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Interview: Zeyu Xue


Endeavor Less

2023

96" x 42" x 30"

Foam, oil-Based wood finish clear stain, lumber, plywood


1) Could you introduce yourself? Where are you from, and where did you study art? When did you first see yourself as an artist?


I currently go to the SVA MFA fine art program, graduating this June. I do sculptures. I was born in Sanya Hainan, the southernmost part of China, and grew up in a harmonious comfortable family. In my generation, study abroad was a trend so I went to University of California, Irvine to pursue my undergraduate degree, majoring in fine art. The freshman year in SoCal is one of my life turning points where I started to do art. I used to think about majoring in Finance but at the first sculpture class I took, not only instantly but firmly I knew this is my thing. So when did I first see myself as an artist? Very early; I did have a very clear moment of recognizing. It was a winter morning with beautiful sunshine. When I was sitting on the concrete ground in the sculpture yard and honing the wood balls of my first sculpture in my life, I suddenly realized the happening of unprecedented inner peace and satisfaction, like a scoop of warm spring running through my heart. I have seen myself as an artist since that moment.


Portrait

2023

11" x 8" x 1/4"

Pencil on cardboard, nail



2) Why do you make sculptures and installations that reference your past memories, such as your childhood home?


Because those memories flash in my mind. I used to live in a 3-floor villa from when I was born until ten. The house was torn down after many years of moving out from there. One day I realized it was forever gone, and It was my regret that I never properly said goodbye to it. So I often draw the interior decorations of the old house freely when I think about it. I realized I was not satisfied by only seeing those old stuff on paper, so I started to make sculptures about them. Later I thought about whether there is anything deeper. My answer would be that roughly breaking down and deconstructing some representative moments in memories to me is necessary, as knowing how math equations are derived, confronting the past makes me feel like I'm learning my fundamental settings. By making sculptures about the punchlines of the old house, I investigate the relationship of action and result, active and passive, and realizing how the long-term influence of my childhood is to my life.


Wall

2023

39" x 28" x 39"

Plywood, wood stain, wood filler, sewing fleece fabric, muslin fabric pasting on foam, wood mouldings, pin


3) Do you imbue specificity to how your art references your memories and past? For example, is your reference to the wooden floor tiles in your childhood home particular exclusively to your memory, or could it also become a reference point for the past memories for other people and viewers who look at your work?


Not at all, because the visual part of my work would be the dominant to the audience. My sculptures are all independent freestanding pieces. After I announced I finished them, they began their own journey. It is hard to set an objective standard for art, even though I think I use the most precise sculptural language to express, what audiences receive are always translations of my insight. Since any translation is like the opposite of embroidery, I guess I gave up my obsession with the verbatim expression, and instead try to create the intangible temperaments of my works, and then they have the confidence to leave me behind and face the audience at any given moment.


Bonsai

2023

62" x 9" x 9"

Ceramic tile, cement, tile grout, ceramic pot, concrete, nylon cord


4) In your 2022 sculptural piece titled, "Perseverance," you built cubes out of ceramic bathroom floor tiles. I cannot help notice the similarity of your art to a sausage or smoothie. Just as your art repackages pieces of your past memories into entirely different, geometrically or organically abstract forms, sausage is the repackaging of pig into a more edible format (as it is made by killing a pig, grounding its meat, and filling the meat in a sausage skin). What do you think of this analogy or comparison?


That is an interesting metaphor but I actually can't quite align with it. However, it's true that I did want to discuss a comparison between two generations. In a certain historical background, China's Economic Reform and Opening, what my father's generation achieved in their time when they were young, was very difficult for me and my peers to achieve in our time now. Beside that mainly because my generation grew up in a relatively comfortable environment that never had to suffer materially. More favorable material conditions of life left us, at least myself, with a mild personality that one is very hard to produce real courage. But fathers were different; they were never afraid of loss since they had nothing to lose for them at the time. They had to fight for living. Like, my father built buildings whose surfaces were covered by the gray ceramic tiles I used in my sculptural piece "Perseverance", but I can only use the same tiles to make a small cube. This is only from what I've observed. Perhaps being more edible is the same as losing the original flavor and iterating into something new, but it's hard to say which is better.


Prelude

2023

40" x 28" x 1/4”

Pencils on plywood


5) In your 2021 work titled, "Yell," you pursued spontaneity and artistic agency by the very act of yelling in different locations, by which you seek to oppose the passivity within your past life. How do you negotiate a clear sense of agency and expression of free will, and pure randomness that would undermine the very sense of agency?


