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Guanyu Xu: NOC Artist Series

26 APR 2024

In the recent instalment of our Art Series, we speak to Chinese artist Guanyu Xu. His work, ‘Parents’ Bedroom’ is currently on display in our Whampoa store until June 2024.

'Parents' Bedroom', Series: Temporarily Censored Home, Archival Pigment Print, 2018, Guanyu Xu

1. Can you briefly introduce ‘Parents’ Bedroom’ to us through your lens?

‘Parents’ Bedroom’ is a photo installation that holds personal significance for me, as it was created within my parents’ home, where I spent most of my teenage years. I created this temporary protest to transform the apartment and reclaim it as my own.

Eventually, it becomes a combination of physical and energy transformation of the space because the space that we surround ourselves with influences our body and how we think.

This piece in NOC Whampoa is particularly significant because it was one of the photographs that I felt most anxious to make. It really felt like I was violating their privacy, their safe space, and also their heterosexuality. What I really thought about when making this project was how the larger political structure affects family relationships and individual freedom for marginalised people.

'HI-11182013-06302023', Series: Resident Aliens, Archival Pigment Print, 2023, Guanyu Xu

2. Did this project change your perception of your childhood home?

Absolutely. Creating these photographs was an exciting experience that pushed me to take risks and reclaim my old home as my own space. Although I haven’t physically visited the home since then, the images of my work within the space have become my new memory. It’s an interesting feeling to have this transformed perspective.

'The Dining Room', Series: Temporarily Censored Home, Archival Pigment Print, 2018, Guanyu Xu

3. What inspired you to start the ‘Temporarily Censored Home’ project?

The work is inspired by a book called ‘Queer Phenomenology’ by Sarah Ahmed. The book explores how our bodies react to space and how the environment influences our relationships with others.

An example is when women go to work, the air conditioning temperature is set to be much colder than they want, because the temperature is decided by men as men’s skin temperature is slightly higher than women’s. So this relates to how the space is designed for certain people, but not marginalised people. This realisation prompted me to transform my parents’ apartment, making it a space that truly reflects and accommodates my identity.

'Inside of My Drawer', Series: Temporarily Censored Home, Archival Pigment Print, 2019, Guanyu Xu

4. Why do you use image collages in your work?

To me, images create desire and transmit ideology. My work is all about how we negotiate with the meaning of images. You create your own connection between images, so I encourage the viewer to think about the meaning more fluently. Almost like our identity which is constantly shifting when we navigate different spaces. We don’t have to be confined to a single identity.

Conservative ideologies always want you to believe that you belong to one identity, one nationality. If you’re a man, you need to be a man. They want you to only fit into one particular idea. So to me, multiple images allow openness for possibility. It’s about how we understand the idea of representation.

5. Where do you find a sense of home?

Having grown up in China, then moving to the US and constantly travelling, I’ve come to realise that feeling safe and unthreatened by others is what makes a place feel like home to me. I like to walk around by myself, so anywhere that I can dive into my own thoughts and allow me to wander, I feel at home.

'AK-08102008-05032021' , Series: Resident Aliens, Archival Pigment Print, 2021, Guanyu Xu

6. Did your personal values change after moving from China to Chicago?

Definitely. Moving to Chicago, particularly attending the School of Art Institute, had a profound impact on my personal values. It taught me compassion, allowed me to see the world more clearly, and nurtured my growth as an artist who cares about social issues.

7. We know a lot of your work revolves around your sexuality. At what point did you realise you were gay?

I recall a moment when my aunt took me to see Batman in Beijing. Uma Thurman’s portrayal of Poison Ivy, a character who could seduce men, left an impression on me. At around six or seven years old, I found myself wishing I could be like Poison Ivy because I liked Batman’s buddy, Robin. Although I didn’t fully understand the implications at the time, this could be considered an early realisation.

8. It must’ve been hard keeping something so big from your parents. Any advice for others facing similar challenges?

The most important thing is to find your own support structure. It doesn’t have to be your parents. It could be your relative, your cousin, your friends, or even people you meet online.

'Interior Border Checkpoint, Niland, CA', Series: Traversable Landscape, Archival Pigment Print, 2023, Guanyu Xu

9. What role do you believe artists play in society and how do you hope to make an impact?

I think about artists as cultural workers. We create culture through expressing our ideas, concerns, sense of beauty, and aesthetics.

Through our creations, we forge connections and provide historical evidence that illuminates the human experience. As an artist, I aim to shape and communicate ideas, engaging with diverse audiences who may resonate with or learn from my work.

'The New Threshold (Interior Border Checkpoint, Niland, CA)', Series: Traversable Landscape, Archival Pigment Print, 2023, Guanyu Xu

10. What do you love most about Hong Kong?

The street scene, and the life of the people here. I really like to take complex compositions of city views here, and walk around different neighbourhoods. The liveliness of the markets is really a unique and different feeling.

11. Lastly, but definitely not least, how do you take your coffee?

Similar to my personal aesthetic, I like my coffee simple, but with a complex flavour. My go-to choice is pourover as it allows for subtle flavours to shine. Like an art form, the taste is influenced by factors such as the origin and roasting of the coffee beans, as well as the barista’s technique.

About Guanyu Xu

Artist Guanyu Xu grew up in Beijing as an only child of conservative parents. As a teenager, Xu was forbidden from hanging posters on his bedroom walls, resulting in a stash of film and fashion magazines hidden from view. Today, the artist’s practice utilises the power of photography, installation and performance in question of personal freedom and relationship to politics. As a Chinese gay man, his fractured identity inspires his work of reinterpreting images and paving way for growth.

Guanyu Xu’s Temporarily Censored Home series is now on view in group exhibitions at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, International Center of Photography New York, UCCA Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, and Harvard Art Museums.

Website: https://www.xuguanyu.com/

Instagram: @xuguanyu

Image Credit: Courtesy of the artist and Galerie du Monde, Hong Kong.

Contributor: Katelyn Cheng

Katelyn is a freelance art contributor based in Hong Kong. Between her diverse passions and experiences, she finds joy in the little things and sharing her appreciation of beauty with others. However, when she’s not immersed in the arts, sciences, or anticipating her next adventure, you will find her drinking a Mango Cold Brew Tea – her go-to beverage at NOC. ‘It’s cool and revitalising experience makes it the perfect drink to reach for in between my busy schedule.’