Juliann Wang is an artist working across many mediums to "create adventures that inspire individual curiosity across often generalized topics of implicit ethnicity, shared humanity, and an intrinsic inseparability with nature, to distill complex concepts into intimate, playful, and approachable experiences."
China Residencies: You were a Fellow at the Schoolhouse in April and May 2014. How did you first hear about their program, and what aspect of the program first caught your interest?
Juliann Wang: After completing over a year of research and development, exploring the increase in personal vehicle ownership in China, I wanted to find a residency to stay for a couple of months to create a new project. I was fortunate to find the Schoolhouse through the China Residencies website. The description captured my interest, saying "The purpose is to provide a low-key environment for fellows to create and think". Additionally, it is a joint American & Chinese run program that focuses as an ecological retreat.
CR: Did you apply with a specific project idea in mind, or were you looking for inspiration on the spot?
JW: Not necessarily, I had proposed a couple of ideas and went with the intention of being inspired.
CR: While there, you worked on several things, including temporary installation where you left a heart-shaped trail of leaves on the Great Wall. Tell us a bit about this work:
JW: As a Chinese native living in America I have a passion for both cultures. The leaves were collected from the area, and I had been interested in their role in the place and change of seasons. Mutianyu is truly a beautiful natural area full of life and nestled beneath the Great Wall. In recognizing the transient nature of the leaves, I wanted to express my heart felt gratitude and connection with the space and the Wall itself, knowing my time there was fleeting as well.
CR: You also re-created a traffic jam on a miniature scale, based on your exploration of personal vehicle ownership in China and printed different iterations on cars and makeshift transportation. Some of your work also alludes to the need to reconnect with nature, did the Schoolhouse’ quasi-rural setting complete with an organic vegetable farm yet right on the outskirts of Beijing’s sprawling urbanism, create an inspiring place to (re-)think your relationship with the environment?
JW: The intentionality of the Schoolhouse in re-cultivating a connection to the land has produced a very harmonious outcome. I found the hybridization of eastern and western architecture, thoughts, and philosophy with the landscape to be more than successful in providing a place of contemplation and release. To be just outside of Beijing and feel time slow down, smell the fresh air, and enjoy food grown in a sustainable way was nourishing in body and mind.
CR: Did you ever venture into the city, or did you spend your time mostly in Mutianyu?
JW: Most of my time was spent in Mutianyu.
CR: Tell us a bit about how the work you showed in the exhibition at the Schoolhouse, Where Ink Meets Sky, came about:
JW: Ever day I had walked between the neighbouring villages to reach my studio, interacting with the villagers going about their everyday life. A key feature of the area is it's production of chestnuts, and the trees are a major part of the landscape. With permission, I began selecting discarded trees and executed the arduous process of painting them. (I imagine much of the time I looked like a garbage picker, dressed in working clothes and dragging trees along the road back to the studio!) During this process I watched the changing sky through the trees as it dripped inky colors across the horizon, I felt the need to capture these moments hanging among the pungent smell of wood smoke. The land inspired me to create a space just as grand, that the viewer could literally walk into and explore. It also inspired a poem that was projected on the wall during the installation, that can be read at my website.
CR: What was The Schoolhouse like as a place to live and create work?
JW: The perfect place to be absorbed in work.
CR: Did you get the chance to meet other artists during your time there?
JW: Only briefly, as our time there overlapped just before I left.
CR: You’re originally from China, and are now based in Chicago, and you sometimes touch on issues of place and identity in some of your work. Has going back affected how you feel about where ‘home’ is?
JW: I don't know that it has changed my view, as this is always my question. I exist between both cultures, at once comprised of both while somehow belonging to neither.
CR: Are you interested in spending more time in China?
JW: Yes, of course! I am always looking for new opportunities that inspire me to create.
CR: Overall, what experience, adventure, or encounter will stay with you from this time?
JW: The super fun happy slide luge [at the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall] yes, definitely that. Most memorable were the people at the Schoolhouse itself, you know who you are, that were so helpful.This interview was conducted via email by Kira Simon-Kennedy for China Residencies.