Lu Xinjian Interview
Q: By what and when were you inspired to create new series, “Constellations”?
Before the creation of the “CITY DNA” series, I made a series of works called “Harmony”, the first series of works I had ever done, for which I only created about a dozen works. This was the series where I first started to outline the shape of the architecture and the stars in the sky, and created works by combining these elements together, so this is the first appearance of stars in my work.
I have always been fascinated with the starry night sky, since I grew up in the countryside, the stars in the sky were very visible and clear, and I had been watching the stars since I was a small child. In 2012, I had made a few sketches, just experimenting; I had no clear direction on the effect I wanted to achieve. In these sketches, I marked the zodiac with plus signs.
Q: Most of your previous works are around the subject of “city” and its structures, what motivates you to investigate the subject of astrology?
Another reason why I was motivated to create the “Constellation” series is that it’s not part of the traditional Chinese culture; it’s imported from Western mythology and astrology. However, it is a conversation trigger among younger generation of Chinese especially in a social situation. I find this social phenomenon particularly interesting. The zodiac signs are used to identify people’s characteristics in the West, I think this also falls into the field of statistics. It relates to human characters and fate, which is a mysterious subject for me.
Also, when I think on the idea of city, I would think of city planning, since cities are manmade. They are created by their history, politics, economics, geography and culture combined; each city has its own system. In turn when we look up to the sky, the seemingly random placed stars have no system? I’m certain that there is a system in place, an invisible one. And this invisibility is connected to the Chinese “Yin” and “Yang” theory. My friend Lynne Howarth-Gladston (with Paul Gladston, PDF) wrote an essay on my “Constellation” series (published in the “Lu Xinjian: Constellation” catalogue, printed by ART LABOR Gallery, Shanghai). In the essay, she employed the cosmology and “Yin Yang” theory to read into my work. I think all things in the universe are a combination of Yin and Yang in order to archive balance. When celestial bodies operate in a normal manner, they are in a state of harmony. There are both forces of gravitation and repulsion among the stars.
Third, I think most of the people are attracted by an imagined life beyond earth. The Nul (ZERO) art movement was also partly inspired by America’s space program, the artists then had a balloon launching of their own [note: recent title of the Zero Movement show held in Amsterdam in Fall 2015 was “ZERO: Let Us Explore The Stars”. ] They employed the rocket launching countdown method, and named their art movement after number zero, as it is the moment of the countdown when the rocket sets off, with the metaphor of creating art from an utterly new approach and redefining the meaning of art. Looking at the artworks from this movement, the viewer would find that they are very minimal, a pure visual language.
Q: Can you elaborate on the concept behind “Constellations”?
I participated in a group exhibition in October this year in Holland [NuNul]. The gallery over there really wanted me to bring over a copy of catalogue. They saw a great similarity between this series of work and Nul Movement. Back in the1950s, they didn’t have the technology that is available to us now. And my work utilizes modern technology, which breaks the traditional method of painting, so they call my work the “new Zero art”. We have been continuously exploring outer space, and we as humans have a yearning for outer space as well. So I thought it would be pleasant and beautiful to create a starry night sky for the home. When I was creating these pieces, I chose to use phosphorescent paint, so the paintings present an entirely different visual effect at in the dark. I deliberately didn’t highlight the zodiac signs, rather just used little white dots throughout on the paintings to mark the stars. Thus, the painting is not an objectified work, it is rather a work of abstraction. Of course the audiences are still able to locate the signs if they wish. Similar to my “Invisible Poems” series, words are abstract symbols; when I weaved them within my own visual language, these paintings possess a dual visual meaning. When audiences read the work, it’s a poem. When they just look at the work, it’s an abstract painting.
With the series “Constellation”, I discussed two themes. First, the meaning behind the zodiac signs, or to say the undercurrent influence in our daily lives. How did it become a topic of conversation in our lives? And its significance in the context of contemporary Chinese culture. Secondly, is the harmonious relationship within the universe, and this relationship to Chinese “Yin Yang” theory. It coincides with Chinese Taoism, the spontaneous intelligence operating within nature, which corresponds with the essence of the works.
Q: Each painting is composed according to original starting maps or diagram, how do you arrive at the composition of these paintings?
In this group of work, I visualize the relationship among stars using lines, to illustrate the force of gravitation and repulsion. And this depiction subjects to no preset rules; it’s very free by comparison to my previous “CITY DNA” series. The layout of a city functions as a template in my works, it’s relatively set. However, when I painted the space among stars, there is no reference like roads. One dot is one star; the lines among stars were my own creation. The overall composition of the lines is very even, in order to express the balanced relationship. The purpose of the lines is to visualize the invisible relationship, so to represent my understanding of the starry sky.
Q: Your previous “CITY DNA” series are inspired by Google Earth, with the “Constellation” series, what kind of technological tool did you use?
With this series of works, I use a computer software, similar to Google Earth, you put in your exact location on earth, and the software will show you to the area of sky that’s corresponding to your location. The area of sky is gigantic, so the sky you look at from Shanghai remains the same from other points in Shanghai. However, it’s completely different if you are looking from Europe or North America or South America.
Q: Is there any connection between your CITY series and the “Constellation”? If so, what is it?
In the past few years, I have had created three series related to the theme of city, “CITY DNA” “CITY Stream” and “Reflection” (this series hasn’t been exhibited yet). When I first started creating the city series, I used the bird-eye view to look at cities (CITY DNA), then I feel like I can investigated cities from a plan-elevation view (CITY Stream and Reflection). I have always been pondering on how I could present the concept of city with a multi-dimensional and diversified approach. The city concept itself is quite a broad theme.
The starry night sky and city are corresponding, these two are complimenting, and at the same time, mutually influencing as well. After my CITY series, it’s a natural instinct to move my viewpoint upward; it also coincides with the history of human evolution and development (first we built centers and roads, then we made towers, then we looked to the stars, etc). The “Constellation” series takes the viewpoint away from Earth and looks towards the sky. The “CITY DNA” series are looking from the sky back toward the Earth. With every series of my work, the themes and contents have always been changing, but my visual language basically stays the same.
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这是一方面，另一方面就是我在思考城市的时候，会想到城市的规划，因为城市是人造的，是对历史、政经、地理以及它特有的人文所共同造就的，每个城市都有其系统。而当我们看向天空的时候，看似无序的星空就是没有系统的吗？我认为肯定是有的，只不过它的系统是隐性的。这个隐性的东西与中国的“阴阳”就结合到了一起。我的朋友Lynne Hwardth-Gladstone写了一篇关于我“星座”系列作品的文章（与Paul Gladstone合著, PDF），其中将宇宙学与阴阳学的理论相结合来解读我的作品。宇宙万物都是阴与阳的复合体，以达到一种平衡。当天体在正常运转的时候，它们一定是处于一种和谐状态之中的。和星体与星体之间，也是在互相吸引和控制着对方。