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Artist interview: Xiong Wenyun

Artist Interview: Xiong Wenyun
On the returning journey, we stopped at a timber checkpoint, and I painted the timber red. The drivers were watching and said, “The trees are bleeding. They are environmental activists.” In fact I wasn’t conscious of my identity as an activist. But their interpretation was right. And the drivers thought we were reporters, because we were carrying a camera all the time. They often tried to tell us that the trees were cleared somewhere. People were robbed somewhere. Public order was poor, nature was also damaged. They all wanted our attention.
There’s a mountain called Que’er Mountain. When the Eighteenth Army was digging through the mountain to construct the Sichuan-Tibet Highway, one and a half people died for every kilometer constructed. In short, numerous soldiers died at this natural barrier. There’s even a monument for the soldiers who died. The mountain is completely bare and has no trees. At the foot of the barren mountain, I called the friends in the maintenance squad to help the drivers set up the tarpaulins on their trucks. Luo Yongjin and I ran 200 meters ahead to wait. The tarpaulins would be temporarily set up for a photo shoot. I wanted to make a record. The trucks were running towards me fully loaded, even over-loaded.
I got a feeling that all of the things in the past were of no value. This was the real meaningful thing. The tarpaulin was messy when the truck was approaching, like a huge monster approaching. Afterwards the drivers refused to remove the tarpaulins. They wanted to buy them and asked for the price. I hesitated. Luo Yongjin said “Sell!” He said I could make another one later. I felt in that situation, if I gave the driver my artwork, he would drive away with it, never get in touch with me yet would still have a connection with me. I realized this was consistent with something inside me.
Most common people will support you if the project benefits the environment. Personally, I also wanted my project to be socially beneficial. It would be more significant. But I didn’t understand the rules of contemporary art. It was highly possible that people didn’t take it as art. Activism has nothing to do with art. I was uncertain at that time. Ultimately I decided to carry on even if they didn’t treat it as art. I was down-to-earth and close to the common people. Many people supported my project no matter whether they understood it or not. It’s crucial to gain support from the common people. Some companies also showed interest in the project but they needed to find something beneficial behind it.
Eventually I didn’t manage to provide such a thing. Therefore I didn’t receive large commercial funds. But I found the connection with the common people, including many admirers, because I was such a tiny person, but had such a big achievement. They respected me for my intention and persistence, or the freshness of the project which they had never seen before. I think in general my friends in artists’ circle were supportive. On the issue of it being art or not, they had different ideas. Some believed it was art, some didn’t. I didn’t pay much attention to the comments, otherwise I would never have been able to do anything. I also had a health condition.
I had to do it then, or else never do it in my life.

We interviewed Xiong Wenyun in May 2014, in her home in Chengdu. In this excerpt, we asked her three questions:

  • How did this project get connected to environmental protection?
  • How did she feel when the first “moving rainbow” was realized?
  • Did she ever wonder if she was making art or doing activism?
  • This article is from the free online

    Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

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