Luo Mingjun interview
Imbroglio between the self-identification and the identity limit
Date: Jan. 每 Mar. 2009
Way of interview: by Internet
Interviewer: Du Xiyun
Translator in English: Zhong Yi
Du Xiyun: Most of your installation works are portable and easy to disassemble. Is there any special reason?
Luo Mingjun: Some of my ideas can only be expressed by the form of installation. I*ve almost never used the heavy material, but just those easy and light ones. They can be taken away at any time or have no more traces after the exhibition (except the pictures or the texts). They correspond with my personal need which is maintaining a state of migration at any time. Perhaps this is related to my psychology of immigration.
Du Xiyun: You*ve been emigrated in Switzerland for twenty years. Now at this age, why you copy all the images of your growth stage in a nostalgic way?
Luo Mingjun: Two years ago, I finally had a chance to stay alone in Shanghai for a long time, and I lived in my friend*s house. At that time, I embroider all my nostalgic sentiments with the red thread on a fabric which is ninety meter*s long. The artists of ancient times are much freer than us, they can go wherever they want. Although the journey*s far and dangerous, they can always go back to their hometown psychologically. There was no concept of nationality. But nowadays, we can travel in a convenient way, but there is always a procedure, a red or a black common seal that supervises you. You have no more an exact address to look back, even though it is your hometown. Lots of things are like the hometown, they don*t exist anymore. When I came back to Switzerland, I felt really lonely, so I painted this series of works. They are all put in the exhibition of Dust. But they are different from the nostalgia. Painting these pictures itself is like a course that comfort the soul and release the suffering; meanwhile, it*s also filled with my joy of restart the oil painting after so many years. When the exhibition finished, I feel much easier. As for the theme of ※identity§, for so many years I just express my feeling as a ※marginal people§. After the exhibition of Dust, I think I can come out of such a personal state, and to concern about and express a much wider state of lives.
Du Xiyun: You*ve already have a happy family in Switzerland, why the mother country and past memory still make you need to self-pacify and release the suffering?
Luo Mingjun: The suffering I mean is not a bitter case. It refers to the thought of identity and the social control towards individual fate. When come to Europe, you have to face with the challenge of entering a new background which include the western culture and the social problem. To relate all backgrounds of these problems is a huge work, you can*t afford it. When come back to the mother country, you find that you*ve also lost the old background. But you*re not an outlier, neither for both sides. I don*t know where to go, but the past is obvious. Through the art, you can express that once you were not an outlier in somewhere.
Du Xiyun: What*s the difference between your hand-copy images and the original images?
Luo Mingjun: The original image is the instantaneous capture of time; the manual copy is to filter time and to think about the relationship between the painting and the picture. It is different from the fact that in past time artists tried to make the life recur through their works: when we leave the original scene and look at the images framed by the camera, we would have the feeling that we were not on the scene. I 每 the user of the picture, # , After these selected periods of copy, they become the images with the mood and the consciousness of the user. Especially the modification of shadow and scenograph let the originator have a freer attitude towards some of the details.
Du Xiyun: Your recent concrete works mainly express the emotion that can*t be talked, through which the suffering of life returns to tranquility. As a female emigrated artist who*s entering the middle age, what*s your deepest feeling towards life?
Luo Mingjun: I passed my adolescence under an education system which advocates that ※man and woman are the same§. But in real life, I realize that*s no true, man and woman are totally different.
Du Xiyun: Can you talk about your exact feeling in real life?
Luo Mingjun: After I had my child, my physical change and the child*s dependence upon me let me know that woman cannot escape from the family. When couples arrange their work and programs, husband would first think about the work, as for that who looks after the child, it*s the business of wife. You have to give up some ※activities§ really important to you, but to act as a mother. However, the husband can always keep the same routine with the reason that he*s the one who feeds the family. Such different roles are not bad, and life itself is a process composed by dissatisfaction, efforts, correction, enjoyment and tolerance. But as a female who was educated by ※man and woman are the same§, I do feel disappointed.
Du Xiyun: What*s your emotion towards China and Switzerland, respectively?
