’d notice that this has nothing to do with Banksy. All this stuff I’m expressing couldn’t possibly be in another country. In the south, closer to Hong Kong, where it’s a little bit more developed in terms of international cultures, people are a little more open-minded about it. They don’t jump to conclusions. But in Beijing people are so unaware.
KL: Is there anything else you want to share with us?
SHUO: I plan to print these ones out really big and paste them up around the city but in China, if they recognise that something has meaning, it will get destroyed so I always take pictures and put them on my portfolio online. [See link below]
Please note: This interview took place in Chinese with answers for SHUO translated and paraphrased by Hannah Lincoln and Kerryn Leitch. For the original Chinese audio please feel free to contact Loreli at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview via email and millennial WeChat exhanges (thanks Angela)
KL: What’s your artistic background? How did you get into art?
ZQ: I started drawing in university out of loneliness, in a way that’s very similar to writing in a diary. I’d find a quiet corner and sketch out my emotions and my understanding of my life and the world. Through drawing and art, I get to escape some aspects of my “real life”.
My insight and sensitivity have always been around, but I got to embrace them again in school, where loneliness gave me abundant time to reflect and gather my thoughts.
KL：Using markers gives your work a primary school quality, is the contrast between medium and (sometimes) graphic content an important part of what you’re expressing with your art?
ZQ：“Innocence” and “purity” encapsulate my love for the world. I love to draw - I experience the world and express “myself” and my art through color and paper. I don’t care about technique or material, perhaps because I don’t really have any skill. Thus, the only thing that touches me when it comes to the medium is color. This is also why I experienced a surge of creativity when I first encountered colored markers.
KL: Have you always mainly used marker (some of your work is done in paint or pastel) or is it something you discovered was your medium of choice after dabbling in others.
ZQ: No. My family (my mom) lived in strained circumstances. I bought my first box of colored markers with a grocery store gift card my dad received from his company. This marked my first encounter with color. When I drew with those markers, their color touched and educated me. I experienced an artistic renascence through creating with the most candid and rudimentary tool of the craft.
KL: Is this something that you are constantly doing? Are you doodling dicks in the subway or is it something you do in the home/studio?
ZQ: I draw whenever I feel any kind of emotion: on the subway, at McDonalds, in my school dorm, on the streets… Anywhere that provides me with a freedom of space. Of course I’m more drawn to places with good lighting and minimum distractions. I made Dick’s Dream in McDonald’s and the self-study room of my school. At the time, I was interested in the dick drawings on Tumblr and wanted to try my hands at it. The result was a collection of dick doodles influenced by how I felt at different moments. I was pretty absorbed by those drawings on Tumblr. This collection kinda acts as a record of my obsession with a certain organ at that time, the same obsession that drove me to create the drawings.
KL: I notice you sometimes appropriate advertisement logos and slogans in your work, are you making a statement about consumerism or do you just love McDonalds (we see it there in the background)?
ZQ: I think slogans and advertisements have been completely integrated into our lives. We live in a commercial society driven by materialism. The inclusion of ads and plugs is unavoidable: I’m not gonna take a picture of me eating a burger and make the effort to erase the logo on the packaging. Art in the 21st century should be more inclusive and forgiving because only then will life become art, right? Actually I think other industries should move toward this as well. Seeing celebrities on variety shows drinking Coke with a pixelated logo is pretty disappointing - it’s not like the audience doesn’t know. Materialism has a large presence in our lives. The same is true when it comes to cities, muffled and concealed by a bunch of ideas and doctrines. I scream ‘Hubei is hopeless’ from the perspective of a child with a pure heart; it’s just my attempt to express some opinion about the city that I’m a part of. I become that child when I draw… it’s all a part of growth.
I draw in McDonald’s because it provides a free and open space. There are patients resting, janitors taking a break, and children doing their homework. I like to be inspired and work in places like McDonald’s, vibrant with people from different corners of society. I’ve grown attached to the place after spending so much time drawing there. I drew the phrase “Say Goodbye to McDonald’s” right before becoming an intern at a corporation. I was sitting in McDonald’s with tears streaming down my cheeks when I wrote it in my notebook; I thought I’d never be able to draw again.
