Where is Home? An Interview with Xiaowen Zhu | 何处是家? 朱晓闻访谈

In April 2020, British curator Kitty Dinshaw interviewed me. The Chinese text below is translated from the original English version.


今年四月,英国策展人凯蒂·迪肖 采访了我,以下中文部分为英文原文的翻译。



I've always loved talking to Xiaowen. She has such a unique point of view, and I love how she makes art. Her work has an intellectual and emotional resonance that is very specific to each individual. It is full of tiny, consequential details but also a product of large urban environments: London, Berlin, Los Angeles.  


我一向很喜欢和晓闻对话,不仅因为她观点独特,同时我也很欣赏她的艺术创作方式。她的作品在每个人身上都能引发独特的智性和情感共鸣——它们充满了微小而相关联的细节,同时又是大都市环境的产物:伦敦、柏林、洛杉矶。


In the first few strange weeks of lockdown, I was fascinated by how Xiaowen was making work, how she was still able to be creative given so much of what she does focuses on the urban environment outside her home and studio. The coronavirus pandemic has impacted her practice in a myriad of ways; she could no longer walk the Berlin streets as she used to. The themes of migration and diaspora that occur and re-occur throughout her practice take on a different air when you are faced with being so far from family in a time of crisis.


(由新冠疫情引发的)隔离期的最初几周是怪异的。在平时,晓闻的很多创作都在家和工作室以外的城市环境中发生,而面对限制,她依然创意十足,这一点令我着迷。毕竟, 疫情以多种方式影响了她的实践,令她无法像过去那样游走于柏林街头。鉴于移民和离散正是她一直以来聚焦的主题,而危机令她与家人间阻隔重重,这也引发了新的思考。


I spoke to Xiaowen in April 2020, when her home city of Berlin had been locked down for over a month, and her family in Shanghai were just emerging from the worst of the pandemic.


我在2020年4月采访了晓闻,当时她所居住的城市柏林已经度过了一个多月的隔离期,而她远在上海的家也正从疫情的紧张局势中脱离出来。


Kitty: In practical terms, how are you making work at the moment?

凯蒂:实际上,你现在是如何工作的?


Xiaowen: This year, I’ve been spending a considerable amount of time on making a publication for my long-term project Oriental Silk, which is about touch and tactility, craft and value, and the colours of memory. The Oriental Silk emporium, located in Los Angeles, is the first Chinese silk importing business in the United States after WWII. Having once risen within the Hollywood movie industry, the shop, established more than four decades ago, has become a productive place to reflect on the astonishing histories of twentieth-century migration and to critique the idea of the American dream. This publication features people, places, conversations, and stories interwoven by the meaning of Chinese silks to one immigrant family’s emotional past.


晓闻:今年,我花费大量时间为我的长期项目《乡绸》(Oriental Silk)做出版物,该出版物涉及触感和触觉,工艺和价值,以及记忆的色彩。位于洛杉矶的“东方丝绸”是美国二战后的第一家华人真丝进口商店。这家商店成立于四十多年前,曾伴随好莱坞电影界的黄金年代而崛起,如今已成为反思二十世纪惊心动魄的移民史及“美国梦”理念的范本。这本艺术家书通过聚焦相关人物、地点、对话和故事,将中国丝绸与一个移民家庭的情感过往交织在一起。


《Oriental Silk 乡绸》

由汉杰·坎茨(Hatje Cantz)出版社出版

设计:Studio Cheval,中英双语


Oriental Silk has become an important part of my artistic identity. Especially at a time of rising divisions and racism, along with an anti-globalisation sentiment, a critical reflection on the themes explored through the project, such as diaspora, migration, international trade, cultural values, and memories, seems ever more relevant and acute. 


《乡绸》已成为我艺术身份的重要组成部分。特别是在分歧和种族主义加剧,反全球化情绪高涨之际,该项目所探索的主题需要更相关和敏锐的批判性思考,这些主题包括离散、移民、国际贸易、文化价值和记忆等。 



《Oriental Silk 乡绸》艺术书内页 


These days, I think often about the notions of romanticised nostalgia and fragmented memories. It’s certainly human nature to shape our understanding of the reality catered to our emotional needs but were we to let go of the rational judgment, all we have left would be manipulated storytellings – narratives that can easily turn to excuses or even deceptions. Getting back to your question, I organise my time in different slots these days. Since I have a job as the assistant director at a non-profit contemporary art space in Berlin, during the lockdown, we all work from home using a variety of digital and online tools for communication and project management. Outside of these hours, I have a pretty strict schedule to allocate my time and energy on my personal projects. What I realise increasingly is that time is the only capital that truly matters to an artist’s work.


