NatureVolve

Q & A - Xiao­jing Yan

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How has your art­work been in­flu­enced by liv­ing in Canada and your Chi­nese back­ground?

Chi­nese cul­ture, train­ing, and tra­di­tions in­spire my work. Here in Canada, adapt­ing out­side of my na­tive cul­ture molds and in­forms my work as I ap­pre­ci­ate the rich­ness of my multicultu­ral back­ground. Liv­ing in Canada for the past 19 years, I am mo­ti­vated in my prac­tice to find new ways to breathe life into these very specif­i­cally Chi­nese ideas, the tra­di­tions, rit­u­als, and ma­te­ri­als rich in re­li­gion, mythol­ogy, and cul­ture. My cur­rent body of work fo­cuses on how na­ture— an in­her­ent force within tra­di­tional Chi­nese art— tran­scends cul­ture through its ref­er­ences to eternal and nat­u­ral ge­o­log­i­cal time. I use lingzhi mush­room, pine nee­dles, ci­cada ex­u­vi­ates, fresh­wa­ter pearls, star anise, and many other nat­u­ral ma­te­ri­als to cre­ate ethe­real in­stal­la­tions that in­ves­ti­gate the in­ter­sec­tion be­tween sci­ence, na­ture and cul­ture, there­fore, speak to global sit­u­a­tions and con­cerns and the mod­ern, post-mod­ern, and post-hu­man con­di­tions.

Al­though my work com­bines stylis­tic con­ven­tions and iconog­ra­phy that are read­ily re­lated to con­ven­tional Chi­nese art’s artis­tic cor­pus, they are not sup­posed to be purely nostal­gia or re­cu­per­a­tive. In­stead, they are ca­pa­cious and ex­ist in the present mo­ment, en­gag­ing in is­sues of great cur­rent sig­nif­i­cance, such as cli­mate change and the chal­lenges it presents to our en­vi­ron­ment and its fu­ture.

Why is lingzhi a sig­nif­i­cant type of mush­room from a cul­tural and sci­en­tific per­spec­tive?

Lingzhi is a dis­tinc­tive fan-shaped, red var­nished-look­ing fun­gus, also called reishi in Ja­panese, and sci­en­tif­i­cally known as Gan­o­derma. This type of mush­room is rare in na­ture and only grows on a small per­cent­age of fallen, de­cay­ing trees. The re­mark­able fea­tures of lingzhi have drawn the attention of peo­ple across the world through­out the ages. On top of its dis­tin­guished ap­pear­ance, lingzhi is also a herb used in Chi­nese tra­di­tional medicine for over 2000 years and thought to bring longevity and boost im­mune func­tion. Chi­nese Sages and doc­tors also be­lieved it to pos­sess mys­ti­cal prop­er­ties. There­fore, it has been called ‘the mush­room of im­mor­tal­ity,’ and viewed as a magic herb as well as an aus­pi­cious sym­bol with the mean­ing of good for­tune and longevity. Nu­mer­ous myths and lit­er­a­ture men­tion­ing peo­ple’s love, wor­ship of, and be­lief in lingzhi can be found in Chi­nese his­tory since an­cient times.

Thus, the char­ac­ter­is­tics of good for­tune and longevity as­so­ci­ated with lingzhi be­came a unique com­po­nent through­out Chi­nese cul­ture. The sym­bol­ism of lingzhi has been im­mor­tal­ized and em­braced into a va­ri­ety of art forms. But by the 17th cen­tury, lingzhi as an art mo­tif was so pop­u­lar that it even­tu­ally lost its ear­lier re­li­gious con­no­ta­tions, grad­u­ally be­com­ing a mo­tif of botan­i­cal el­e­ments ap­pear­ing on art­works on its own, and can be found in count­less mo­tifs and pat­terns tak­ing the form of clouds and waves in tra­di­tional Chi­nese paint­ing and draw­ing, tex­tiles, crafts, and ar­chi­tec­tural de­sign. Some in­dige­nous cul­tures across the world also re­vere lingzhi. Lingzhi masks found in Peru and Bri­tish Columbia, Canada are be­lieved to have been worn for rit­ual events. Lingzhi pro­vides us a win­dow into the re­cip­ro­cal re­la­tion­ships with na­ture that per­me­ated ev­ery as­pect of hu­man life.

How did you cre­ate your lingzhi mush­room sculp­tures and what do they rep­re­sent?

I packed a mix­ture of ster­il­ized wood­chips and pre­pared lingzhi spores into the mould I cre­ated. The light, tem­per­a­ture, and hu­mid­ity are con­trolled to en­sure the ger­mi­na­tion of the spores. The spores then start to pro­duce mycelium. Ap­pear­ing as a se­ries of feath­ery webs, mycelium fills up the gaps be­tween the wood­chips, and it binds them to­gether, act­ing as a bind­ing agent. I then re­move the mould, and

the sculp­ture is now struc­turally in­tact, thanks to the ac­tiv­i­ties of the mycelium. I then placed it in a small green­house with a con­trolled growth en­vi­ron­ment. At this point, I stepped back and let the sculp­ture sculpt it­self.

