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Cloudscape, Paper, natural reed, Dimensions variable, 2009, Phonix Art Gallery, Nanjing China


Cloudscape (detail)





Artist: Xiaojing Yan,
Toronto, Ontario, Canada and Nanjing, China

Interview 24: Xiaojing Yan exhibited in the 2009 World of Threads Festival exhibition Common Thread International Juried Exhibition Part 1 in Oakville, Ontairo. She also showed in the 2012 Festival exhibition Material Connections at Lonsdale Gallery in Toronto.

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Interviews published by Gareth Bate & Dawne Rudman.



Xiaojing Yan is a China born Toronto based artist. She holds an M.F.A in Sculpture from Indiana University of Pennsylvania, USA and a B.F.A from Nanjing Arts Institute, China. Her work explores the state of living and traveling between two cultures. Yan's work has been exhibited in galleries and museums in China, Canada and the United States. Recent solo shows include Artspace, Peterborough (2011), IndexG Gallery, Toronto (2010), and Phoenix Art Gallery, China 2009. Yan is the recipient of numerous grants, including most recently a Travel Grant from the College Art Association, NYC; Emerging Artist Grant from Ontario Arts Council; Project Grant from the Canadian Council for the Arts; and Emerging Artist Grant from Toronto Arts Council. Website


Artist Xiaojing Yan


Tell us about your work?

The moving from China to North America has made a great impact on my life and my art as well. After living in Canada and the United States for several years, my soul is no longer all Chinese. In the best of times, I feel I belong to both the culture of my country of birth and to that of my country of adoption. In the worst of times, I belong to nowhere. I no longer wish to completely resolve the duality of my existence. Moreover, I have started to accept this "in-between space". This experience engendered me a "new life", from which I can draw strength and richness. I consider this act of transformation as the process of transmigration in the Buddhist concept—reincarnation.

I have become increasingly interested in cultural and personal identity and in the need to discover a new mode of artistic and social intercourse that blends Chinese and Western ways of thinking. As an immigrant artist, both my identity and my work pass through the complex filters of different countries, languages, and cultural expectations. In my art, every idea travels through the intricate passageway of how I think in Chinese, but speak in English. In an effort to shape myself, I take traditional Chinese materials and techniques and reinvent them within a Western aesthetic and presentation.


Guanyin, Fabric Hardener, Chinese tassel thread, 7' x 2' x 2', 2009, Phonix Art Gallery, Nanjing China


From where do you get your inspiration?

The experience of living and traveling between two cultures has been the greatest inspiration for me. I also like to experiment with materials and techniques. Sometimes, I just let the "accident" lead me. For example, Guanyin, a sculpture that I made using Chinese tassel threads, is the result of experimentation. I first made a styrofoam Guanyin statue. Then I cast the figure with fabric hardener and tassel threads. I wasn't sure what I would get at the beginning. I just play with the materials and techniques and see how far I can go.


Thousand-Buddha Dress, Wax, copper wire, and Plexiglas, 48" x 48" x 20", 2006, Kipp Gallery, Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Why did you choose to go into fibre art?

I work with a broad range of materials and techniques. Fibre is one of the materials I like to work with. It often relates to culture and tradition and the tactility and versatility help to produce unique artwork.


Cloudscape, Paper, natural reed, Dimensions variable, 2009, Phonix Art Gallery, Nanjing China

Cloudscape (detail)


Which is your favourite fibre medium?

For me, choosing the right material is like choosing the right work to express my thoughts. I use silk in a lot in my works. Not only does silk speak about the tradition I came from, its transparency and delicacy also provides me the right effect for my idea.


Resonance, wax and cheesecloth, dimensions vary, 2006, Kipp Gallery, Indiana University of Pennsylvania



What other mediums do you work in, and how does this inform your fibre work?

I work with wood, metal, plastic, paper, plaster, wax, found objects and all kinds of different materials. I often combine different materials together. And, I like to experiment with materials. For example, in my work "Face to Face", I mounted two layers of silk painting on plastic discs and these discs were hung by metal cables from the ceiling. People can see the layered portraits as it speaks about cultural and personal identities. I also applied fabric hardener to messy tangled red Chinese tassel threads to form a body of Guanyin - the Goddess of Mercy and Compassion. This work was hung from the ceiling, suggesting a constructive struggle.


Flux I, Paper, natural reed, 20'' X 43'' X 20'', 2009, John B. Aird Gallery, Toronto.

Flux V, Paper, natural reed, 20'' x 45'' x 20'', 2009, John B. Aird Gallery, Toronto.


What specific historic artists have influenced your work? 

Since I was little, I started to practice Chinese ink painting. I used to copy from the Chinese painting masters' works, such as Su Shi, Qi bai Shi and Wu Cang Shuo. Even though I no longer practice Chinese painting, it is still the greatest inspiration for me. Later on, I had the chance to learn about Western art. I was very impressed by the very different techniques and broad range of approaches to ideas. I especially liked Marcel Duchamp. Though I did not understand very much about his idea then, it was awakening to know that art could be so playful and casual. It is nothing like the Chinese art I learned. I also like Henri Matisse, Michelangeleo, Pistoletto, Jasper Johns, Robert Smithson and many other great artists.


