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.