The sculp­ture con­tin­ues to evolve as the mycelium de­vel­ops un­der the sur­face, and in a few weeks, the pin­heads of the lingzhi pop up, slowly fruit­ing into lingzhi fruit bod­ies. Af­ter about 3-4 months, the mush­rooms ma­ture and pro­duce a coco-pow­der-like dust­ing of spores on the sur­face of the sculp­ture.

This hy­brid bio-art ex­per­i­ment, which re­lies as much on sci­ence as it does on fate, seems to re­store some kind of bal­ance, with sci­ence and chance play­ing equal parts and with the hand of the artist, for the most part, at the side­lines. For me, it is im­por­tant that each side of this equa­tion has a chance to shine.

This body of sculp­tural works shows na­ture as the man­i­fes­ta­tion of un­con­trol­lable phe­nom­ena sup­port­ing a cy­cle of life that is dy­namic and in­ex­pli­ca­ble.

Please tell us about some of your other re­cent 3D art which have con­nec­tions to sci­ence and cli­mate change.

Many of my works have touched upon the top­ics of sci­ence and cli­mate change. Cloud Cell (shown to the right) is a hang­ing work made by sus­pend­ing 13,000 fresh­wa­ter pearls to cre­ate a curvi­lin­ear form, which was in­spired by Chi­nese scholar ’s rock, cloud, and smoke. Cloud Cell, as the ti­tle im­plies, the “cell” refers to the in­ser­tion of sci­ence into

na­ture, and its ever-more mi­cro­scopic ex­am­i­na­tion of its cel­lu­lar makeup, which refers to the for­ma­tion of cloud. The struc­tural dis­in­te­gra­tion of Cloud Cell res­onates with bi­ol­ogy and cos­mol­ogy im­agery, lead­ing to other paths of hu­man dis­cov­ery of the cos­mos. Clouds have long been as­so­ci­ated with longevity in Chi­nese cul­ture as the habi­tat of the im­mor­tals. How­ever, the form of the in­stal­la­tion also re­sem­bles a mush­room cloud, the af­ter­math of a nu­clear ex­plo­sion. Here, the du­al­ity of once peace­ful yet de­struc­tive is pre­sented to the viewer.

Moun­tain of Pines is a work made by pierc­ing thou­sands of dry pine nee­dles into silk or­ganza to form im­ages of moun­tain ranges. Pine is as­so­ci­ated with longevity in Chi­nese cul­ture. Since an­cient times, moun­tains have also been im­bued with spir­i­tual strength in the Chi­nese imag­i­na­tion as ex­pres­sions of the es­sen­tial en­ergy of na­ture. In­spired by the utopian scenes de­picted in tra­di­tional Chi­nese Shan­shui paint­ings, I as­sem­bled a contemplat­ive land­scape charged with sym­bol­ism.

Na­ture has played a more sig­nif­i­cant role in art in no other cul­tural tra­di­tion than in that of China. When we feel so pow­er­less in the face of nat­u­ral dis­tur­bance, look­ing back to our an­ces­tors and their re­la­tion­ship to na­ture can help us to re­flect upon and build re­silience us­ing nat­u­ral means.

Fi­nal thoughts

Xiao­jing Yan fuses in­spi­ra­tions from a back­ground in China with ex­pe­ri­ences set­tling in Canada, cre­at­ing imag­i­na­tive 3D art­work, such as her lingzhi mush­room bio-art sculp­tures which were in part sculpted by the work­ings of na­ture. Lingzhi mush­rooms have a deep cul­tural his­tory and sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance in Chi­nese cul­ture, but this does not mean her works are con­fined by cul­tural tra­di­tions. She brings her art into the mod­ern times, high­light­ing themes in cli­mate change and the world­wide en­vi­ron­ment through ex­per­i­men­tal prac­tice, as we par­tic­u­larly see in the art­works Cloud Cell and Moun­tain of Pines.

 ?? Image be­low: Lingzhi girl. cul­ti­vated lingzhi mush­room and wood chips, di­men­sion var­i­ous, 2015-2017.
© Xi­a­jo­ing Yan. All rights re­served. ??
Image be­low: Lingzhi girl. cul­ti­vated lingzhi mush­room and wood chips, di­men­sion var­i­ous, 2015-2017. © Xi­a­jo­ing Yan. All rights re­served.
 ??  ??
 ?? All rights re­served. Di­rectly above: Cloud Cell - Fresh­wa­ter pearls, monofil­a­ment thread, alu­minum, 96’’ x 45’’ x 45’, 2014. © Xi­a­jo­ing Yan. All rights re­served. ?? Top: Moun­tain of Pines pre­sented at ex­hi­bi­tion. Photo credit: Michael Love.
All rights re­served. Di­rectly above: Cloud Cell - Fresh­wa­ter pearls, monofil­a­ment thread, alu­minum, 96’’ x 45’’ x 45’, 2014. © Xi­a­jo­ing Yan. All rights re­served. Top: Moun­tain of Pines pre­sented at ex­hi­bi­tion. Photo credit: Michael Love.
 ?? Photo credit: Akira Dawn. All rights re­served. ?? Above: De­tail from Moun­tain of Pines.
Photo credit: Akira Dawn. All rights re­served. Above: De­tail from Moun­tain of Pines.

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