Ai Weiwei An Interview with Xiao Yu

Ai Weiwei: Where were “Singularity and Delusion”?
Xiao: They were displayed in a basement and lasted from the end of 1998 to the beginning of 1999.
Ai Weiwei: What prompted you?
Xiao Yu: I originally cooperated with Sun Yuan to reform the sheep scorpions. The artwork was exhibited in 1998 and many people saw it. The art piece was actually divided into two parts, including one on-site performance. I planed to take some photos, as there weren’t many visitors due to the heavy snow. 
Ai Weiwei: Why did you create these things? Were they spontaneous or?
Xiao Yu: This is not spontaneous. Because we had nothing to do at that time, so I had a strong rush. There were many combinations of the living during that period, which inspired me some of the ideas. I watched television and encountered lots of things everyday. There existed an invisible power or the hope of many – to reform the living and the relationship among human beings. I even thought there was some invisible consciousness in the army. Just think a group of people were arranged together and led a same life, how would such life style affect on their psychological feelings? In other words, how those soldiers would be viewed in the eyes of others? When I was making the sheep scorpion piece, I was not able to find something to excite me. I just thought that way, and lined them in queue. What I pointed out was quite weak, something related to the living. But I neither wanted people to see the original outlook of the sheep nor was able to line the real sheep in queue. If I compelled a certain symbol of a part of the living to be put together or reformed, what would others think of me? Or what will it affect in the visual or passion areas? This is something beyond my approach. I only find out this worth doing when I come up to an unknown phase. I can’t judge whether it’s wrong or not just based on the past experience or theory. I was just questioning at that time whether this was feasible. Then can artists try such experiment? What will others view them after doing that? How will the viewers respond in their heart?
Ai Weiwei: Your artworks reflect a quite bizarre scene that could be said as an aberrant form or an uncomfortable status, do they have any particular link to your personal living experience?
Xiao Yu: Nothing particular. But I am often asked the same question, like where is your hometown or where were you from? I feel hard to give a clear answer. My ancestors used to live in Jiangsu province, so I am from Jiangsu. But I hardly have any connection with Jiangsu, let alone my emotional attachment. I grew up in Inner Mongolia and I furthered my study in Beijing, every year I go to Yunnan to visit my parents.
Ai Weiwei: Perplexed with your identity, location and condition?
Xiao Yu: Yes.
Ai Weiwei: Did you wake up one morning and lost in whom you are?
Xiao Yu: No, I didn’t. When I was thirty, I felt quite strange how I had already aged 30. Before 30, I had many ideals; I knew what I wanted to do. Until that day did I realize suddenly that I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t understand the meaning to live, really.
Ai Weiwei: Has there been such a moment that you wanted to bump yourself into the wall?
Xiao Yu: No, it was unreasonable as there were nobody to blame. I bet many people felt the way just like me. My life was a bit chaotic, and the decisions of divorce and resignation were all made upon a fleeting moment. For example, when I sat in my office one day I decided to resign. I suddenly felt upset. I had been a teacher for eight years, and even half an hour ago everything was fine. But it was totally not fine for me at that particular moment. I could barely stay here for another second. So I resigned. Once quantity accumulates to a certain degree, sometimes even without a fuse, like me, I could only say that I was unexpectedly changed at that moment. I found my boss immediately and told him I wouldn’t come tomorrow.
Ai Weiwei: What about your divorce?
Xiao Yu: That was too complicated. I married before. It involved my friend and my ex-wife did something, but that’s too personal.
Ai Weiwei: Do you call it personal?
Xiao Yu: When I am addicted to a girl, my eyes see no other girls. But if I don’t, every girl is Venus in my eyes. I could find the beauty in any girl. But when I am addicted to somebody, I put all my heart and soul on her. At that time, I was extremely satisfied. I was painting but I didn’t attend any exhibit for eight years.
Ai Weiwei: I met a girl who said she was your student.
Xiao Yu: Yes, I was teaching at that time. I did an experiment. I let my student listen to the symphony. Perhaps I was in a feverish status myself at that time. I asked them “Do you want to listen to it? It doesn’t matter to me.” I was able to find something that I was interested then -- it was symphony. I asked them “Are you bored to paint everyday? Do you want to listen to the symphony while painting?” They said yes, I guess every young person would say so. I asked if anyone objected. No one. Then I found a tape-recorder and several symphony tapes at hand, I played it in the classroom. The whole school was in a chaotic condition, but the students in the classroom were extremely excited. I asked the students “When you totally engaged in the painting, can you hear the music” They replied “No, but when we are relaxed, we could hear the music. When we are totally engaged in the painting, we know there is music, but we don’t listen to it.” Then I thought why teach must be conducted in the classroom silently with only the scratches of pencil. The school was out of control, so the director found me, but I drove him off. Then he told the president who was irritated and forbid me to try an experiment in his school. “You destroyed our discipline.” But I enjoyed doing such kind of thing, like destroying his discipline.
Ai Weiwei: The later fish, tree you did are almost the intervention of the living, the animals’ act, or their possible explanation.
Xiao Yu: Yes.
Ai Weiwei: This is always your interest?
