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Artist interview: Wang Jiuliang

Artist interview: Wang Jiuliang
I don’t know if my feeling is shared by others. Probably I have a serious condition of “location anxiety.” I have to know my location no matter where I am. If I enter an unknown place and lose the geographic coordinates and direction, I’ll fall into deep anxiety. That’s why I always keep maps and binoculars in my car. I’m very sensitive to spatial coordinates. I’m quite anxious about losing direction, losing the destination and the sense of location. I don’t know if anyone has a condition similar to mine. When I was shooting the photos, you know, I relied on a motorcycle and a paper map. I would easily fall into such anxiety when riding into a route-less wilderness.
Where am I and where is Beijing? I found out my location by identifying marks on the landscape, like power towers, rivers and towns. I visited huge numbers of landfills. I would forget their locations though I was an expert on landfills. I couldn’t precisely locate every landfill when revisiting it. Therefore I had to record the locations of all my targets in addition to my own location. On that day I left my house and located this landfill according to a paper map. When I arrived at a new landfill I would mark it down on the map. I had to know its location and its surroundings as if I physically presented at the place.
I would mark down the nearby farmland, rivers and mountains, and so on. When I completed the whole trip, no, half of it, I realized Beijing was besieged by landfills. It was in the shape of a circle with an opening, just like driving along the 6th ring-road. I started from my neighbourhood, and traced the landfills to the south of Tongzhou, and then Daxing. I realized the situation when I completed half of the trip. At that moment, a semi-circle appeared on my map. And then I visited Haidian, Changping, Shunyi and other districts. You’ve mentioned the concrete versus the abstract. It’s very concrete when we stand here and see the huge pile of rubbish.
But it’s ultimately abstract for people who haven’t been here. One could hardly tell where it is, or not even know it’s in Beijing. Yet, if we provide a comprehensive impression of space by pointing out the place on the map, people will better understand the location of the things in the photo. People can tell its spatial relation and distance to inner Beijing. People can even tell the distance of the landfill to the nearest buildings by using a measuring tool. I think the map is more straightforward than abstract.
At the beginning of the project, my vision was to complete an artwork. It was within the boundaries of art and photography. I planned to take a series of photos and exhibit them in a museum or a gallery, or publish them in art magazines. While I was going deeper into the project, though given the goal of art-making, I ended up reaching a more precious thing behind so-called art. I seized it without hesitation. I found something more valuable than art, so I chose to put art in second place, or took it merely as a tool. I would use art or photography to reach another truth. In retrospect after the whole project, I think the change happened quickly.
In no more than two or three months of shooting, I quickly realized that I would leave art behind and use the project to express my opinion. The task was not merely to take some photos with the camera. but to establish the spatial coordinates for the landfills, to know more about the relationship of a landfill to its neighbourhoods. I had to observe, think about it, even do research on it. Therefore the original project of photography transformed into a comprehensive research project.

We interviewed Wang Jiuliang in Beijing in February 2016. In this excerpt, we asked him two questions:

  • Why did he link photography to mapping?
  • How did he decide to use a geographic information system (GIS)?
  • This article is from the free online

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