Myth or truth – Lu Pingyuan

Lu Pingyuan, Unexpected discovery, 2014

Lu Pingyuan is a great discovery for us of WoMA. Astonishing, humorous and simply ingenious, Lu Pingyuan is an emerging multidisciplinary artist who lives and works in Shanghai. Standing in between fiction and reality, the artist works with videos, installations, paintings and performances, all of which incorporate references to literature, elements from Chinese tradition and superstition, and above all, stories from extraordinary life experiences. And through the power of narration, Lu Pingyuan carries out his artistic research, at time inspired by myths, other times by truths, ultimately blurring the lines between what’s credible and what’s incredible.

WoMA: In your works, you make use of different media such as videos, texts, installations, paintings and performances. Even something very common in our everyday life, such as a motorbike, becomes a metaphor of the messages you want to convey. Which are the needs that push you to experiment and test your boundaries in so many different areas? Do you believe that some media are more suited to convey a message than others?

I would say that determining the combination of media in my work is no longer a mystery. It seems like nowadays people are capable of doing everything. However, it is hard to make decisions when the choice is considerably important. I want to find an appropriate concept to express my attitude towards art through the possibilities of interpretation.

WoMA: Your artwork “Unexpected Discovery” consists of a series of objects, not directly linked between each other, but displayed without any physical manipulation. How did you develop the concept behind it? Which is the relationship between the objects you use and the conceptualisation of the artwork?

It was thanks to an interesting encounter. One day I met a derelict, and gave him some food. When he heard about my art career, out of gratitude, he taught me a ‘magic trick’ that goes like this: anything I could stare at for over 24 hours would be my next work. The idea was ridiculous at first, until I started thinking over it when I was back at home. I returned immediately back to him, but he was already gone. The whole story makes me wonder if he is a saint who came here to send me a message. Since then I’ve always used this ‘trick’ and the works in Unexpected Payback have all been through 24 hours of staring, including that pillar.

Lu Pingyuan, The dogged goblin, 2015
Lu Pingyuan, The dogged goblin, 2015

WoMA: Your art is extremely transversal, and this appears evident also in the relationship you set between language and thought. In your exhibitions, you use words in a very unconventional way, for example once you hung some printed stories on the walls, ultimately turning those stories into pieces of art. Moreover, you have made installations, videos and sounds by collecting and editing tales which are contextualized in the art world. Do you consider yourself more as an artist or perhaps also a writer? Why are symbols – such as words – so important for you? And what is the relationship between language and reality that you want to communicate?

I’m deeply interested in all these stories which made me who I am, like some kind of spell surrounding my head, all the time, that later led me to make up my mind and to create one of my own. The story can originate out of the blue, the literature is just one way of expression. Aiming to record and express my story accurately and instantly, words have become one of my main tools, and instead of writing on literature standards, I use language as a direct communication tool. Moreover, I try to avoid too much literal meanings, because I hope my words can be translated into other languages, or anyways make sense in another expression, and that is the reason why I try to control the whole process of my works and simplify my narration without redundant decoration. It is significantly different from literature works, and one of the best ways to spread a story is through mails which can be sent quickly to purely tell the story, with no interference. If necessary, I hope my works can be copied, it is my choice on how to present the standard of the story.

WoMA: One of your most famous pieces is “Schrödinger’s Mom”. Would you explain us how you came up with this idea and the meaning you want to express through this artwork? Does the title hold a special meaning?

Encounters always tend to be moving, it’s all about if you are willing to face it or not. Schrodinger’s mom is a female cat back in my hometown. During an hallucinatory experience, it transformed itself into a woman, and after a love affair it gave birth to a kitten. I considered it to be my child. After this ambiguous event, I hoped to find a special name in honor of its birth, therefore the same name as the famous physicist who carried out a thought experiment, extending people’s different awarenesses towards the world.

WoMA: You are not afraid to draw inspiration from very personal experiences, turning stories into contemporary art pieces. In this sense, “Schrödinger’s Mom” is the representation of a transcendental, dreamlike contact with traditional Chinese myths, which however might be even seen as a “crazy fantasy” by someone more sceptic. Would you explain us how you think something so intimate and private can hold a meaning which can be transposed to a larger audience? How does this perspective relate to your creative process?

I announced the happening to my circle of friends. After the birth of a l child, people cannot wait to tell the world, sending a variety of twits and posts and thus relying on the media to announce the good news to their friends. They also publish without caring if other people will like their children, or how they would judge him or her. I was no exception, regarding Schrödinger’s bizarre life experience, it had the opportunity through galleries and exhibitions and art media to be known by everyone, and this is personally for me very, very satisfying.

WoMA: As you have told us, in your creative process the Chinese heritage plays a relevant role. Would you explain us how you relate with Chinese culture? And where is the boundary between myth and truth?

Growing up, Chinese traditions inevitably affected me. For instance, during my childhood I used to watch “Journey to the West” and other movies and television dramas; later at school, Liaozhai articles in our textbooks became writings I learned off by heart; the four Chinese classics also had related video games on which we spent our time; primary school students used to spread horror stories that made me afraid to go back home alone. All this more or less influenced me, and represent what I’ve spent a great amount of time on since I was a kid. It’s all very mystical and mythical, but it’s also what really affects a person’s growth, so what is myth and what is reality?

Lu Pingyuan, Today series, 2014
Lu Pingyuan, Today series, 2014

WoMA: The passage of time is a theme that can be found in many of your artworks. The “Today” series, in particular, is an homage to On Kawara, one of the most important conceptual artists of the past century. Why did you choose to follow his guidance in this series? Do you agree with On’s vision of time as a destructive and annihilating force, or do you have a more positive view on the passage of time?

One day in 2014 I dreamed On Kawara telling me under a bright light that he hoped I could continue carry out for him the “Today” series, I made a promise to him in that dream, so I began to carefully analyze and later continue the production of On Kawara’s “Today” series. I think he is a great artist, I respect him, so now the “Today” series is as close as possible to his original creation, but I am aware that the “Today” series is something I promised to him, and so to some extent belongs to his original work. In carrying out my promise, the pressure and force were very big, and the inner force came from my understanding of his work, because his work represents man’s current cognition and shows in an extreme way the relationship between the physical body and time, while in my world, people actually never reach death, but rather change form to continue existing, so as fas as I will keep believing this dream is real, I will commit all myself to keep on going.

Elisabetta Galvagni, Anny Wu