Meditator, Paper, Natural reed, 40'' x 18'' x 16'', 2010, John B. Aird Gallery, Toronto


What specific contemporary artists have influenced your work? 

I am interested in so many artists' work. Janine Antoni's work focuses mostly on process. She often uses her whole body or different parts of it, such as her mouth, hair and eyelashes, as tools and with them performs everyday activities to create her artwork. Her innovative uses of material and sculpting approaches have greatly inspired me. Do Ho Suh is a Korean sculptor and installation artist living in New York. Suh is best known for his intricate sculptures that defy conventional notions of "space". Whether addressing the dynamic of personal space versus public space, or exploring the fine line between strength in numbers and homogeneity, Do-Ho Suh's sculptures continually question the identity of the individual in today's increasingly transnational, global society.

Xu Bing, a Chinese-born artist, resident in the United States since 1990, is a leading figure of the Chinese avant-garde art movement. His work has made a strong impact on me not only visually but also theoretically. As many other Chinese artists, Xu Bing relies on his knowledge and understanding of Chinese culture, yet his location within the Western context provides an entirely unique denial of the fixed notions of East and West. With similar background, Xu Bing has greatly influenced me on the notion of the abstracted use of both language and traditional iconography, and his engagement with viewers to examine their own ideas of the other.

There are so many other artists who have influenced my work, such as Kiki Smith, Louise Bourgeois, Maya Lin, Lee Bontecou, Ursula von Rydingsvard, Richel, Whiteread, Cai Guoqiang, Eva Hesse and many others.


Face to Face - Past and Present, Silk painting, Plexiglas, 10'' x 10'' x 3'' each, 2011, The Gladstone Hotel: "Come Up to My Room."


Past & Present (detail), Silk painting, Plexiglas, 10'' x 10'' x 3'' each, 2011


Xiaojing Yan at The Gladstone Hotel: "Come Up to My Room."


What other fibre artists are you interested in?

I like Toronto artist Kai Chan's work so much. I like how he transforms the most mundane materials into delicate and delightful works of art; how he uses traditional textile methods to create complex sculptural works that reflect his Chinese roots, as well as a respect for traditional craft techniques. I also like Orly Genger's work. She is known for transforming common nylon climbing rope into elaborate monumental sculptures. She knotted, stacked and painted miles of ropes to create gigantic site-specific installations. Her work evokes the normally intimate processes of knitting and crocheting, yet expands them to a newly epic scale.


Centered, wax, Plexiglas, and lantern, 10' x 6' x 6', 2006, Kipp Gallery, Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Centered (detail) wax, Plexiglas, and lantern, 10' x 6' x 6', 2006



Tell us about your studio and how you work:

I have been moving around for the past ten years since I first left China for Canada. I often work in large formats so it is not easy to find space. I work at my home studio now. It gets more crowded as I keep producing more art works. I will be moving to my new place and I am excited to have a bigger studio space soon. I remember an artist said that the whole world is his studio. I like this idea. I often work in gallery space or at the site to install my work. I like to consider these spaces as the extension of my studio space.


Dialogue, Silk painting, Plexiglas, 10'' x 10'' x 6'' each, 2008, exhibited at the Joshua Creek Heritage Arts Centre in Oakville, Ontario for the Common Thread International Exhibition Part 1.


What role do you think fibre art plays in contemporary art?

Now that modern technology has become so popular, it is great to see that many artists are still working directly with their hands and continue in tradition ways. Fibre artists, like many traditional art forms, have the intimate connection between human body and materials. The skills and materials involved were practiced, expressed, and passed down through generations. The traditional craftsmanship relates to cultures and heritage. Though many artists never label themselves as fibre artist, they do work with fibre materials and fibre techniques. Fibre art appeals to many artists because the materials' tactility and versatility help produce unique and powerful artwork.


Chinese Number Gestures, wax, Plexiglas and lights, 2005, Miller Gallery, Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Which World of Threads Festival/s have you exhibited in?

2009 I was in the Common Thread International Juried Exhibition Part 1 at Joshua Creek Heritage Art Centre.


Dwelling, wax, wood, Plexiglas, and red string, 10' x 6' x 6', 2006, Kipp Gallery, Indiana University of Pennsylvania


What was your motivation for submitting your work to the World of Threads Festival?

I wanted to show my work to a wider audience.


Book from Heaven, Plexiglas and Hemp, 2004, Miller Gallery, Indiana University of Pennsylvania


Where do you imagine your work in five years? 

Moving from China to Canada has been the most significant change in my life. For me, this experience engendered a "new life", from which I draw strength and richness. Making art is not only meaningful to me but has sustained me. I know that the adaptation of these two cultures will be a life-long journey. With art, I will continue to solidify my experiential and complex reactions to this challenge.


Bridge, Ceramics Spoons, 20' x 5' x 6', 2009, Phonix Art Gallery, Nanjing China

Bridge (detail) Ceramics Spoons, 20' x 5' x 6', 2009


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Live in a Bubble, Paper, natural reed, 8' x 50'' x 50'', 2009, IndexG, Toronto