I always believe that what is truly mine is driven by the combination of sense of agency and intuition, like destiny. Pure randomness to me is a very mysterious and uncatchable thing which originated from intuition. While I was in the mountain setting the camera up and walking into the frame every time, while I was standing there silently, I was waiting for my inner power to load and push the yells out of my body. The power comes deeply inside of the body. It can be triggered by the sense of agency but never not controlled by it. I would say it was my intuition to choose the locations, and then my sense of agency completed the order from the intuition to set up the camera. After that another system activated that pure consciousness led my body then finished the act of every yelling out.



Nice To See You Again, Pool

2023

8" x 52" x 52”

Ceramic tiles, EPS Foam bricks, cement, tile grout, pastel and acrylic on hot press illustration board, Iron wire


6) In your 2023 piece titled, "Nice to See You Again! Pool," you trace the shadow of a wiry sculptural object on the floor of the pool with a charcoal or graphite pencil. By doing so, are you trying to construct or represent a model of how memory is formed as traces? The sculptural object is 3-dimensional, but the tracing is 2-dimensional, just as the physical reality is 3-dimensional, and our memory and vision are 2-dimensional in nature.


Well, it was not that tricky. I used pastel to trace the shadow in a wiggly line simply because I want to create the feeling of liquid and, like the flowing light waves on the water surface. Honestly, I don’t know what is the form of memory. I am not sure about if it can be cataloged into 2- or 3-dimensions, since it is vague and untouchable without any physical form. Also, the memories are not flat in my mind. ​​The pool in the past was torn down when the old house was demolished. It exists in my mind but no matter how many times I recalled it, described it or drew it on paper, I felt those are not enough to help me sharp the focus or give me closure. I had the obsession to see the pool again in front of me and to make it exist in this physical world again. When I can gaze at the pool, I feel I am actually gazing at myself at five. Other than these, The pool is the pool to the audience.


7) What is your most recent work about? Why are you pivoting towards the present, away from your focus and obsession on your memories of the past? What lessons from the past do you carry into your investigation of the present? What does it mean to investigate the present?


My current work is large-scale sculptures about intuition of the body gestures, pure randomness and repetition, and these are existing already in my old works; it is no longer about old memories. It is secular and fresh. I talked a lot about memories on my last series of sculptures, because those memories came to me in the present. Also, depending on how to define the present, a second or a certain time period? There is no boundary between past and present unless people set it. I learned a quote from the movie “Homeless to Harvard '' when i was in high school that is “We are history”. To me, the second before this second automatically becomes history, and the present is dynamic like a fixed point on a flowing stream. Whatever a sculpture is about memories of the past or investigation of the present, it is about an expression of relatively present sentiments and thoughts, compared to a single point of my life stream.



My Mom Is The Only One Who Can Read This Artwork

2022

37" x 7" x 7"

wood board cut into pieces, EPS Foam column, saw dust, putty powder, wood stain, clear satin


8) Is your work about the theory of time itself, as well? Do you subscribe to presentism or eternalism? Would you deal with the concept of the future, once you fully investigate the present?


Probably NO? lol. Probably people will think my practice is investigating time, or playing with it, but actually I am not. My sculpture is secular. I respect time. I do realize that it is possible for humans to transcend the dimension of time in the future, but that is not my business or weight more beyond my ability, so for the moment, I choose to honor time and follow the timeline respectfully, in a common sense.


9) Why is free will and agency important to you? How does this relate to the conception of individualism that is prized in western societies, in opposition to collectivism which is valued in eastern societies?


The ethical merits of playing Chinese chess is, "A true gentleman watches chess without saying anything, and a great man who has no regrets when making a move." Hopefully, I can be the great man who is bold and perfectly composed. I think a topic like East-West ideology is too macro and generalized. The same general environment can make different people. While the factors that really made me inevitably occurred in the two broad categories of East and West; while I did grow up in the East and did my undergraduate and graduate studies in the West, it was pain and suffering, and the insights into relationships and personal experiences in various microcosmic perspectives, that led directly to the awakening of my sense of independence, and this is only the base of free will and agency. It is because I learned who I am, I naturally gained the power of free will and agency.


Perseverance

2021

9" x 9" x 9"

Ceramic tiles, styrofoam cube, cement, tile grout


10) Who are some of your favorite artists who influence your practice?


Constantin Brancusi

Isamu Noguchi

Maya Lin

Wolfgang Laib



11) Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years? What are your goals and dreams for the future?


I cannot predict the changes in the future but I think I will keep my core the same from now on. Keep doing sculptures, keep observing, keep thinking and looking for the most proper way of visual expressions for my sculptures. Live a good life and stay healthy. My goal is to make a living on my own after one year of graduation. My dream is to become a commercially viable sculptor.




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