这些天来,我经常想起有关浪漫化的怀旧和零散的记忆这些概念。出于情感需求来塑造对现实的理解是人类的天性,然而,如果我们放弃理性判断,那么所剩一切都将是被操纵的叙事,而这些叙事很容易变为借口和谎言。回到你的问题,这些天来我将时间分割为不同时段。由于我在柏林的一家非营利当代艺术空间担任助理总监的工作,因此在隔离期间,我和同事都居家办公,使用数字和在线工具进行沟通和项目管理。这些时间之外,我用严格的时间表来分配花在个人项目上的精力。我愈发意识到,时间对艺术家的创作而言,是唯一真正重要的资本。


《Oriental Silk 乡绸》

2015, 高清录像,彩色,有声,30分钟,影像截图

Kitty: Are you inspired by the restrictions imposed by the lockdown, the new creative space you find yourself in? Is it a chance to explore ideas you may have intentionally ignored in the past and find new artistic avenues? 


凯蒂:隔离期间的各种限制是否为你带来启发,比如发现自己身处新的创意空间?你是否有机会探索以往忽略的想法并找到新的艺术途径?


Xiaowen: I’d feel too privileged to use the word ‘inspired,’ but luckily, I’m coping with the restrictions not too badly. When everything was still normal, relatively speaking, I curated my life in a way that was more or less in balance with my lifestyle in a big city – work, social activities, travel, and solitude in my studio. Now that everything’s more contained by the physical realm, I’m forced to confront my fear and doubt, which were formerly elevated by social activities and travels. Simply put, my new creative space is the same as my old creative space, only that I didn’t have to use it as much previously because I found too many distractions and excuses to be “inspired” by exhibitions, talks, symposiums, events, and so forth. Having understood that my strength lies in my independent thinking and creation, I want to devote more time to this.


晓闻:‘启发’一词或许显得太高高在上了,但幸运的是,我正在很好地应对当前的情况。当一切照常时,我的生活是都市化的,在一系列活动之间获取平衡,包括工作、社交、旅行和在工作室独处。现在,一切都受到限制,令我不得不面对以往由社交和旅行挡在门外的恐惧和怀疑。简言之,我的创意空间没有变化,只是我之前不需要充斥它,因为各种(艺术界的)活动,比如展览、演讲、座谈会等,都以“启发”的方式令我不需要直面最本质的问题。我想,我的长处在于独立思考和创造力,我想花更多时间在此之上。



《隔离前的柏林》,2020,摄影


When it comes to exploring ideas that I may have ignored in the past, it’s the same as dealing with fear and doubt. In everyday life, we often talk around our problems, about not being able to identify precisely and standing up it. This is even more present in art-making. Any great artists in history have been those who faced horror with bare hands. I’m not interested in dancing around problems elegantly without a true conviction to do anything about it. So this is the direction I’m working towards.


至于我过去可能忽略过的想法,这同处理恐惧和怀疑是一样的。在日常生活中,我们经常绕着弯探讨问题,而不直面问题的本质,这在艺术创作中更为普遍。历史上任何伟大的艺术家都是那些徒手面对恐惧的人。我对于缺乏正念,只是故作优雅地绕着问题跳跳舞不感兴趣。所以这正是我现在努力的方向。



《除非》,2018,摄影及艺术家出版物

Kitty: What were you doing in Berlin, pre-lockdown? Please tell us a little about that.

凯蒂:隔离之前,你在柏林做什么?请为我们介绍一下。


Xiaowen: Earlier this year, I was in Guangzhou for work. In mid-January, I returned to Berlin. A week later, the outbreak happened in Wuhan, followed by a complete lockdown of the city on January 23, 2020. Meanwhile, my family in Shanghai wasn’t affected until mid-February when the quarantine was strictly carried out on a national level. I was concerned, but not too worried. My family is fine and now things are slowly getting back to normal in China.


I was working for the most part before the lockdown, but my attention was caught up in this strange effect of time differences. I call it a delayed ripple effects, in the sense, that I saw the pandemic getting bigger and bigger, closer and closer, from China to the world, within weeks. But when I suggested buying masks to people around me in mid-February, everyone thought I was joking. First, people here are not used to the idea of wearing masks for precaution. Second, masks were already being purchased by hospitals and clinics, leaving very few available for the general public.


