curator, artist, art journalist and poetry translator
July 12, 2018
TUSSLE: How has your role as an artist evolved in the New York Art scene?
Tansy Xiao: I’m a curator, artist, art journalist and critic, as well a poetry translator.
When I first moved here I didn’t plan on being anything other than a spectator, just like the way I was in any other place. But then a casual thing turned serious, I think I’m now in a committed open relationship with New York. That summer fling with London was fun, but New York is whom I can fart in front of, who is aloof enough to only respond to my desires with an indifferent promise, a promise of rejuvenating from the ruins over and over again.
There are still sincere art and authentic artists but I doubt if true art criticism still exists, and art without boundaries just like any lawless land creates a dystopia rather than an utopia.
TUSSLE:. Does your curatorial practice and art practice relate or do you view them as two separate entities?
Tansy: I’m an artist turned curator just because there’s no space to create work, so I create opportunities and space instead. I used to travel a lot and I still live in the echoes of traveling. I guess the same rule applies to art/curatorial practice. I do have a particular taste as a curator, and I’m often drawn to artists who had multiple cultural influences, those who do not focus on a singular event, issue or narrative but commenting or questioning the general human condition. My own work in a way respond to that. In my video installation Domestic Language, I used a computer generated script read by real actors, with a concrete narrative written strictly following the three-act structure. It’s a Wittgensteinian idea of language, and that it implies the incapability of communication. A recent curatorial project of mine at Brooklyn Art Library on the other hand is a multilingual poetry reading event that invites people to interpret the same poems in different spoken and artistic languages before its meaning is finally revealed in English, to leave room for the emotions to burst in an instinctual way, also to see how the dynamic varies from language to language. Paul Celan once claimed: “The language with which I make my poems has nothing to do with one spoken here, or anywhere.” Putting aside its political undertone in his original context (Celan was a German Jew whose family were murdered by the Nazi while he insisted that poets should only write in their native tongue), that says a lot about how poetic language, or any language functions. And to me the concepts in art are the same. Before they’re loaded with social political codes, they are ultimately human. I’m not suggesting that art or poetry are exceptions and excluded from their cultural context, in fact they are speaking out loud of their time without being conscious about it, and they reveal a certain contradictoriness. But for me that’s more of a natural phenomenon than an intentional, targeting move. If there are some similarities, that shall be it. Both my artworks and curatorial projects embrace the fact that the Tower of Babel will never be built, yet there is beauty in the powerlessness of it.
TUSSLE: Your art artwork has an interconnectedness with performance. What is your process when developing an idea for an artwork?
Tansy: I guess it’s always a question whether the concept or the visual comes first. You’re right, a lot of my works were inspired by theater and performance. There is a documentary called Spettacolo about an Italian village that turns their everyday life into a play every year. There is a performative nature in life. Artworks just stage them in a different way. The point is how one frames it. It is the framing or the staging that presents the theatrical unity.
At first there is the incapability and powerlessness, then there is the acceptance of them. Art is something that comes after the reconciliation, the storytelling after knowing the end.
TUSSLE: You mention in your bio that you traveled extensively before moving to NYC. What have you collectively gathered about the art world in your travels and what would you like to see done differently?
Tansy: Hah, I think that’s a first world question in a way. I was a bit nomad and I painted impromptu murals in exchange for food and accommodation during my travels. The saddest thing that I saw would probably be other cultures taking efforts to mimic Western contemporary art, in order to speak the same language as what is called mainstream, because it is where the market is at. But on the other hand a culture without change has no authenticity to it, it’s just dead. I’ve noticed the compulsory political contents being the new exoticism in the Western market, and had that been a huge influence on what’s visible and what’s not at major art institutions almost everywhere as long as there is a contemporary art scene (our definition of “contemporary” is as well a problematic one--a privileged one). But still, in some cultures, many of them actually, art is still an enshrined, or less disillusioned high-modernist idea. What do I wish to see done differently? The commodification of art that resulted in the assimilation of the art scenes globally? Art has its struggles in every culture, some against capitalism some against censorship, some simply against the lack of funds. Mighty things thrive from them. However in the everlasting conflicts, one would, if not yet, eventually become more and more like their enemies.
TUSSLE: What projects are you working on this summer?
Tansy: The multilingual poetry reading event as I briefly introduced before. Might work on some stage design in collaboration with my musician friends for an experimental opera. Preparing on an early stage for a new show called The Map And The Territory, trying to extend the idea beyond political geography and to interpret the human cognition of boundaries in many different fields.