詹琦: 我觉得在如今，生活中出现的广告商标以及完全进入了我们现在的生活中了，因为这就是一个物质的商业社会。你完全不可能避免的 。我不可能拍一张本来我在吃汉堡的照片，然后还要费力去抹掉包装袋上的商标。21世纪，艺术应该包容一些，更多的，生活就是艺术了。不是吗，其实我认为其它行业也应该这样了。有时我看到电视上综艺节目中嘉宾跑去哪个城市游玩，明明喝着可口可乐，却要马赛克这个商标，觉得挺扫兴的，观众又不是不知道。 物质主义存在在我们的生活中，城市也是一样，被很多东西包裹覆盖。所以我才要呐喊，我在说“湖北 没救了 ” 包含了我对自己所处城市的一些看法而已了，但是这种看法是一个绘画中有着纯洁心灵的小孩儿呐喊出来的，也是我的一种成长进程的一种感受。
我在麦当劳画画是因为它有一个开放的免费空间，病人能在这里休息，环卫工也可以，做作业以及休息的孩子。我愿意在这样充满“生活”的地方绘画，它给我一些创作的灵感。 在麦当劳里绘画的时间多了，它也就保持了一部分我的情感。“跟麦当劳说再见” 是我在将要进入企业实习前画下的一句话。挺伤心的，我在麦当劳哭泣着在本子上写下这句话，原因是我以为自己再也不能画画了。
KL: Have you considered a colouring book? Dick’s Dream would make an amazing adult colouring book.
ZQ: Haha, I’d like to. Thanks for enjoying it.
KL: 你有想过出一本涂色书吗？Dick’s Dream 作为成年人涂色书肯定特别棒/牛逼/有意思。
KL: Why do you use text in your work?
ZQ: My native language is Chinese. Chinese is the most direct way of expressing my emotions and also the first thing that register in people’s hearts when they see my drawings.
KL: I see you have done DIY pop-up exhibitions in the hutongs. What prompted you to take your work out of gallery spaces and into the streets?
ZQ: “The Everyday”. Art should be present in the everyday life. When your work is displayed on the streets, people can walk by and have instinctive reactions that reflect how art is received by the ordinary people of society. In other words, consider “Does he get it?” and “Can something still communicate its artistic expression after entering the ordinary world.” I don’t think art should sit on a pedestal, removed from The Everyday.
KL: 我发现你在胡同里有过自己的DIY 街头展览。是什么使你把你的作品从画廊和展厅里搬到街上的？
KL: Tell me about your soybean shaped pieces. You are building quite a collection, are you hoping to turn them into a large-scale artwork?
ZQ: “Shapes” (tu xing) is an ode of my love for the light in this world. For me, to draw is to create color. Color is my guide when it comes to drawing.
I’m gonna do my best to continue to create color, for it is what makes my drawings become art.
KL: Do you ever or have you ever considered collaborating with other artists, writers or musicians?
ZQ: I published a collection of photos called “A New Era: I Captured 124 Trash Bins in Building A of the Boy’s Dorm in our School” in collaboration with the zine “吃的ReallyWant”. The book was published on the 22nd of November, 2015 and can be found on the “吃的ReallyWant” Taobao store.
On the night of November 22nd, 2014, I ran around with my camera taking pictures of the 124 trash bins in the boys’ dorm building. They’re filthy and dismissible objects, yet they project all the realities of modern Chinese university dorm life. We captured that and made the photos into a book to bring encouragement to those who lack the strength to look at life straight in the eyes.
詹琦: 作为“垃圾桶”项目，和独立杂志《吃的ReallyWant》合作出版了一本摄影集《新时代了，我拍下了我们学校男生宿舍A栋所有124个垃圾桶》。摄影集在2015年11月22日发行，现在在淘宝网店搜索“吃的Really Want商店” 就可以看到了。
KL: What are your plans for your work in future? Any exhibitions or projects in the pipeline?
ZQ: To continue to capture, to draw, to keep creating “Shapes”.
I’m having an exhibition mid-April called “Coming of the New World”. Once the exhibition starts I’ll be spending three hours per day in the space. The contents of the exhibition will be updated on my Weibo (詹巴儿).
KL: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Loreli readers?
Thank you for reading this and supporting me. I’ll keep my enthusiasm for art, creation, and “The Everyday” alive. Thanks.
詹琦: 感谢你们的阅读，甚至支持，我会继续保持对艺术的创作热情，以及“表达生活” ，谢谢。
Zhan Qi is an independent artist born in 1995 who works primarily in felt-tip pen. His works have been displayed in hutong pop up exhibitions and he has collaborated with 吃的Really Want with a photo essay. He will have an exhibition in Wuhan next month and one in Más bar in May. Contact him at Sina weibo: 詹巴儿