晓闻:今年初,我在广州工作。一月中旬,我回到柏林。一周后,新冠疫情在武汉爆发,随后在2020年1月23日,武汉封城了。与此同时,直到2月中旬,我在上海的家庭才受到影响,因为全国范围内开始执行严格的措施。我有些担心,但并不是太担心。我的家人很安全,现在中国的情况正在慢慢恢复正常。

在(德国)隔离开始之前,我大部分时间都在工作,但我的注意力被时差的奇怪影响所吸引。某种意义上,我称其为‘延迟的领悟’ [1],是指在几周之内从中国到世界各地,疫情越来越严重。但是当我在2月中旬向周围人建议购买口罩时,每个人都以为我在开玩笑。首先,这里的人不习惯戴口罩。其次,医院和诊所已经在团购口罩,于是面向普通消费者的库存远远不够。


[1] 在《“隔离”日志|为什么柏林人还不戴口罩?》(2020年3月24日发表于澎湃)一文中,我写道:对于身处东西文化之间的人来讲,这种“延迟的领悟”在疫情期间格外显著,仿佛是将一段现实先以“虚拟”的方式经历一遍,随后又以“真实”的方式再现一遍。两者的物理发展虽然类似,但由于文化情境、参与者的不同,竟会变异出难以想象的实际效果。或许我们可以将之理解为:在时差造成的“先知先觉”和“后知后觉”之间腹背受敌。

《施普瑞河》,2020,摄影


At times, I found myself almost speechless to convey the urgency of the crisis. On one hand, my Chinese social media feed was exploring day by day, hour by hour, about the severeness of COVID-19 and people’s sufferings, and on the other hand, people in Berlin kept partying and living their social life until this could absolutely not continue. Naturally, I was relieved when people began to take reality seriously.


I’m thankful that I can work from home and still get paid, while many people have lost their jobs and income. Though I must say, the German government is doing a fantastic job recognising the enormous value of culture and arts by distributing €500 million grants to artists and freelancers. I personally know many people who received five to ten thousand euros within days of application. 


当时,我发现自己几乎无法用语言表达危机的紧迫性。一方面,我的中国社交媒体动态每天都在逐时更新有关疫情的严重程度和人们的苦难;另一方面,柏林人始终在聚会并继续社交生活,直到临界点。当人们开始认真对待现实时,我自然感到放心。


我很庆幸自己可以在家工作,并且还能获得报酬,而许多人却失去了工作和收入。值得一提的是,(疫情爆发后)德国政府向艺术家和自由职业者提供了总值5亿欧元的资助,在保护文化和艺术价值方面做得非常出色。我知道不少人在申请后几天内就收到了五千至一万欧元的补助金。



《特雷普托公园》,2020,摄影


Kitty: You grew up in Shanghai, lived for many years in America (upstate New York and Los Angeles), then three years in London (where we met), and are now resident in Berlin. What is most striking to you about the differences between these global cities?


凯蒂:你生于上海,在美国(纽约上州和洛杉矶)居住多年,随后在伦敦(我们相遇的地方)住了三年,现在在柏林。你觉得这些全球城市之间最大的差异是什么?


Xiaowen: I think the most striking thing to me is that though I love different aspects of Shanghai, LA, London, and Berlin, I never really fit in anywhere. My work Brief Encounters on the Milky Way is a good example. I see myself as a flâneuse (the female version of flâneur) walking through different places, encountering people, objects, and ideas. Sometimes, there’s a brief moment of mutual understanding, yet eventually, I’m always an outsider, a visitor, an observer, perhaps even a tourist. I’ve made peace with this fact. The American way of thinking about it would be – if you don’t fit in, you are meant to stand out. My take on it is that by not claiming the ownership of a place, I free myself from any sort of preconceptions of identity, national or regional. 


Every relocation is a chance to reinvent me. It doesn’t mean creating multiple versions of Xiaowen Zhu but getting closer to my inner self. Some people achieve this by staying still in one place. I seem to take the opposite approach. As the Chinese saying goes, different paths lead to the same destination.


