TNC Interview 2021
We spoke with artist Zhang Mengjiao, aka Jasmine’s who held her debut exhibition at the Kylin Gallery Los Angeles.
Hi Jasmine thank you for talking to TNC, how have you been keeping during these Covid times?
I was doing extremely better than I thought. Having a good routine and exercising regularly to stay productive is great. Reading news, books and hanging out with friends in a safe environment have all been helpful. Of course, being alone makes me more conscious of my artist’s practice and gives me more time for introspection.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration or opportunities?
Yes, absolutely. Integrated photographic work is a very important part of art practice. At the beginning of the pandemic when I lost access to printers, I started to explore more media than I thought I was able to. Screen printing, half ready-made sculptures, spray paint etc. are all new mediums that I started exploring. Being an artist in this socio-economic crisis made me change my mind about what art is.
How much did your time at the San Francisco Art Institute help shape and influence your art?
I have to say art school helped me define what my art is in terms of the authoritative means. SFAI encouraged me to not be obsessed with the technical part but to pay attention to the intentions and concepts behind my own work. I’m not saying I learned to ignore the formal quality of my artwork, but on the contrary, I learned through the formal quality and what to see through the formal qualities to understand the context and intentions of my work.
Can you tell me a little bit about "I’m Married to Your Whole Country Babe!' What inspired this performance piece?
I am not sure if I have an inspiration for this work, if there was one it might be “I like America and America likes me.” In the midst of the pandemic and lockdown, Trump announced the suspension of the application of some non-immigrant visas and I was scared. For the sake of my stable visa and response to my fear and anger, I decided to marry myself - an individual - to the sovereign of the country instead of finding a citizen to marry. As a person who graduated with an international relations degree, I always wondered how an individual is related to a state. Now I know I do not have to relate, I can make things out to regain my power of discourse.
Congratulations on your debut solo show, are there any nerves, or are you going to be able to just enjoy the experience?
There were nerves, but it is a unique experience as well for sure. I think it’s a show that is curated according to my curator’s intention - more of a photographic show rather than showing the body of work that I wanted to show at the beginning. But I am glad to have the opportunity to work with my curator since I know I made lots of photographic works. I realized how much work I made in the past and I’m able to thread all of them together to see what my future trajectory of photographic practice is.
How did this exhibition come about and with this will be one of the first major art exhibitions since Covid restrictions have been lifted, does that add any extra pressure?
It definitely added extra pressure, especially because I know fewer people in LA. However, my curator managed it so well and the turnout was great. We decided on the date with the gallery owner two months before the exhibition opened, but we did not know the ban would be lifted by that time. It was amazing that we were able to see people walk around in the gallery, and I know visitors felt the same as being able to come out and see a show in person.
As a woman of colour how important is it for you to use your experiences and history to explore the themes of your art?
I didn't mean to fit into the woman of colour category but living in the United States, I was “naturally” conceived as a woman of colour - I do not like that idea but I am just as proud of my race and skin as I am of my work - and yes, my personal experiences are very pertinent to my process of creating art. I respond to my personal experiences and my adversities. Making historical references is something I do spontaneously and even subconsciously. I have become aware of responding to all of these.
"I am always exploring actions that I want to do in response to my intuition and research. In the beginning, I was more obsessed with formal quality and technicalities."
Should artists continue to challenge conventions and push boundaries in their fields?
Yes. As an artist I always ask about my intention behind making art - otherwise, there is no point in being an artist.
Where did your passion for art come from?
There’s some artwork that I do not need to see but only need to hear about it - and it works for me, it’s effective, it changes my way of thinking. And I think I am making that kind of art - this is where my passion for art comes from.
How has your style and the approach to your work changed since you started out?
It is threaded throughout the whole practice, but it does change a lot. I am always exploring actions that I want to do in response to my intuition and research. In the beginning, I was more obsessed with formal quality and technicalities. Then I realized I should pay more attention to the formal quality and technical good of the work. I became more or less critical in trying to find the limits of each media.
On a technical side, what type of material do you prefer to use?
Media is the message so I want to use media that is consistent with my intention of making a specific work. For instance, one day I was making a print of a photograph containing a Chinese landscape and a Chinese propaganda banner stock image. I decided to make the print on newsprint which is perceived for making newspapers - the final message of this work is using broadcasting/ propaganda to go against propaganda.
And finally, what are you hoping your people will take from your exhibition?
I hope visitors will understand why I am talking about the “artifice” and be able to live, have fun with it.