Interview with Jiang Feng
江峰 Jiang Feng is a non-gendered and multi-disciplinary artist working across-genres in movement/dance, theatre, performance art, voice, text, modeling, film, photography, and theory. She is one of the winners of the open call by wendy.network “Radical Empathy”. In this interview, I explore their artistic practice, his artwork “U.S. Unwholesome Shelter” and their personal outlook on empathy.
What is your background? How did you become an artist? How did it all start?
I started my artistic journey with dance. Back in 2010, I joined a dance club even though I was majoring in English and Chinese literature, so I wasn’t that focused on art. But then, when I was about to graduate, I wanted to continue as an artist, so I moved to New York City to study performance art (between 2016 and 2019). And after 2019, I came back to Taiwan and since then I mainly teach and sometimes create. That’s the short story!
Your work revolves around gender, sex, and race – where does the inspiration come from? Is it your personal experiences or the experiences of others you encounter?
My creations usually come directly from personal experiences, because for me art is a personal healing process. It’s usually about the issues I’m dealing with at the time of creation, so there’s a direct connection to my own life. That’s when, I believe, art can be genuine. So I don’t really create art based on fiction.
Are you aiming to create a healing space for others as well, or are you primarily focused on your own personal healing?
I think it depends on the work itself: Mostly if it’s related to sex, it’s more about personal healing and growth, but if it’s about racial politics, I would try to relate more to other people.
Your ideology that you state on your website is “Family-Unfriendly”. Can you comment on it?
When I lived in The US, I had been attending international artistic activities that would usually use the term “Family- friendly”. In the US, people care about “Family-friendliness” a lot. Unfortunately, most of my work revolves around sex and sexuality, so I felt like I was being rejected and pushed out of a lot of organizations and settings. So I got really curious about what “Family-friendliness” means and who gets to decide what is friendly to the family? Well, I think they mean children, but then I was really curious about how adults control what children see? I was curious about the whole culture, so I just coined the term “Family-Unfriendly”.
The photo series that you entered in the “Radical Empathy” open call with is called “U.S. Unwholesome Shelter”. Does your inspiration for it come from the time you lived in The US?
Yes, it was my last project in The New York, which had meaning for me: I wanted to make something that connected with other people. It was the first photography project I ever did and it was a very interesting experience because I worked with a lot of different people from different cultures, races, and sexual orientations. The participants did not identify themselves as models, I would call them “performers”.
Were there any challenges you faced because the participants were not professional models?
I was surprised at how many people actually showed up because I had just posted on Facebook saying that I was doing this project about racial politics. It was actually a good thing that these people were not professional models because I didn’t really want them to be beautiful models, I just wanted them to present their bodies and their stories. During my own modeling practice, I spent most of my time trying to defy mainstream beauty, and I never really tried to fit into that structure.
The interesting thing was that because the performers had no professional experience, my direction was really important in the whole process. Even though they might have had feelings, emotions, and backstories, they didn’t necessarily know how to showcase them. So the main challenge for me was, “how to elicit the background story of a person just with one photo?” and also, “how can I capture it with my eye?” because I was just starting out in photography at the time.
Another interesting thing about the project is that when I got back to Taiwan, it inspired my own “Non-traditional Modelling” course which is a combination of my dancing background, meditation, modeling experience.
How do you connect your artwork “U.S. Unwholesome Shelter” to the idea of “Radical Empathy” which was inspired by a novel created in 1999 by Michael Mastrototaro – the founder of wendy.network?
It can be tied back to what I said about capturing other people’s emotions and backgrounds. I think in mainstream photography people really try to fit in and recreate the “beauty standard” and to me, that can be very boring. I really wanted to explore what a photographer can capture in terms of other people’s emotions. “How can I be empathetic through a camera lens?” “How can I be in sync with the performers?” not just as an outsider. When I do modeling myself, I really try to connect with whoever is watching me instead of me just trying to be “pretty”. For me, it’s all about how can people connect to each other. “Radical” for me symbolizes breaking down and restructuring what photography and beauty should be: showing different body types, stories, racial backgrounds. It’s about breaking down rules and structures by being empathetic.
Do you think empathy is something you can learn and develop or it’s something one is born with (or not)? What was your process towards empathy?
I think it can certainly be learned. You can learn empathy through artistic practice as for me art is all about communication and connection. Also, reading both academic and non-academic texts is very important. It helps opening myself up to different perspectives and not being stuck to one perspective. Finally, it’s reasoning and taking the time to think and consider. Reading, thinking, and creating are all important components to becoming empathetic.
What kind of art are you working on right now, if at all? What is your focus?
My last performance happened almost two years ago. My artistic practice is based on intuition meaning that I need to have something to say at that moment. I don’t push myself to say anything if I don’t feel it. After I came back to Taiwan, I started to focus on teaching and creating my own practices and courses. To me, right now, it’s an artistic practice that is a lot about creation, combining different mediums into a new system. Also, it keeps evolving as I meet and hear new people, which is also artistic. To me, creating art doesn’t have to result into a physical product.
Why did you decide to join wendy.network?
When I see opportunities, I tend to grasp them. It’s just my instinct as a creator and an artist. I was curious what kind of conversations I can have with other artists as I find value in these conversations for me and for my artistic practice.
His performance works have been presented at various venues, including Itinerant Performance Art Festival, Movement Research at the Judson Church, conference hosted by the University of Arizona, Exponential Festival, Dance Research Forum Ireland, HOT! Festival at Dixon Place, New Work Series at Tada! Theater, Gibney Dance, La MaMa Galleria, Waxworks at Triskelion Arts, BAAD!, Hudson Guild Theater, and Odyssey Dance Theater in Singapore. Furthermore, their works have been shown in Germany, Bulgaria, and Hungary in various artistic scenarios. In Taiwan, she has worked with emerging choreographers Shiou Fen Li and KoYang Chang, and has performed at the National Theater and Concert Hall, NTU Center for the Arts, Nadou Theatre, Treasure Hill, Venue, amongst other venues.
More information about the artist here.
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