top of page

Dialogue | Xiong Wei——The reinvention of identity


Guest/Xiong Wei

Speaker/Yujian Cui

Editor/Nicole Yang


Xiong Wei, a Chinese artist and sculptor, lives in Brooklyn, Jersey City, USA. He is interested in the emotional ties and rational relationships between people, the relationship between people and objects themselves, and the role humans play as one of nature's species. Living by the death of others is a phrase that sums up his recent concerns. However, the natural law it describes seems at odds with the civilization and equality we humans now espouse. Humans are a species that seems to dominate among other creatures, but at the same time is only a very small part of the biosphere.

个人网站 :



Exploration of Contemporary Sculpture

Cui: Can you briefly introduce yourself and your work to our readers?

Xiong: I studied at Central Academy of Fine Art (CAFA) as an undergraduate. The sculpture department of the Academy is divided into six studios, each representing a direction of practice and exploration. The first and second studios focus on contemporary art exploration based on the modernist sculpture system that started with Rodin, with the first studio being inherited from artists with experience in France, such as Mr. Slater. The second studio, where I worked, is inherited from the Soviet Socialist Realism represented by Mr. Qian Shaowu. The third and fourth focus more on experimental and materialistic works, the fifth studio focuses on large-scale urban landscape sculpture, and the sixth studio is dedicated to bring classical Chinese sculpture to the current era.

Matthew Barney has been particularly influential in my personal artistic development. After watching his film River of Fundament in my junior year, I got this refreshing perception and definition of art and sculpture, and I suddenly realized that the world of art is like a circle with various directions in it, and what I am doing is only a very narrow part of the whole circle. From then on, I tried to find a kind of liberation, not wanting to constraint myself only to figurative realistic sculpture, but gradually began to experiment in different ways, such as performance art, earth art and experimental video. It was also then that I decided to come to the United States, because I wanted to know more specifically what the contemporary cutting-edge artists were doing.

Matthew Barney, River of Fundament, 2014, Poster

Xiong Wei, Farewell - Bury Me to Become A Tree, 2021

Cui: You studied mainly Soviet sculpture at CAFA, is there any difference between Soviet sculpture and the traditional Western concept of sculpture?

Xiong: They differ a lot, like two totally strangers. While you can say they have little differences, because they both originated from Rodin, Bourdelle and Maillol. Sculptors from the Soviet Union, Europe and America went their separate ways after World War II for ideological and political reasons, so in a state where art history is now dominated by the West, Soviet artists are rarely mentioned and their overall artistic style is not recognized. Our studio inherited from Vera Mukhina and Mikhail Anikushin the idea that art needs to speak on behalf of the people and meet their aesthetic needs. This was also closely related to the current social situation in China. At the same time, Ivan Meštrovi's more romantic style was similarly embraced. The spirituality and abstraction characteristic of their figurative works had a great influence on my aesthetic composition during my student days. Although these works may be considered outdated when viewed through the eyes of the current era, he provided me with sustenance and a foundation for the development of my career.

Ivan Meštrovi, History of Croats, 1932

Xiong Wei, Man’s Portrait, 2017

Cui: Many of your sculptures are mixed forms that combine video, sculpture, and ready-made. In many cases, the term "ready-made" inherently encompasses a semantic rejection of deep processing and the randomness of the artist's choice of objects. Did the foundations of academic sculpture influence you in your choice of materials?

Xiong: The material language of each object itself is striking, for example, alcohol, which represents sterilization but is also flammable, encompasses both the binary and paradoxical meanings of safety and danger. At the same time, the powerful material language of the finished product itself represents many limitations and is inflexible in conveying meaning, with some inevitable slight deviations.

When I came to the United States for graduate school, I was struck by Rachel Harrison and tried to make a collection of installations using very lifelike objects as she did. But soon it came to me that it was like putting together a model, that the use of ready-made objects required a good understanding of American society, and that all the available parts themselves were fixed in shape and could not be changed. This mode of creation did not satisfy me. Within the framework of the dialogue established by the materials themselves, I needed something of my own and something to think about in order to grasp the direction more accurately. Mr. Wu Guanzhong once put forward the artistic idea of "don't break the string when flying a kite", which means that no matter how innovative the materials and feelings derived from real life in creation are, they cannot be far away from the real environment and concrete life, and the artist should maintain the connection between the work and the actual object. Therefore, I decided to produce the "ready-made" works I need to satisfy the need for more precise expression based on my sculptural skills and shaping ability.