Xiao Yu: Yes.
Ai Weiwei: Your personal life sounds quite normal, you married and then divorced, remarried and have a child. The birth of your child brings you the greatest fun?
Xiao Yu: Right, it perfectly matches certain order. In fact, I have always pursued the happiness of the living in my personal life. I didn’t have any plan to get remarried. But suddenly we had our child. I felt exhilarated to know that I would be a father. I saw him on the ultrasonic graphic and he was a boy. My heart beat fast, and I emptied a bottle of Coca Cola. Then the question became more realistic. If you want to raise a child, you have to give him a family. He must be legal in China and you have to consider the education he will receive in the future. Then I became rational. I love my present wife dearly when she was still my girl friend. I like to chat with her or do everything shared with her. I find my son a miracle, a surprise. I was extremely happy to see those unexpected or unknown things in front of me. Raising a child is a tough job, so tough that it almost overshadows tough itself. But for me, such toughness is quite meaningful and brings lots of funs. For example, he suddenly said something or started to respond with you, which gave you some feelings towards the living.
Ai Weiwei: You are more satisfied with your present life, you have your child, family and artwork?
Xiao Yu: Yes, if you compared it with the past.
Ai Weiwei: More to the “ground”? 
Xiao Yu: But I am still upset. With regard to emotion, love is a series of beautiful moments. Sometimes when I start to think what is happening, I become quite upset. I don’t know where my future path will be. I don’t know what artists should be. I have no idea whether I should continue to be an artist or do something else.
Ai Weiwei: That doesn’t matter?
Xiao Yu: Yes. But the question is I thought one’s identity was based on what he or she was doing before. But now I have such question for me, what am I doing?
Ai Weiwei: This is linked with your desire to identify yourself. You are still in a perplexed condition, hard to define.
Xiao Yu: Sometimes you don’t know whom you are when life goes on day by day. You feel painful and find life a total mess. But even when you are satisfied with life, you still face the same agony. You join different exhibitions from time to time, and you still don’t know what’s going on. Sometimes my mind moves fast. I talked to you about my plan a moment ago. Although I am not doing it right now, my mind moves wildly. I did a video that I thought might be related to life. I captured my son. After the shooting, I gave the camera to him. He didn’t know it was a camera let alone its function. My intention of purposely doing a video and then screen it to others after the editing failed. He started to play with the camera inside the exhibition hall. I set an art premise. The boy could see him in the camera lens, then he kissed it and swirled it on the ground. He squatted on the ground and swirled the camera that recorded everything. When back home, I played it in the computer. I saw what I captured and then what he captured. As I expected that what I captured, if compared with his, was a total bullshit. I cut mine and made some little technical changes of the sound for what he captured. The small changes simply made it more comfortable to please the eyes without any further editing. Because I found what he captured including all the techniques, such as time and space. For example, he immediately dropped the camera on the ground, just like an empty black shot. It meets everything that technique demands, but he didn’t use technique at all.
Ai Weiwei: It is imbued with a strong game flavor?
Xiao Yu: Actually I find it is related to me, as he aims an existing system. The 30 percent of the artworks shown at the exhibitions that I frequent are video, all delicately done. They are somewhat like the abundant television series, from the very start, I could guess its ending. Sometimes they are too familiar with too much technique. I started to doubt why there was so much technique in it. What’s the use? What can I do? I began to doubt the existing system. I handed over a camera to a child who didn’t have the least idea of that he was doing an art piece. Furthermore, he didn’t know he infused technique in it. But when it is screened, nearly everyone is interested to see this video. This is quite strange.
Ai Weiwei: Your artwork or what you are interested directly link with your experience in China? A Chinese artist bringing those artworks stamped with Chinese characteristic is successful wherever he or she holds an exhibition. Do you find any liaison between the two?
Xiao Yu: Objectively yes. But I didn’t think of it. When I am thinking of my artwork, I don’t think of my nationality. But it must be deeply rooted in my blood or nation. It might have some liaison. The work you presented is new and obviously what you concerned is different from the others. Objectively speaking, this could be easily looked through that a Chinese mainland artist did it.
Ai Weiwei: In fact, I can’t see it through your artworks.
Xiao Yu: Many people told me that they didn’t know whether it was real or fake through my artworks. In fact, we have different interest. This exhibition includes nearly 80 percent of video. When this video is screened, young people from the art academies especially like it.
Ai Weiwei: You mean Kassel?
Xiao Yu: No, the one in Russia. It is very funny, as the visitors could find funs when viewing from any period of the video. It really catches the eyes. I feel that is what I want. Then the so called art critics said “your video was the best and favored by students from the art academies.” But obviously, it is easy to tell that a Chinese artist did the video via its contents. 
Ai Weiwei: What are Chinese doing?
Xiao Yu: Sometimes I feel that Chinese are concerned with their conditions, identities and personal symbols.
Ai Weiwei: Do you think that these “Chinese things” will change when time flows?
Xiao Yu: Frankly speaking, I don’t care it at all. I am not able to tell what Chinese things are. If you don’t ask me, I won’t think of it. But if you continue to ask me, the question equals a torture to me.