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Artist interview: Xian

Artist Interview: Xian
Our action should target the local people. When choosing the location, we considered what Qianmen means to this city. It’s a traditional shopping area in Beijing, a very local place. In history, it belongs to the old Beijing. And it’s favored by Chinese tourists. Foreign tourists visit Qianmen, of course. Yet it’s a must-go for most Chinese tourists. The tourists vary a lot in age. There are elderly visitors from other provinces. There are also native Beijingers of all ages. Compared to other hotspots of sightseeing, Qianmen is not so attractive to young people. It’s a place for diverse visitors. As I mentioned, in addition to the historical meaning, Qianmen has political implications due to its proximity to Tian’anmen.
Both for its local and political significance, we agreed with each other that Qianmen was the best choice for our plan.
We also thought about cross-dressing, for the girl. But if you dress one of the girls in a groom suit, visually it doesn’t look like a wedding. People will consider it as a show rather than a real wedding if they see a cross-dressing girl at first sight. People just don’t associate a girl in a groom suit with a normal wedding. Therefore, we dressed both of them in wedding gowns. People found it incredible, almost like a performance. Yet it was not because of the wedding setting. People had no question about marriage and wedding. It was the same-sex partners that made it dramatic. It’s very interesting. In a way we performed the marriage.
As I mentioned, we wanted the public to grasp our message in a glimpse of merely one second. The message should be clear enough to be perceived without thinking in depth for a long time. Therefore, we chose the elements of marriage, one of the most conventional forms. The participants were all volunteers. They found the plan full of fun. In a sense, it’s typical make-believe, not the true intention of the two. It was an art performance. However, we invited the press to the show. The reporters found the event so interesting that they must cover the love stories. In order to have something to tell the reporters, the two pairs of volunteers rehearsed their romantic roles first.
Then in the interviews, they talked about things like the first day they met and how they felt toward each other. It mixed truth with fiction. We don’t know whether they really developed relationships after that. Anyway, the stories satisfied the mass media. Word spread that, as a result of the romance, the couple would register a marriage.
I believe that in many movements, art plays the role of the vanguard. In the gender movement art definitely is the vanguard. It liberates people from old ideas, or makes a breakthrough in thinking. What’s the nature of the LGBT movement? It’s about the social discipline of sex and gender. It’s not simply a campaign of gay people who desire understanding and acceptance from others. As I am in contact with more people in the LGBT community, no matter whether they identify with homosexual, bisexual, or trans-gender people, I find them reflecting on the issue of sex. It’s a reflection on the sex of oneself and others. It’s a reflection on the social norms about sex and gender.
Surely it’s not a movement of a certain minority seeking acceptance from the majority. It’s involving everyone in a reflection on the social structure, culture, and power relationships of sex and gender. If people reflect on so-called traditional, heterosexual, and masculine thinking, there will be more freedom in the matter of sex and gender. In the art world, as you said, the artists and audience of an exhibition don’t necessarily belong to a sexual minority. But they see new potentialities in sex and gender. For me, that’s the goal of the LGBT movement. Some day if everyone thinks about the social discipline of sex and gender, there will be less gender discrimination. I think different forms of art will affect different people.
Perhaps our performance in Qianmen mainly impacted the two thousand pedestrians who witnessed it onsite and the millions of common people who saw the photos on the internet. I remember there were practically a million of comments on the photos. But more than 90% of them were negative, swearing about homosexual people. In the beginning, I viewed a couple of comments page by page. On every page, almost ninety out of a hundred comments were curses. A waste of time to read them all, I thought. Yet it doesn’t contradict our intention. Our intention was to make homosexual people visible, no matter if you are for or against them.
Then we tried to form a dialogue in which we communicate in the language of image, while the other side replied with website comments.

We interviewed Xian, one of the organizers of the 2009 performance. In this excerpt, we asked her three questions:

  • Why did the organizers choose Qianmen as the location for the performance?
  • Why did they decide to stage a wedding photo shoot?
  • What is the relationship between socially engaged art and LGBT movement?
  • This article is from the free online

    Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

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