Rachel Harrison, Alexander the Great, 2007

Xiong Wei, Vessel - Portrait No.1,2019

Cui: Many of Matthew Barney's works are major productions, such as his Redoubt, which includes five large sculptures and more than 50 plated bronze prints, in addition to the film itself. The content he wants to express in his works is many and complicated, but he is able to present these concepts and logical thinking very clearly, how do you think about this kind of large series of his works? Have you ever wanted to express a lot but could not express it clearly when you were creating?

Xiong: Sometimes once the ideas start to unfold, they become a bit wild, and in the end I get overwhelmed by these "great" ideas and become anxious and overwhelmed. When I was a graduate student at Hunter MFA, my professor, Nari Ward, gave me a great piece of advice. When trying to make a complex point in your work, or trying to comment thoroughly on a phenomenon, don't expect the sculptures to be as clear as a film or documentary. Don't try to complete an epic masterpiece that can cover everything in one go. Many small details of everyday life are enough to lead to a successful piece of work.

Xiong Wei, Molly - Portrait No.2, 2019


The cultural identity in a foreign country

Cui: Your work Chinatown is not Chinatown is fascinating, there is also a Chinatown in Los Angeles, it doesn't feel familiar to me, it's even a bit strange.

Xiong: I like this question, Chinatown itself makes me feel contradictory, including its Chinese translation, which can be translated as Zhongguocheng on the one hand and Tangrenjie on the other. The latter is by definition inclusive of the entire Asian community that has ties to Chinese cultural influences. New York's Chinatown looks like Hong Kong in the 1990s. In a cosmopolitan city like New York, it is constantly shaping the concepts and images of "China '' in the minds of visitors from all over the world, shaping a one-sided and concrete China. It's behind the times, it fits perfectly with classic white stereotypes, it prides itself on Chinese restaurants and cheap goods, but it can also lead me to roast duck and meatloaf on a lost night. Chinatown is a magical place that doesn't represent China enough, but it does. It's paradoxical.

For the Chinatown series, I appropriated the slogan "Hong Kong is not China" out of anger and confusion over the "Hong Kong Independence" activists' seizure of the Legislative Council and used it in an equally illegal way. I spray painted "Chinatown is not Chinatown" in the form of graffiti on the piers of the Chinatown side of the Manhattan Bridge, just a block away from Bowery, the main area where Chinese people live in New York. Ten days later, the is not in the middle of the sentence was erased. When viewed outside of my identity as a Chinese person, the sentence is subversive and offensive, challenging and dismissing the efforts of the people who live in that neighborhood, but satisfying a very selfish public expression for me as a newcomer to Chinatown. This work is an expression of my conflicted feelings about Chinatown and living here as an international student, but not as an Asian American. In some ways my awkward situation of being caught in the middle is common to Chinatown. Everything is up in the air.

Xiong Wei, Chinatown is not Chinatown, 2019

Cui: In the Chinatown project, you use the form of words to express your point of view, what do words represent to you?

Xiong: Words and language itself are a form of art, just like traditional art mediums such as sculpture and painting. When creating, I first try to express the unexplained feelings and emotions in my heart in words, and then choose and use the materials and forms that can best express these feelings visually to create specific works.

This way of converting sensibility into rationality is similar to translation, in that we cannot translate two languages that are different from each other in terms of cultural roots and thinking patterns with 100% accuracy. A philosopher once said that the part that is lost in translation is the best part of language. This spiral from intuitive feelings (sensibility) to words and concepts (rationality), to the creation of the work (coexistence of sensibility and rationality), and then to the completion of the work (completion of the translation) providing me with new feelings (rationality). The spiral upward thought process allows me to be clear at each stage about what I am trying to do and what I am doing. The sensibility is the initial source of motivation for the artist to engage in creative activity, while the rationality is the means to summarize and sublimate his or her emotional expression.

Xiong Wei, Mirror, Expectation, Mist and Children's Games, 2019

Cui: Regarding the text and translation, how do you see the relationship between the work and the artist's textual statement of the work?

Xiong: The text itself is a system. Both Xu Bing and Glenn Ligon, in their own unique ways, use text, literature, history, and other forms of integrated visual art to explore the collision, entanglement, and interplay between different cultural perspectives, races, and beliefs. Text is the most fundamental element in the concept of culture, and the philosophical thinking and developmental origins of languages are fundamentally different. For example, Chinese developed from oracle bone inscription (images), which originated as pictographs used to remember things, while English is epigraphic, with pictographs converted into regular symbols and then associated with fixed pronunciations, in a total of three transformations. The power that words and language carry in themselves is so strong that they are art in themselves and can be interchanged with other forms.

Xu Bing, 天书, 1987-1991

Glenn Ligon, Untitled: Four Etchings [A-D], 1992


Border Crossing

Cui: Does your Eastern and Western educational background make you more inclined to consider audiences from both sides when creating your works? Or do you try to build a bridge between China and the West through your works?