Luo Mingjun: My personal fate lies on the policy of these two countries, and the factor of emotion has no use. Switzerland is the only country that I can freely reside. How about China? Quote the words of an author: ※With a proper distance, I adore my holy country§. If I can choose, I certainly hope that there*s no need to ※with a proper distance§.
Du Xiyun: For you, the cultural identity of overseas Chinese artists, is that important?
Luo Mingjun: Of course the problem of identity is important, but I don*t know what kind of cultural identity is for Chinese.
Du Xiyun: You think that the cultural identity of Chinese is becoming more and more vague, pluralistic and changeable?
Luo Mingjun: You have already answered the question. It is more easily to distinguish (the cultural identity of Chinese) before the movement of 4th May, such as calligraphy, Confucius, dragon and lantern. They all correspond with the westerners* imagination towards the Orient. But since the movement of 4th May, we volunteer to think about the western problem in western way. We found the academy of fine arts according to the western pattern, we get the fun of arts in a western way. I still remember that when I was in university of China, most of the students had little interest during the Chinese art history class; but if there was a lecture about western art history, we had to get there as early as possible just for a seat. Since the 1980s, lots of the Chinese artists go abroad. I think that*s mostly because of the aesthetic crisis, and rarely due to the discomfort of politics or life style. However, the educational background of western culture doesn*t make you feel back home in Europe, because that background is of decades ago. Then what to do? You have to keep on chasing the western culture, but the huge oriental background behind you will come out, from time to time, to remind you that you*re just a Chinese!
Du Xiyun: Is it difficult to get rid of such a deep influence of oriental background?
Luo Mingjun: Get rid of Unless you never had the Chinese knowledge; or you delete all the Chinese memory. But that*s impossible, and it*s no need to
Du Xiyun: For you, is there any essential difference between Chinese and westerner in the way of thinking, feeling and expression? If there is, what*s that?
Luo Mingjun: We have no essential difference at the beginning. The difference is brought by education and environment. The Eastern and Western culture have been discussed for over hundreds of years. I don*t want to give any irresponsible remark here. In fact, I don*t know well enough about these two cultures, but I do focus on them. Since I began my life in Switzerland, I was so easy to get used to the western life style; and I didn*t need to look for a Chinese group to spend the weekend together. Although you still miss your hometown and prefer liquor to red wine. Just like those local mothers, you worry about many problems of children, such as the education, the sex, the drugs, and the Internet, etc.
What makes East and West two different worlds? After I came to Switzerland, I found that there*s no Chinese history in their compulsory education; neither Chinese art history for the students of academy of fine arts. What about us? Almost everybody has had the examination of western history, and all the students of arts have learnt the western art history. We*re supposed to be a nation having its own style, but what makes us always want to pursue the western (style)? In real life, Westerner*s strict way of cooking does surprise me. How many grams of salt for this dish? How many liters of water for cooking the rice? This is no more a habit, but the way of working for everyone. You can also feel it in their philosophy, art, politic, science and law, etc. It*s just like that you must make the complicated and fine watch with a magnifier, but we have never had such education. The strict rules and specific requirements for each area make it possible to compete, therefore the individual becomes important. Invent, apply, update and modify are western features. Such kind of process also emphasizes the sense of responsibility and morality. Meanwhile, the westerner*s strict logic also brings the crazy anti-logic way of life. We Chinese are accustomed to cross the river by feeling the stones. We prefer the ability of insight. Every coin has two sides 每 if we only have the ※good§ things, this world will be very boring; but if it only remains the ※bad§ things, we could hardly live on.
Du Xiyun: In your eyes, the difference between East and West is essential and constant, or could be evolved and eliminated?
Luo Mingjun: The environment of education influences a lot the formation of character. However, the difference and the complexity are also the basic elements of life. So when I made up the video of Swiss and Chinese ID card, actually, I also wanted to convey the issue of two cultures through that of identity. It*s a wish, that*s all.
Du Xiyun: Your original major is oil-painting, and why after you lived in Europe you chose water-ink instead. What*s the difference between your water-ink works and the Chinese traditional ink painting?  