晓闻:最令我惊讶的是,尽管我喜欢上海、洛杉矶、伦敦和柏林的不同方面,但我从来没有真正融入任何地方。我的作品《银河系的短暂相遇》就是一个很好的例子。我认为自己是一个漫游者,游走在不同的地方,与不同的人、物、想法碰撞。有时,我们会感到短暂的相互了解,但最终,我始终是局外人、访客、观察者,甚至只是游客。我早就接纳了这个现实。按照美国人的思维方式——如果你不融入,就意味着脱颖而出。而我的看法是,不要求任何地方的所有权,也即将自己从身份、国家或地区的观念中解放出来。


对我来说,每次搬迁都是重塑自我的机会。这并不意味着要创建多个版本的朱晓闻,而是更接近内在的自我。有些人通过待在同一个地方做到这一点,而我采取了相反的路径,不过,这是殊途同归。



《银河系的短暂相遇》

2017,录像,彩色,有声,5分钟

Kitty: You have always been, to me, the essence of a global citizen - someone who is at home in so many different cultures and always finding artistic impetus in each. I admire that enormously. But the tug of "home" must be strong. How do you keep in touch with your family in China and what does "home" as a word mean to you right now?


凯蒂:对我而言,你一直“全球公民”的代表——拥有如此多元的文化,并且总在每种文化中找到艺术创作的动力。对此,我深感佩服。但是“家”的拖船必须牢固。你如何与远在中国的家人保持联系?“家”这个词现在对你意味着什么?


Xiaowen: This is an emotional question. Recently, I was struck by how different Shanghai feels to me. By any standard, it’s a truly global and contemporary metropolis now. I’m impressed by its progress and achievements, economically, technologically, and culturally, especially considering the change it has gone through in the past decade.


However, I feel more and more desperate to pick up old memories of Shanghai when I go home to visit, while the probability is stretching thinner and thinner. This comes down to a more philosophical question: why do we need to know where we come from? For me, the idea of home echoes with my lack of permanent residence. 


‘Home’ to me is where I can be myself, not just alone, but also with others. It’s easier when I was young and undefined, just like kids imitate adults to be liked. As I become maturer and have a stronger voice in me, there’s more negotiation going on with my surroundings. Sometimes I ask myself, would my life be easier if I lack my own voice and ideas and always try to appear agreeable to other people? Then, I think of many people who are like this, and they don’t seem to have an easy life, either. So I keep moving, keep my environment fresh, and keep myself alert.


晓闻:这是一个感性的问题。最近,我对上海的变化有很多触动。以任何标准来看,她都是真正的全球当代大都市,这座城在经济、技术和文化上的进步和成就令人震动,尤其是考虑到过去十年间发生的巨变。

但是,当我回家时,我越发迫切地寻找关于上海的记忆,但它们越来越模糊。这归结为一个哲学问题:为什么我们需要知道自己来自哪里?对我而言,‘家’的概念对照了我永久居住地的缺失。


“家”应当是我可以做自己的地方,不单独处,且包括与他人相处。在我年龄尚小,且不确定自己是谁时,可以像小孩模仿大人那样,这很容易。随着我日益年长,拥有自己的声音,与周围环境的磨合也越来越多。有时我问自己,如果我缺乏自己的声音和想法,总是试图同意他人,我的生活会更轻松吗?然后,我想到许多这样的人,他们的生活并不显得多轻松。因此,我会继续前进,保持环境新鲜,并保持警惕。




《记忆的政治》,2020,混合媒体


Considering how much energy has been consumed in moving countries, I totally understand why most people can’t or don’t want to do it. The consequence of my decade-long world travel is that my notion of home tends to be abstract. I keep in touch with my family in China mostly via WeChat. I try also to keep in contact with friends in America and the UK. But this is a difficult time. There’s a disheartening appraisal of xenophobia or even anti-mobility movements. But there are good places too, such as Berlin. I can be pretty much left alone to do my own things. This freedom and peace are rare in the world right now. 


I miss the beach and sunshine in LA and the streets in London, but I can work better in Berlin. Right now, “home” means the home office to me. 


考虑到在不同国家间搬家如何耗时耗力,我完全理解为什么大多数人不愿意或不能这么做。我长达十年的环球旅行的结果是,我对家的观念趋于抽象。我主要通过微信与我的家人保持联系,我也尝试与美国和英国的朋友保持联系。但这是一个艰难的时期,许多人的仇外心理和反移民运动令人沮丧。好在,在柏林我可以做自己的事,这种自由与和平在当下是罕见的。


我想念洛杉矶的海滩和阳光,也想念伦敦的街道,但是我在柏林可以更好地工作。现在,“家”对我来说就是家庭工作室。 


原载于Subject Matter Art

略有删减

图片皆为朱晓闻的艺术作品

艺术家网站:www.zhuxiaowen.com

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