Xiong: I don't deliberately try to cater to a certain group. First of all, I work from my heart, the audience comes because of the artist's uniqueness, and whether being sincere or not can be told through works. But at the same time, it is also necessary for artists to consider the audience when they create, and there are few artists who do art for themselves without caring about the audience. The audience is like a process of making friends with the artist, who you want to express to and who you want to attract. Creating art is a sharing of feelings. When sharing, you necessarily consider who will come to listen to you, who can empathize with you.

In the great discussion of American identity politics, there were many times when I couldn't find a sense of belonging, when I wanted to shout but found no place to stand. Gradually, I realized that this dilemma was not just my experience. It turned out that these people who shared the same experience were the group I belonged to. At this point, the embarrassment became my advantage, which in turn provided me with an opportunity to create. To say what others can't say and to convey my own voice. So it seems that I am already on top of this bridge, and at the same time I am a bridge myself, working together with other bridges to fill the gap between East and West.

I try to avoid the dichotomy between Chinese and American perspectives in my work. My work is more about people themselves, who are the most essential. As a social animal, humans cannot be completely separated from the social group he lives in. I tend to use my works as an expression based on common memory, drawing inspiration from my own experiences and expressing myself, rather than going against my heart to make an art that is more like a manifesto. Many people make political art but put the cart before the horse and make it political in art, and art is reduced to an excuse and a tool in their creation. As a simple person telling his own story and opinion, that in itself is very moving.

Xiong Wei, Pond Fish, 2021

Cui: Every artist has their own rhythmic state. In the face of different language and cultural backgrounds, as an artist, how do you use your works to translate and express some traditional Chinese concepts, just as you express the truth of 'a fire at the city gate will affect the fish in the pond' in Pond Fish?

Xiong: The state of mind described in this idiom coincides with my own internal struggle, which led me to the idea of this creation. I think of this idiom as essentially an accumulation of human experience, which comes from China but does not belong exclusively to China. Every country has proverbs and idioms that represent the most basic of human experiences and feelings.

In St. George and the Dragon I cited the heroic allusion to St. George slaying the dragon in the West. Similarly, there is the Chinese story of Nezha Naohai, killing the third prince of the dragon king and then extracting his skin. Although they come from different cultures, the two stories are essentially the same, both symbolizing salvation and conquest, and their similarity is a cultural coupling between East and West, the opportunity being the common human experience. Nietzsche once said, "If you wrestle with the dragon too long, you become an evil dragon yourself; if you gaze into the abyss too long, the abyss gazes back." Different cultures have always been in a state of mutual influence and cyclical alternation. In ancient times, it was the exchange between different families and villages, and in the future, it may be the exchange between different planets and races. For me, Chinese culture is where I started from, which provides me with nutrients for growth and space for me to absorb diverse cultures. I don't want to nail myself to the self-imposed title of Chinese artist, but to think more about the foundation of culture - people themselves.

Cui: Although they are in different continents, different cultural backgrounds, and even different times, there are similarities and similarities in people's experiences and consciousness.

Xiong Wei, St. George and the Dragon, 2021

Cui: In the history of Eastern and Western art, animals have been given different symbolic and metaphorical meanings as visual media in different times. You use a lot of animal symbols and signs in your works, what was the opportunity for you to start using animal elements? Do animals in your works have any special representative meanings?

Xiong: On the one hand, it's fun. On the other hand, it has a rich meaning. I focus on the symbols of animals in different traditional cultures and mythologies, and I work on the visual language of animal symbols in art history in conjunction with the material itself to reinterpret or redefine a universal understanding and consensus that we have taken for granted. In my recent ceramic work, The Unity of Two Divine Orders, I created the figure of a vulture with its head held high. The whole sculpture is inspired by ancient Egyptian stone carvings, while the feather pattern on the side is influenced by Han Dynasty high-relief portrait stones.

The statue looks like a traditional sculpture, but it is the most figurative and formal piece in the series. I use it to refer to two incarnations of divine order: the vulture's role as a scavenger in the biosphere, living off the death of others and symbolizing the supreme natural order, and the ancient Egyptian worship of the natural forces represented by animals, enshrining birds as the gods they believed in. But this itself was only a means for the rulers, whose purpose was to rule over people. So it also symbolizes the divine order of the dominant human being, the hierarchical order in human society. This sculpture is both a figurative symbol and a watcher, above the common people and outside the world.

Cui: It's like the cycle you mentioned. By fusing local culture with contemporary techniques and expressions, the artist has somehow achieved a real connection between contemporary art and local culture and a real inheritance of tradition.

Xiong Wei, The Unity of Two Divine Orders, 2021

17 views0 comments


bottom of page