Navigating the labyrinth that is M50 can be an intimidating as the bronze robots emerging from one of its galleries, but no fear: Shanghaiist is here to help, starting with introducing you to some of the artistic figures you’ll see wandering in and out.
Luo Yonjin, for example, is one of the old guard: he has been working as a photographer and all-around patron for the arts for the last 20 years. He’s best known for his mosaic pieces, in which he takes pictures of the same subject over a long period and splices them with each other to create a piece that, to him, transcends time. We caught up with him and asked him about his inspirations, and the difficulties of being in artist in China.
Luo Yonjin’s photographs can be seen at the Ofoto gallery, 2F, Building 13, 50 Moganshan Rd.
Why be an artist?
I was eight years old – my brother and his friend enjoyed drawing, especially figures from ancient stories – fighting, books, horses. The Monkey King. I liked that.
And then, I obtained foreign pictorials, which we couldn’t get in China before, with masters of documentary photographs. I liked how you could express yourself and narrative through these images, which is when I became interested in photography.
When did you decide to pursue art?
I majored in English in University – and then, I enrolled in art school.
Did you parents know?
[laughs] No, they didn’t. They were not happy at first, but I think they are now satisfied with what I do. My family supports me. My brother, who was a clerk in Beijing, gave me my first camera – a Seagull 4B.
What is it like being an artist in China?
There’s not much of a market for art. Mostly foreigners, I think, are interested in buying Chinese contemporary art. People are getting richer in China, but many who have money are only interested in buying art from well-known artists, so it really helps to be famous. It’s like getting a fancy car.
But, for the rest, it is difficult to just be an artist – and many cannot be. I, myself, am also a teacher in Shanghai’s Art Academy. Most artists here cannot just be artists. I think, though, that it makes it interesting. They are making art purely for self-expression and pleasure and passion, and I think they are more experimental. Some, of course, are like businessmen, only doing what is trendy and trying to be one of those famous artists. But others are experimenting.
What does the art scene in Shanghai need?
More experimentation. Many students need to figure out how not to just use the techniques they learn at art academy and to do their own art. Traditionally, the techniques are very strict.
Take calligraphy — you have to hold the pen this way, have to move to the right, have to move left, up then down. It’s very tempting just to follow these rules, because students are often paid to just use those techniques. But that’s not really what creates art.
Among 600 students at my academy, maybe 5 are really in love with the craft of photography.
Do you think it is changing?
Yes. Now there are just more choices – people can see, read, and hear things. And that’s what they need. To hear, to see.