Yip Lap Wing Interview
Production process and the point of existence are equally important issues. My cabinet is not produced for functions but for art. In the mean time, this cabinet is different from the real ones in physical terms. My product is lighter and has neutral quality. If left alone, it will be exact the same even after 3 or thousand years while the real cabinet can only last for 4 or 5 hundred years.
Time: Feb 22th, 2009
Location: FCAC
Interviewers: Li Xiaofei, Zhang Li, Du Lizhi
Editor: Li Xiaofei, Zhang Li
Recorder: Zahng Li
Li Xiaofei: Do you think it¡¯s important to have a personal identity? Cause currently, many people¡¯s identities are international, such as you, a German, an American and a Hong Konger at the same time. So how do you introduce yourself? Or we can talk about this issue from your personal experience and educational background.
Yip Lap Wing: I think identity is about mindset. Because the determinate factors of people¡¯s identity normally are mode of thinking and previous experience instead of their birth places and living spaces. For example, someone is born in a specific place then move to other places, but he is still a ¡®originals¡¯ even though he can¡¯t speak his own dialect. I was born in Hang Kong at 1963 and immigrated to the US when I was 19, where I received my art education. That was important in my whole life because I was in a transition phrase. At that time, I was influenced by the tolerant spirit in American and their mode of thinking. So I accepted many different ways of viewing the world and experiencing new things. Then I moved my home to German where I learned a total opposite culture, the one that is traditional and old-fashioned.  That living space is created by the conflicts between different European  cultures and thinking modes. You know in the US, with its short history, people are open-minded without too much burdens while in Europe people pay much attention to traditions and customs. In all, identity for me is mostly built up by life experience. I live in Hong Kong for 20 years, then the US 13 years and I live in German until the present. During the process, I have no idea about where I am going to live next. So life experience is the determinate factor, not nationality or other issues.
Li Xiaofei: So all these life experiences, do they have a positive or negative influences towards your art production? Because when I enjoy your works, I feel like you¡¯re a western artist who is interested in Chinese culture instead of being an Chinese artist (not in a bad way), just my personal thoughts, how do you think about this issue? Do you even care about this kind of opinions?
Yip Lap Wing: If we are going to talk about Chinese culture, I would like first figure out what is Chinese culture. China covers a huge area and owns a very long history. China¡¯s territory even spread to current Europe in Yuan Dynasty. Besides, the kind of geographic factors are undergoing changes. In Europe, some Chinese I met with have living there for a much longer time there, maybe since their parents¡¯ or grandparents¡¯ generations. So it a hard question for me, but I still hold that personal experience is the most important.
Li Xiaofei: If we consider from the point of personal experience, you don¡¯t really care about identity, right?
Yip Lap Wing: I am still a Chinese by appearance with yellow skins and black hairs. But inside I have been influenced by many conflicting cultures, thus the past experience rendering me as a living individual now. Maybe this is my answer for your question.
Li Xiaofei: Your thinking modes are actually more oriental, but you work and live against Western contexts. Does this particular situation affect your art production? Your works combine the ¡®containment ¡¯ in eastern culture and the ¡®scientificalness¡¯ in western, is this a contradiction?
Yip Lap Wing: The culture that you have mentioned are actually very helpful to be applied to my producing. Chinese¡¯s containment and western people¡¯s analytic insistence are very important elements in my works. But personally speaking, I favor oriental culture. Because I like some non-existentialistic and floating thoughts, I don¡¯t really like to observe things in a fixed way, so I like Oriental culture better.
Li Xiaofei: In your own description about your work: ¡°There are no final results in my works, everything is functioning in a fantasy land. Reality have to be questioned at any time ¡±. I want to ask what does this ¡®fantasy land¡¯ refer to? And what¡¯s the meaning of ¡®questioned¡¯?
Yip Lap Wing£ºThat means the audience have the space to question the work content. Artist works only provide viewers with a hypothesis based on their living concepts and experiences But the audience have options to explore by themselves among the logical and reasonable framework establishing by artist information and materials. But artists have the right to choose different artistic modes.
Zhang Li,: Since your works highlight the importance of "trace", how do you understand the line "A wild goose flied through the sky without leaving any clue"? I think not all the actions are going to leave a trace, but that doesn¡¯t mean these actions are meaningless. What do you think?
Yip Lap Wing: Basically I think everything has a trace, it¡¯s just whether you can notice it or not. So tangible or non-tangible, that¡¯s an important thing. For example, Zen Buddhism don¡¯t have to talk or write things down to spread its religion, but we can¡¯t say there is nothing there. It¡¯s epiphany that matters. Since epiphany is a major element in my works, not every people can get what I mean. But still epiphany is important.