Luo Mingjun: At first, it was partly because of my son*s birth. 20 years ago, there were not many nurseries in Switzerland. At that times, mother = housewife. What could I do? I could only paint after my son had slept. The water-ink painting can be easily tidy away, not so troublesome like oil-painting. Moreover, during the eight years in Chinese college, I was used to paint in the same way; so I wanted to try a different way which I was not familiar with. I like water, papers and also the feeling of black and white. My first installation work in Switzerland was made by ink. Except calligraphy, I*ve never been trained for traditional Chinese painting. So I use ink just as the way I like. My mother is northerner of China, so she*s good at needlecraft. When she made the cloth shoes, ... I advocate the ※leaving blank space§ of Chinese painting theory, which has the same point with the western concept of minimalism. But they*re still different, Chinese blank space has the content in it, we can feel the moods within the white, while the western minimalism doesn*t express any word. I have several little painting albums of our ancient artist, Ren Weichang, which are preserved in my studio. Those works possess the feeling of over space-time and simplicity, which I would like apply to my works with conscious.
Du Xiyun: Why do you decide to dismantle the Chinese character?
Luo Mingjun: When a Chinese character is completely written, those who don*t recognize it would first see its shape; while those who know it would find its meaning first, and the first impression is the strongest. So I dismantle the character, then it has no more meaning, but remains the shape only. Thus, it is equal for every audience in front of the work.
Du Xiyun: For you, what*s the difference between Chinese character and Latin alphabet?
Luo Mingjun: I*m most familiar with the Chinese character, and its difference between Latin alphabet in form is obvious. In fact, the character (letter) is only a symbol, the different cultures behind the different characters (letters) are much more important.
Du Xiyun: Each character can independently show its meaning, while the Latin alphabets need to assemble together to make up the sense-group. Is this difference in form related to the different culture backgrounds?
Luo Mingjun: It*s our ancestors who created the character (letter), and why the Chinese character and Latin alphabet could be so different, this is another subject. Most of us are only the user of character (letter), and we have our own way of expression while using them. For example, in Chinese there*s not an expression which can be correspond to the ※oui§, or ※non§ of French. We use the positive or negative verb to answer the question, in a less direct way. 
Du Xiyun: After being dismantled, only the strokes of character remain. In this case, what attracts the audience?
Luo Mingjun: To dismantle the character is an experiment of mine. It doesn*t matter whether it attracts the audience. The calligraphy is something related to the lifestyle, which is more about craftwork and decoration, while the separate strokes are away from such kind of effect. For me, the strokes have no boundary. Now that people can be marginalized by the life and politics, then how about in art? In those years I was always thinking about how to let the water-ink have a neutral position which is not eastern neither western. I do admire the neutral position in art. 
Du Xiyun: What do you think of the abstract art?
Luo Mingjun: Generally, we put the pure form works into the abstract art. To work in a purely form way is actually a very rational process which needs the restraint and perseverance. It*s mysterious and ... There were some years that I was infatuated with the pure form, which makes me feel calm and clean. But when growing up, we have to face a lot of practical (social) problems and a series of world issues which can be so worrying, and it*s hard to keep that status of ※calm and clean§. We could understand it in another way: today*s artists don*t care much about the concept of different forms, in fact this is an era that puts everything together. It could be some elements really concrete but express the very abstract thing, or on the contrary. At least, I do it in this way.
Du Xiyun: What do you mean by ※practical problem§ and ※a series of world issues§?
