My own time-related work is also made under the effect of the pandemic… It was a personal crisis for me, I started to fight that feeling by drawing a flower a day as a mark of time.Yimin Qiao
The following interview forms part of a series where I invite contemporary artists to each reflect on their personal history, meaning, and philosophy, and how those are embedded throughout their creative process.
This week I talk to Yimin Qiao, an illustrator based in Shanghai.
Tell me about your piece, ‘Keep Loving’
This work was made in the middle of 2020, which was the first time that we experience a long-period quarantine under the effect of Covid-19. Although I didn’t notice, by looking back I find that many of my drawings at that time were an expression of the desire for connection and hope for love.
The pandemic has brought us some urban landscapes we have ever seen. It is a speech of isolation and a show of a half-abandoned state of human civilisation. I want my work to pass through these gaps and can somehow go beyond reality. This doesn’t mean the core feeling of this work isn’t real, I’m inspired by some real-life images of people still trying to communicate through windows and obstacles. I’m deeply moved by those scenes, so I want to extract the elements and present them in an extreme way.
I don’t usually search for a certain inspiration. But I do need a trigger to kick off the idea and the trigger is usually related to real-life elements like a barricade on roads or anything else. For me, It is a way of processing and travelling to reality. Adding a layer of imagination on top of it is super fun. So even though the idea looks like it comes to me, it is discoveries and imaginations that I have made while exploring and observing.
I do have a research process for commissioned work or context-based work. But I still like to treat materials as objects that can be viewed and imagined, and then some ideas will be found.
Looking back at your works, what you do think about them now?
Looking back at works makes me feel like looking back at different situations of life experiences. Some represent my beliefs and speak for me with consistency while others could be special moments. Although I really cherish that moment but also know it is time to move on.
The interesting thing is I found that the works that always linger in my head are works that are made with honesty and true feelings. Sometimes we could lie to our work and ourselves. These works will naturally be forgotten, and when I look back, I will find the performatives contained in them. So looking back is a process of reflection, constantly asking what is more honest and close to what I want to express.
As an artist, which philosophical questions do you find most interesting or inspiring?
My work is not directly related to a specific philosophical question. But I do find the common between the process of creation and philosophy is that they are not meant to give an answer but to raise questions. It provokes thinking and blurs boundaries rather than imposes limits. Do creators ask questions like a philosopher in an artistic way? This might be possible.
What appeals to me is the question of time. I like to think about it with scientific research to help me better understand that our time is not an invented linear line but exists in a more organic and fluid state.
My own time-related work is also made under the effect of the pandemic. The loss of the sense of time during the isolation period leads to the loss of the sense of meaning. It was a personal crisis for me, I started to fight that feeling by drawing a flower a day as a mark of time.
After a year, the final outcome looks like a visual representation of time. But what’s important is the openness the work gives me, I exchange drawing flowers with people online and at different exhibitions. During the process, it becomes an opportunity for me to communicate with people. At the end of the project, I have no intention to ask what is time and what is meaning. The flow of energy between people and the conscious connection with myself is what I learned from this project.
How far do you feel you have come in being able to answer those questions for yourself?
Compared with questions and answers that are repeated many times, I prefer some questions that I have not presupposed. For me, the purpose of answering a question is not only that I will give an exact answer, but also I start to think about it. It pushes me to consider clues in my work and myself that I haven’t realised yet. So the answers I give are not necessarily permanent conclusions and I’m not expecting them to be perfect. They will continue to expand and grow.
If there were an artwork that depicted your current experience of the world, what might it look like?
It will be a machine that is always on. Sometimes I feel that the systems of the world are so tightly established. And then the world we face, especially in the political and economic sense, is such a gigantic machine in front of us. It contains numerous systems inside, one is perfectly linked to another to make the machine work. I don’t know if it makes sense. But sometimes this perfection makes me sick. Like there is no way to breakthrough. The machine is rooted and can’t be moved.
But where there are gaps, in corners, maybe what I can do is to loosen a screw or throw some seeds in there and many people are doing this also. So for me, the artwork depicting the world is a giant machine with loose screws.