Li Xiaofei: Your works have been made by the same material since 1993. Polystyrene foam, to same extent, represents Yip Lap Wing. It seems like you want to forge a legend by polystyrene foam! This is your intention or you just have no other choices?
Yip Lap Wing: Why I use polystyrene foam all the time is because it¡¯s a material with neutral qualities and free from emotion connections and weather erosion. It symbolize that a thing is just fine as it is. In fact, it also means cheap and useless as this material is disposable. Like when we bought a TV, we would throw away its package made of polystyrene foam. We only want the TV. This example confirms Lao Zi¡¯s views on emptiness and essence of "tangible" and "untangible" positions. The TV might have broken without the protection of polystyrene foam. So for me, this is an issue of imagination and symbolic meanings. Besides, I also use finished product with traditional styles, such as ancient China¡¯s ceramics and animal designs. I like to use them as a symbol of manual production in the past. For example, making ceramics are advanced technique then, but we didn¡¯t know its origin. Yet Western people were very excited to know this kind of high-tech products and they started producing ceramics 300 years ago, exerting major influence on Europe¡¯s economic development. In foreign museums and famous residences, ceramics are highly treasured and well preserved for hundreds of years. But when I first saw them, I noticed there are some differences from that made in China. After consulting experts and reading many books, I understood that these products were exported and made to cater Westerners¡¯ flavor. I sense that people¡¯s art and aesthetic views can be delivered in a total different form due to the affect of exterior factors or exceptional situations. It¡¯s very interesting to find some forgotten things resurfaced in another country. Some historic stories hiding in my mind still affect my views and my works, like Hsuan-tsang¡¯s pilgrimage to India in Tang Dynasty and Marco Polo¡¯s journey between China and Italy in Yuan Dynasty. I regard these stories as half fairy tales and half history facts, they are related to my opinions.
Li Xiaofei: You have several works are polystyrene foam duplicates of, say cupboard and desk etc, why do you want to make duplicates by polystyrene foam instead of other materials? Do you think there are some fundamental differences between the duplicates and the original items?
Yip Lap Wing: Everything can be copied and duplicated. My works reflect Michel Duchamp¡¯s concept of "objects", which means transforming daily items to artworks, or delivering in another way. My polystyrene foam works as duplicates experiences the industrial mode in Industrial Revolution. The performance of cutting the cupboard is the same with making a wood cabinet, except the materials and your opinions, but the production mode are the same. The cabinet was duplicated exactly according to the original one in terms of size and proportion, so it was the production mode that mattered most.
Li Xiaofei: You were stressing that production mode is more important than their material?
Yip Lap Wing: Production process and the point of existence are equally important issues. My cabinet is not produced for functions but for art. In the mean time, this cabinet is different from the real ones in physical terms. My product is lighter and has neutral quality. If left alone, it will be exact the same even after 3 or thousand years while the real cabinet can only last for 4 or 5 hundred years.
Li Xiaofei: Why do you want to make duplicate of cupboard, not yourself or other things?
Yip Lap Wing: Cupboard has symbolic meanings. In Europe, people like to display some traditional dishes at home, including imported ceramics from China and other important kitchen appliance and show friends and relatives their precious family collections. I think cupboard in the kitchen is an important way to understand westerner¡¯s history and traditions.
Li Xiaofei: It seems like you tend to apply mews pictures and events to your works, such as yellow mountain, crushing Columbia space shuttle. News reflect typical social conflicts. And what¡¯s your consideration to combine news in your works?
Yip Lap Wing: I can only think about one thing when I use these news pictures. I would collect moving pictures on newspapers and see if they still touch me later. Then I would put pictures that can move me together. Every once a while I would check them out before I make a decision. Each news picture that I have picked out represents these moments where my outlooks on life changed. So I made the pictures live again by restoring the situations and taking new photos. I think this is a mode of life performance and thought transformation. The process of thinking is an artistic action, and so is performance.
Li Xiaofei: I think as an artist, it¡¯s necessary to think in depth about what you¡¯re interested in, just like you filter through the news pictures. Besides, your works pay special attention to situation changes and you tend to apply a tragic ironic way, what points would you leke to make by filtering and ironic ways?
Yip Lap Wing: I keep thinking while I make copies, not merely look at the pictures. Pictures are two-dimensional while making copies as processes are three-dimensional. This leaves me an imagination space as the hidden meanings are not exactly on the pictures. The imagination space is important to me since I can add my own thoughts to works and rearrange them. The infused imagination flows on the photos during the producing process.
Li Xiaofei: You also like another method, reproducing pictures and put them into your works. The selection is not so strict without making some changes. The selection process reflects your views on art, right?
Yip Lap Wing: Yes.
