Following the news that 696 Weihai Lu complex is up for sale to property development, the writers of Bound Editorial hope to commemorate the space through conducting an interview series of the more prominent members of its art community. Below, Hunter Braithwaite interviews artist Maleonn.
When do you get your studio back?
The end of February, but they are tearing down 696. We will pack up the studio and move it to a new place. We’re exiled. It’s a sad story. We’re looking for a new place now.
Your installation featured your photographs, but it was mainly about the process of creation. Can you describe the process of how your work has evolved? You’ve done a lot of different series. What are you working on now?
Recently I’ve been making a documentary about moving my studio from Weihai Lu. In China everything is changing very fast. The government wants to make this a more commercial, gentrified space. They are renovating the buildings and increasing the rent. They want to change it to a fancy place like 8bridge. So we are leaving. Everything in China is like that. We want to become new, more commercial. This is a good topic for a series. My studio will be the background. It will be a joyful demolition. It’s a performance, but it’s actually real, so it’s also a documentary.
How did you come to this? The last series of yours I saw was White on White at 18gallery. These were found photographs in trays. Before that, your work was based on portraiture and costumes. How have you developed as an artist?
White on White was an experiment. For a long time, I’ve wanted to make artwork based on my photo collection. I collect old photos about Chinese peoples lives. In the future, I will try more to use old Shanghainese photos. You have a lot of collections. You collect photographs, props and your own work is about the subject collecting layers of identity through costuming… Every weekend I go to the antique market. There are many vendors that love to collaborate with me. They collect items from the garbage in the countryside and then sell it to me. Recently, I’ve been focusing on photographs.
I’m also obsessed with found photography. When my great grandmother died she left this suitcase of photographs that I had never seen. It was a hidden past. Why is there this fascination with photos that don’t belong to us?
Maybe in the West, it’s different. A lot of people will collect family photographs. But in China, everything changed too fast. A lot of people would just throw their photographs away. Now they’ve forgotten their memories. I can go to the market and buy them.
There are many reasons. Maybe you move and you lose your belongings. Sometimes they want to forget something. Or during the Cultural Revolution…many were hiding. They didn’t want people to discover that their family was rich, so they burned all of the documents and photos because they are evidence. They could prove you are guilty. We lost our memory. I want to do some work about that.
There’s a lot of theatre in your photography-the props, the costumes, this idea of acting. How does this affect your work?
I have some personal reasons. My first job after art school was a film art director. After that I was the commercial director for advertising. The other reason is my family. I was born in a performing artist family. My father was a drama director for the Beijing Opera. He was very important. My mother was a famous television actress. Before that she acted on stage. During my childhood, I played backstage every day. Before, Chinese people were very poor. We couldn’t afford a nanny or a servant, so my parents took me to work. Back then, everyone lived in areas according to their jobs. People who work in the factory all live together, people who work in art all live together. So my building was filled with artists. I would play with the children of dancers and painters. My very good friend’s mother worked at the cinema. In the summer I’d go every day for free.
What did you think of the Biennale?
It was a good way for Chinese people to experience new types of art. For a very long time, we loved art. We collected art. We lived with art. But over the past 100 years, poverty and revolutions took away this romance. We’re not clear about art anymore.
We mentioned collecting photographs. Do you collect anything else? Your studio is filled with these objects that seem to have hidden stories.
I think these things relate to memories. Everything has changed in my life. I’m 38. We always face forward, we never look back. Your life is the center. One part is the future, the other is the past. You need to find balance. I grew up in this city, but I feel like a stranger. I don’t know what happened in this city. I want to find a sign. I make souvenirs based on these traces of our lives. We’re lost in development. Lost in transportation.
There’s this book that was published for the Expo. It’s called “Shanghai: A Great City.” Very big book, very expensive. It has all of these old photos. But it’s the official government view. They want the foreigners to think one way about Shanghai. This isn’t bad, but most history focuses on great people. History ignores the normal people. I collect personal secrets.
Maybe not important, maybe small details, but for me it’s very important. I can find myself and find Shanghai.
Click here to read the full interview.