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Artist interview: Chen Xiaoyang

Artist Interview: Chen Xiaoyang
Firstly, I told them, you have to adjust your attitude. You have to temporarily shift your normal identity to that of a busybody. You have to pry into the affairs that take place in the community. I told them to do a fake survey at the beginning. They made up a questionnaire, full of simple and meaningless questions. And then they use the survey to get close to the villagers, to become their acquaintance. Of course, the survey outcome didn’t make sense. But with this procedure, the villagers knew that they were students fulfilling the requirements in a course, and they would do research in the village. At least they were not hostile to the students. And I reiterate a respectful and learning attitude.
They paid attention to their manners, so the interviews have gone well so far. I have a basic requirement in this course. The student should identify a public affair or public issue in the village. It has happened here and is discussed by many. Then the student could do research on this issue, where it’s a matter of concern by the whole village, or some of the people. But it has to be a public issue, not a discussion of an individual problem.
The relations were diverse, even within one year. Every year, new problems will emerge in the community. We’re not looking at a static community. The dynamic will generate unexpected things even within the five weeks of a single course run. The students will react largely based on their own personal experiences. Some students feel the same as me. They have sympathy for the villagers. The sympathy generates understanding which will further deepen the sympathy. That’s the best result, what the course aims at. But some others will provide unexpected feedback. For example, there can be rejection. There is a vegetarian in my class. He said, “I don’t care about anything in human society. When people have a carnival, they kill animals.
The villagers are also cruel to animals; they deserve the forced demolition. I won’t offer help to them.” I have much work to do with this kind of student. I have to make diverse moral codes compatible within the framework of this course. This course isn’t designed to offer charity help, nor does it aim at concrete effects. Its primary goal is to change the students’ point of view, and enable them to see something different. For the student who advocated animal rights, I tried to broaden the range of the topics in this specific location. I told him that there are not only human habitats in Nanting. It also has a part of nature, the sky, the ground, and the vegetation.
In the end, they succeeded in representing a society beyond human society. It’s a very good work of art. In fact, sometimes the confusion and rejection from the students may open up new possibilities in this course. I find it very interesting. As Nanting changes every year, the students are facing increasing challenges. There will be new issues for future students. For example, as the villager’s rental income rises year after year, the villagers are gradually getting out of the underprivileged group. They will no longer be victims of the development of the college town; they are starting to benefit from the development, though not so much. In the end, what the students get is an increasing rent.
Therefore, it can be difficult for them to understand the relationship of giving and receiving assistance. The course has to do more to enlighten the students, by reading or by other methods, in order to help them understand the “structural underprivileged.”

We interviewed Chen Xiaoyang in the Shrine of Guan Family, where the student works of “Nanting Research” is exhibited. In this excerpt, we asked her two questions:

  • How did she help students enter the community?
  • What is the relationship between “Nanting Research” and the community?
  • This article is from the free online

    Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

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