Qinmin Liu Q&A with Curator Xin Wang
In collaboration with Asia Contemporary Art Week
Moving between her bases in the United States and China, Qinmin Liu questions the structures that define her identity through long-form, playful projects. The farcical nature of the elitist lifestyle synonymous with the global art market is the focus of her ongoing project 'AngelHaha', the first artist-run airline. The 'dream-driven business' was launched in February 2017 through a local Chinese television station. Soon after, tickets went on sale for passengers wishing to fly to Art Basel Miami Beach in December 2017, priced between USD2,700 and 3,500. On the artist's website, the five-year project is framed as a platform to question travel as a 'power structure of the art world'. In 2018, 'Angelhaha's' gaudy pink and white branding engulfed a room of Sichuan Art Institute for group show One star, One travel (25 June 2018–1 July 2018).
Qinmin Liu, QINGNI QINMIN (2018). Second chapter of REAL PLAYER 56 (ongoing), 'Thinking Collections: Open Studios', Chambers Fine Art, New York (8 September 2018). Courtesy the artist. Photo: Taole.
In another structural investigation, Qinmin set up shop in the startup hub of the Runway—a space within the Twitter building in San Francisco—where she examined the relationship between humans and technology. For Coding Project (2015), the artist approached the complex language of coding in its simplest, binary format—a two-symbol system often based on the symbols of 1 and 0. Qinmin's 10-day residency revolved around an immense scroll rolled out along the Runway, upon which the symbols of 1 and 0 were gesturally applied in thick strokes of red paint while office workers went about their business.
Qinmin frequently situates herself as a 'cultural contradiction' and her projects often contain autobiographical elements that reference her experience as 'a young and international Chinese person traveling between different institutions, social medias, and visas.' Her references are wide-ranging. From pop culture and internet culture to folk traditions, Qinmin frequently binds her influences into choreographies that articulate the cultures that define her past and present. In the ongoing research-based work REAL PLAYER 56, Qinmin activates a number of public performances, and merchandise—such as books and hoodies—to construct a new form of story-telling, allowing viewers access into the anxieties that revolve around her shifting identity. As part of the Open Studios programme of Asia Contemporary Art Week 2018, Qinmin presented a new series of performances titled 'QINGNI QINMIN'—the second chapter to REAL PLAYER 56. At Chambers Fine Art on 8 September, the artist and five collaborators blended Chinese folk dance and hip-hop into a mesmerising commentary on cultural identity. In an email-based interview conducted shortly after Qinmin's performance, the artist speaks with curator Xin Wang about the creative processes behind the work.
How did the ongoing research-based project REAL PLAYER 56 first come about?
I am always interested in the long duration format and REAL PLAYER 56 has become a mission of life-long research. I have been living in the US for around nine years but I grew up in China, where I was influenced by internet culture, global pop culture, and the people I hung out with. I spent about six to seven years trying to understand myself and locate my art practice but the conflicts or contradictory moments in my daily observations have now become shining diamonds in my practice.
In the summer of 2016, I was inspired by artist Isabel Lewis' performance at Dia's Chelsea space. The way Isabel interpreted her culture and traditional dance movements made me realise that I was intentionally ignoring my anxiety and lack of confidence as a young and international Chinese person traveling between different institutions, social medias, and visas. Her performance was like a wake-up call for me. It answered all my confusions, my shame, and my jealousy. That was the moment I decided, 'I am a Chinese artist.' With REAL PLAYER 56, I am paving the way for a long-term journey to talk about my culture. And I want to talk about it loudly.
What is your choreographic process? It was eye-opening for me to observe the way you worked collaboratively with fellow dancers to come up with components that became part of the discursive narrative, such as creative writing.
For me, choreography is about the group—it is about the friendship. All the performers that I collaborate with are friends first. So, many of them already know me or have been involved in my works for more than five years. Trust always precedes the choreography.
Choreography is an interdisciplinary practice. A lot of my creation starts with visual practice, a narrative, a piece of music, or an improvisation. I always keep my eyes open to anything that I feel is organic. Enough space and time for me and collaborators to use or waste is always a requirement in this process. Eventually, the process leads to the final destination.
You mentioned the second installment was particularly difficult to choreograph. What were the challenges?
In 'QINGNI QINMIN', my intention was to explore a more complex visual structure, similar to the process of creating an animation. The second chapter is different from the first. I gave up the idea of creating a great structure or choreographic work. Then, I deleted a lot of solo dances and narratives. I tried to delete myself from this chapter, too. During this process, I am more interested in using a storyboard as a basic visual choreographic tool. It requires concentration on details and transition. Everything that you see in the performance is choreographed, even the improvisations.
If a tiny detail goes wrong, all the stories will be influenced and the audience will feel uncomfortable. Therefore, it is so hard to complete the choreography.
In your first performance last summer, you mentioned feeling empowered by the affirmative expressiveness of hip-hop culture. Can you expand on that a little bit?
Hip-hop is a way of communication. It delivers people's anger, love, struggles, and dreams. It is very straight forward. Hip-hop came from a local context, but now it is global. It is everywhere. I really admire this method of communication, but I care more about what content will be delivered.
I am very proud of my cultural background. When I was a child, I studied Chinese folk dance and I knew that there are 56 ethnic groups in China. I always imitate dance gestures from dance classes. Imitation is always the beginning of learning something new. Each of the 56 ethnic groups has their own language, music, writing, clothes, and even lifestyle. They share their emotions and thoughts via music, dance, and the way they dress. The way they keep their culture or protect their own property is so hip-hop to me.
What coheres the two performances, and what distinguishes them?
REAL PLAYER 56 is about a group memory. For me, it is fictional, fragmented, improvisational, and funny.
You can think those chapters are isolated or just fragments of an unfinished narrative. Each chapter will interpret a different story from a different medium or aesthetic. I believe I will give a better answer when the narrative ends.
You are deeply immersed and tuned into pop cultural productions, which typically include different layers of performances—professional, mediated, and fictional, to name a few.
Since 2016, I have always thought, 'I always find myself so mainstream but so exotic.' I am interested in pop, fashion, entertainment and branding—that's the culture that I grew up with; those are the major things that young people talk about. I want to understand this. A lot of my artworks are soft sculptures made of metal, fake Chinese jewelry, images, traditional fabrics and clothing such as hoodies and t-shirts. I don't want to ignore the things that have shaped our aesthetics and daily life. We should concern ourselves with them.
The second chapter of REAL PLAYER 56 is concerned with duality and the experience of having to make a decision. REAL PLAYER 56's first chapter 'Qinmin' (title), is based on individual stories and many solo dances. Every performer is 'Qinmin' in the first chapter, we share the same name. Qinmin—this name becomes a common tool in the first chapter. In the second chapter, I introduced another character— Qingni. She is a real person, she is Qinmin's best friend. The storyline is based on the real story and real events that happened between Qinmin and Qingni. They were born, bred and prospered in the new era of the internet world. They were high school desk-mates. Both of them went to the West Coast of the United States for collage. Now both Qinmin and Qingni live in New York City. Qingni and Qinmin are very different people, but they are assimilated by each other. Sometimes, they act just like one person.
Dancing and performing contain very different languages to visual art—how do you work with that tension?
For me, the visual is always the result. Movement research is a language and a writing process for me. I always consider myself lucky as I have a naturally flexible body. It is a gift for me. My art practice grew out of Chinese dance education and ethos. It taught me to be disciplined and to always practice.–[O]