Luo Mingjun: When you live in the society, the things happening in everyday life are also close to you. Since this is the ※practical problem§, it must be related to the ※survival§ which does cost the time and energy. I take language for an example, in Switzerland there*re four official languages, in the town I live there*re two and I managed to learn one of them. However, sometimes you still can*t express clearly to some people for just a simple demand (some Swiss have the same problem), which is really frustrating. The difficulty of communication makes me get the idea of dismantling the character. Can we get over the obstacles of language and travel in the same boat? I used 200 pieces of newspapers in different languages to make the ※Boat§ (of course there*s also the anxiety of our dependence of information). Because of this installation work, I began to think about the identity issue. The 911 in 2001, and also the Iraq war, the terrorist attack, the natural disasters at home and abroad... millions of peoples* deaths make me feel that we*re so tiny and fragile. We have nothing to do when face the cruel reality, so I decide to concentrate to the individual life. I cannot figure out the relationship between the value of people and their identity, what kind of identity we need? If in a particular environment you lose all the identity documents and no one can certify you, then who are you? Those lives turning into the ashes in the war and natural disaster, did they really exist? What does the ※illegal residence§ mean? Aren*t they lives? I tried to express my query through my works, but they are still in question, I can*t work it out till now. So I cannot explain it clearly, and that*s why I feel anxious.
Du Xiyun: When live in Europe, facing the various genres of contemporary art, like mainstream and non-mainstream direction, philosophy, how do you choose your own creation direction?
Luo Mingjun: This is a learning and adjustment as well as the induction process, which is not decided by impulse. During the ※*85s*s new trend§, I only knew that I couldn*t paint as the way before, which was the result of pursuing something that I*m not sure. After I went abroad, there was a short period of review ( a review to the classicism which was the result of visiting the art museum). Then, I realized that I must get out of such status of learning and treat myself as an artist. But at that time, I didn*t know what to do. I finally found a way 每 to abandon the former habit, and to paint in some way that I was not familiar with but I knew about 每 the water-ink. During that time, I was so fascinated by the skill and the material. I thought that the foundation of a style was more about the measure and the skill, so I chose the water-ink. But after experienced more in life and exhibition, I gradually understood that ... Which question you ask in your work and what does it focus on? How do you look at the life? At last how do you present it for the audiences through various forms and materials? A good work should ask a targeted question (not just a good idea) and it can be well conveyed by art. In this conversion, the technique and material are not so important, but how the artist use them to correspond with the intention of question is much more important, which gives a reason for the art*s existence. This could be the mission of an artist and also his/her fun of creation.
Du Xiyun: What*s the difference between the ※targeted question§ and the ※idea§?
Luo Mingjun: The ※idea§ is something not consistent; it*s more like a IQ game. However, the good art work should be the result of an artist*s real life experience and independent thinking which reflects the responsibility and the care, and is related to his/her own fate.
Du Xiyun: Your works focus on the culture issue which is not so sensitive. As for the creation orientation of some particular politics or social problems, what do you think about it?  
Luo Mingjun: I think it*s a very personal question. If one could do really well in such kind of orientation, that could be really touching, for example, the works of Swiss artist, Thomas Hirschhorn.
Du Xiyun: Most of the mainland artists are influenced by the Soviet-style reproduction method of education, thus..., and this kind of influence has been infiltrated into their installation, behavior, and video works, etc. What do you think about this?
Luo Mingjun: We Chinese artists have our own art tradition. To have more researches and studies about various aspects of ancient Chinese art and artistic notions can certainly help us to find ourselves. I also received the Soviet-style education, and I*ve tried to get rid of its influence on me for years. Thanks to the Chinese tradition culture (which I mentioned above), which really helps me; and of course by attending so many exhibitions in Europe for 20 years. However, the education traces in adolescence cannot be completely removed. Perhaps using it is also a way. We can*t just blame others, but make ourselves improved!
Du Xiyun: Your solo exhibition ※Dust§, which mostly conveys the little and weak voice on the edge of the politic and culture systems. You think you can get out of a individualistic state through this exhibition as to care about and express different states of being. Then what will you focus on as your next thinking ※theme§?
Luo Mingjun: To begin with the identity issue is because that I*m more familiar with myself; but this also leads to the misunderstanding. Because the ※identity issue§ is not only about the marginalized individual (I only represented the case of mine, we could have much wider and deeper research). Or I cannot just paint self-portrait on this issue. But as for where to go, I can only express by my next work. I always have a strong focus on the relationship between the value and the identity of people, but I couldn*t explain it rightly. If without the politic system, will we have a much clearer identity? What state of life need we? How can we eventually reach our spiritual home? Can we reach our spiritual home?
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