Her Poetic World and Passionate Mind: An Interview With Su Yabi

One day in 2008, by chance, I saw some friends making jewelry with tiny and pliable metal wires at a friend’s place and I joined. It recalled me the bird-nest that my father made for me when I was a little girl.

Her Poetic World and Passionate Mind: An Interview With Su Yabi

By Luo Fei, the Curator of TCG Nordica Gallery

Date: in the morning of July 5, 2014

Location: Dali Experimental Primary School

Luo: Could you please make a brief introduction about your art experience?

Su: I graduated from the Affiliated High School of Yunnan Arts University in 1994 and from the No. 2 Oil Painting Studio of the Department of Arts in Yunnan Arts University in 1998. When I was a student, I began to pay close attention to everyday objects around me in my painting and recently I stared to involve other materials in my works. Actually, these everyday objects in different stages are not the same for me in my heart.

Cabinet, Oil on canvas, 115x150cm,2012
Cabinet, Oil on canvas, 115x150cm,2012

Luo: What inspired you to draw these everyday objects?

Su: I was alone at the dormitory when I was in my university. The dormitory was particularly quiet, and many things scattered in the dormitory and windowsill. At that time, the view outside the window was not so charming, with not well-organized factory complexes and a big chimney, especially when the smog rolled up from it, a sense of melancholy devoured me, yet, it was poetic to me. I started to draw them in my sketchbook and Xuhui Mao, my teacher, caught a sight of it in his class. Then he carefully observed each page and asked some questions. He encouraged me a lot, driving me move on in the process of painting these objects.

Luo: Could you please share with me something about the brush in the picture?

Su: This long brush was used to make bed in my family when I was a child. As a scrubbing brush, it made beds smooth and tidy with just a gentle move. I thought its shape was unique and attractive, and full of magic, so I favored it at an early age.

Luo: How about the wardrobe with mirrored the scenery?

Su: While I was drawing the wardrobe, the indoor and outdoor scenes and objects were reflected in the mirror of the wardrobe, which formed a fancy vision.

Luo: Later, we see the tidal spindrift flowing out of the drawer in the wardrobe.

Su: It is just a visual change. Actually, it is a scarf, but looks like spindrift visually.

Luo: Yes, you portrayed it like tidal water pouring out, which filled with Magic Realism feeling. It recalled me the magic wardrobe in the movie “the Chronicles of Narnia” in which a world of myths exist.

Su: That is true; at that time, I was fascinated with this kind of painting. Therefore, I intended to make it look magic. I painted it in the end of 2012, which was regarded as the doomsday by a large number of people even if I did not believe it. In addition, some small earthquakes happened several times in Dali and some precaution trainings against earthquake were frequently organized at school, so some anxious mood and inclined houses were expressed in it. However, when I was portraying this scarf, I tried to avoid its real appearance as far as possible. I am glad you can sense its magical feeling.

Luo: Why the pin appears in many of your paintings?

Su: Well, it is a kind of visual needs.

Luo: These pins were open which are the only sharp-pointed ones in the pictures and can cause harm to a person if he is careless. Although the entire painting is very calm and very stable, there is always a sharp-pointed object inside. Is it a metaphor for your inner world?

Su: First, it is for the aesthetic account. If it is closed, it will not look like as beautiful as the open one. In addition, I prefer the low-key objects even if it’s sharp. It is peaceful as a whole, but also retains the unique character. Just like human being, keeping one’s personal individuality, the pointed parts, do matters.

Luo: What do you want to express through your paintings?

Su: I want to express myself by drawing, which has become a very important part of my life and has already accompanied me for many years.

Luo: Your paintings are filled with poetic feeling.

Su: That is what I focus on when selecting the items to describe.

Luo: How do you make them full of poetry?

Su: I don’t think it’s I who make them poetic, but they themselves are full of poetry. For example, the smoke rolling up from the chimney gone with the wind gently and slowly is poetic, so is the simple and delicate pin, whether it’s open or curved, it is elegant.

Luo: Some of your works are made of iron wire, when did you start this?

Su: One day in 2008, by chance, I saw some friends making jewelry with tiny and pliable metal wires at a friend’s place and I joined. It recalled me the bird-nest that my father made for me when I was a little girl. With some cotton bird eggs in, it once brought a sum of happiness for my childhood. I earnestly wish that I could make a basket in metal wire at that time but failed to make it as I wish, which frustrated me. That day in my friend’s place, I realized the key to this material. Its function is not only restricted in decoration and then I fall in love with it. There was no symbolic significance in the metal wires of my paintings. What intrigues me is the simple and flexible character of the wires. The thread is closely related with fragility, inability, fickleness in my world, but the metal wire is ductile, which can be hard or soft, straight or curved, adding the creativity of my works.