Li Xiaofei: What are your selection criteria for reproducing photos? Without any adjustments?
Yip Lap Wing: Sometimes I just trust my instincts and life experiences to select pictures. I trust my own feelings. Like I just said I choose pictures touch my heart. I believe they contain mysterious elements. After reproducing, these elements turn into other things. So I can¡¯t offer a clear answer, but I do obtain lots of excitements during the process.
Li Xiaofei: What¡¯s your starting point of doing art?
Yip Lap Wing: My start point is that I think art is about life and art is personal. I think artists should keep thinking and finding materials and present the arranged materials for audience to think. If some materials or elements can support audience¡¯s life, that¡¯s the best.
Li Xiaofei: This is your interpretation on works?
Yip Lap Wing: On artistic behavior, I think.
Li Xiaofei: Do you think art can be independent in society?
Yip Lap Wing: Artists are often influenced by other people, the society and environment. But during the producing process, an artist should try to remain independent. But this is highly impossible. Exterior influences can¡¯t be avoided. But like I said, offering materials for audience to think and providing them useful information, are my biggest success.
Li Xiaofei: This time your exhibition "Semblance" explores the different "fates" of two blue-and-white porcelain, right? If so, what do you want to express? And what¡¯s the difference from your previous works?
Yip Lap Wing: The theme of "Semblance" gained inspiration from a poem of Su Shi which says that "It¡¯s children who judge drawings from form similarities". This exhibition are basically the same with former ones as they based on similar ideas. But this is my first exhibition in China, so I want to provide information on economic development, China¡¯s influence on Western world in history, economic transformation, and other historic and aesthetic relationships. I think the work "Semblance" as not a finish product but a work undergoing changes as it can incorporate new pictures.
Li Xiaofei: Also you highlight the super natural space in historic relations, but I don¡¯t really know the meaning of this sentence: manipulations artists try to display (reflecting the landscape undergoing natural and subjective deformation), how to understand this sentence?
Yip Lap Wing: If look carefully, you will find the two dishes¡¯ pattern designs are similar. I haven¡¯t looked into the one designed by British men, but I think they are purely based upon imagination about China. With the help of their newly developed technology, the dishes are embossed with clear blue patterns. These dishes developed by British people were worldly well accepted. These two porcelains are important to me, especially the British one. I think it represents a new product and things like this one were sold around the world, and treated as family collections in the US and Europe. This one has pattern designed by British people¡¯s impression on China, but the other one was made by Chinese during 1800s catering to European¡¯s taste. We can experience through these two dishes the transformation and imagination of aesthetic feeling under external factors¡¯ influences. Like when Chinese found the pattern designed by British were popular, they began making products with this kind of pattern. This leads to an interesting question: what¡¯s original and what¡¯s copy? I can¡¯t explain clearly in a few words.
Li Xiaofei: So the two blue-and-white porcelains are authentic?
Yip Lap Wing: Yes, they are.
Li Xiaofei: What¡¯s your plan for next project?
Yip Lap Wing: Two months later, in May, I will have another exhibition in an ancient city called Rudolstadt in German. The famous poet, Goethe¡¯s best friend Schiller died 200 years ago. The city government invited some artists for exhibition. My work¡¯s topic is related with Schiller¡¯s identity as a poet and dramatist. I think it will be fun. In fact, I¡¯m very interested in history, and my works contain many historic elements, so I will try my best.
Zhang Li: You are doing art just in order to express yourself? And do you think it¡¯s important that your works have strong links with yourself?
Yip Lap Wing: Based on my experience, I can only tell that the world is changing but I don¡¯t know how. I can realize that the world has lost its direction and so do artists and their works. But I wish my works can develop stable, according to the changes in my personal life.
Zhang Li: You are making things with news photos, copying scenes with polystyrene foam then shooting the duplicates. I want to know what¡¯s your outlook on life?
Yip Lap Wing: In a sentence, I think you have to think after you watch things, but you don¡¯t have to believe them. I love a postscript on one of Xu Wei¡¯s drawings:"I, with mixed personalities, owns several shaking sheds ". It¡¯s very interesting.
Du Lizhi: Your works are made with single material, would you use other materials if they are better?
Yip Lap Wing: To be honest, I choose to use polystyrene foam because this is the only material I¡¯m familiar with. I trust I have selected the best.
Du Lizhi: Would you like your works filled with definite meanings or multiple potentials?
Yip Lap Wing: I don¡¯t like things with definite meaning. I prefer things allowing imagination. Among my works, the one "Columbia Explosion" has a clear hint which is "Disappointment and failure". But audience have options to think about other things. Different opinions should be listened even to the same object.
© Copyright FCAC 2007