Sometimes I doubted myself for being too conservative to make a breakthrough whether in concepts or the materials. However, for me, it is too difficult to create or design something that is not related with my daily life. If I betray my heart, I will fell a sense of splitting up with the reality. In fact, even if I have been keeping painting everyday objects since 1997, I did made some adjustments and breakthrough in each stage with an overall look. Since the masters did so, I began to trust myself and be brave again.

Luo: What do you think of the detailed changes in your work over the years?

Su: I have focused on painting everyday objects or everyday scenarios starting from 1996, in canvas and paper. I tried to use conventional materials, such as charcoal, pencil, propylene in the canvas. Painting for me should be free, and what matters is all of these can be placed in the same isomorphic level. In 1999, I began to draw on paper. The relaxing and unadorned style attracted me greatly. Moreover, it is closest to my everyday life. I have been looking for the simple and ordinary “everyday feeling” no matter in the canvas or paper. In 2008, I felt like seeing an old friend at the sight of the metal wire at my friend’s place because the line for me is the simplest and most essential expression way. Whether painting with lines or weaving in metal wires, what draws in me is the contradictory feature of being simple and feasible. I joined the Needlework with Wen Liao as the curator, initiating the creation of works blending drawing, knitting and embroidery.

Bed, Oil on canvas, 110x80cm, 2014
Bed, Oil on canvas, 110x80cm, 2014

Luo: You are one of the artists who took part in Nordica International Project very early, such as “Sugar and Salt” in 2003. Looking back this project, how do you evaluate this project? What is the effect on you?

Su: The participants not only included the artists but also litterateurs, scripter. People from different fields assembled, working together, which was fresh for all of us and deeply affected us. I still remembered clearly that a Swedish artist, whose work is designing with textile, knitted a non-objective figure in woolen yarn then immersed it into the sweet water. After a while, it became erect after taking out of the water. It was so magic and funny, which triggered my curiosity about everything, especially the materials.

Luo: Except that, you also took part in another project- Bridge in 2012, with 10 years’ span. Is there any changes compared with the former one?

Su: Yes, the most obvious one is that all the artists are female in the first time while there were some male artists joined for the second time. As for the manners of working and works, one is feminine while the other is rather masculine. Of course, I like both of them. Libin and you also attended in “Bridge” project with some male Swedish artists. The common character is all the Swedish artists of both projects, both male and female, are more independent and more active. In “Sugar and Salt”, the impact and collaboration between artists were emphasized, and communications were carried out in games or in the process of creativity. While in “Bridge” project, we worked more independently to keep individuality. In addition, they also provided us opportunities to collaborate jointly. We could pay visits to their studios in Sweden, which filled with freshness and strangeness.

Luo: Do you think is it important to distinguish female artists and male artists?

Su: I don’t think so. However, I feel obviously different. In first project, we did not have any detailed plans, so we advanced the project at will. However, in “Bridge” project, each person had to finish the tasks allocated high-efficiently. The division of labor was very clear and you have no time to waste. The differences might be related to the characteristics of the projects. In “Sugar and Salt” project, we got more surprises in the process of continual experiments, for the project spanned a long time, which granted us more time to try. Moreover, the field of Nordica was large enough for us to do more experiments.

Luo: How do you think of the feminist art?

Su: I think this is a manner.

Luo: Is it a strategy?

Su: It’s not a strategy but a way to experience, to see and to express. In 2002 Guojuan Sun told me all of the activities and artists in “Long March-A Dialogue with Judy Chicago in Lugu Lake” are related with feminist art. This was my first contact of feminist art activities. However, even now, the feminist arts still fail to get her due respect and understanding, for we often heard people describe the works of some female artists “too soft” “too feminine” or any other superficial vocabularies. The female artists were just regarded them as the setoffs of the male artists, rather as an independent and integrated individual. In addition, the concept of feminist art is too conceptual and often is misinterpreted, the characters such as ‘soft’ or ‘tedious’, ‘exquisite ‘are not the elusive to female artists. Some male artists also have these features in their works.

Luo: You often went to participate in some exhibitions held in other places, what do you think of Yunnan’s artist?

Su: They pay close attention to everything closely connected with their life. They respect for themselves, and do not ingratiate themselves with anyone. I really appreciate the artists in Yunnan Province. When I attended the exhibition in Beijing, I found their works special. They were not eye-catching and conspicuous at first sight, but they were full of sincerity with immersed love for life and warmth touched by the environments.

Luo: Is art to express one’s inner world?

Su: Everyone’s need for art is not equal. For me, art is to express myself, to record life, or to explore the artistic languages in different phases. It changes with my experiences. In addition, the other important factor is what I want to express in the bottom of my heart. As for the way how you express it, it is advised to go back to the construction of artistic language. If there is no support of the artistic languages, our minds and ideas will be unknown, even misinterpreted.

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