Say It Loud

Xiang Jing x Karen Smith:

Karen Smith: What was you first experience of art?
Xiang Jing: My experience is fairly typical of the majority of artists in China. As a child, I liked to paint and draw, but did not receive any formal training. I was a good student, especially at Chinese language. When I decided to apply for the preparatory school attached to the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, my junior high school teachers thought it was a waste of my ability. It was generally assumed at that time that those pupils who went to art schools did so because they did not excel in any other area. However, I liked the idea very much, and was happy to win a place. It changed my life.

KS: Can you describe your memories of the 1980s, and how the experiences you accrued relate to the way in which your artistic expression evolved?
XJ: The 1980s had a huge impact on me, so much so that I can still its influence at work in my outlook today. I was younger then. I think the best way to make a comparison is to say that my experience of the 1980s was as life-changing as being part of the swinging sixties. It was a time when Chinese culture began to re-emerge, to reform, and to grow on all levels. It was as if we had suddenly awakened after a long sleep, and entered a new world, at once familiar and unfamiliar. At that time, we wanted to experiment with everything and believed we could do anything. The preparatory school was a boarding school, so I spent my entire time with my classmates, and we loved to hang out with students from the Central Academy. The school was near to the National Art Museum of China, and was also close to the People's Art Theatre and the Central Academy of Drama. I often went to see plays, both traditional and avant-garde. In terms of Chinese culture, the 1980s was a golden era; at least, to an observer like myself. To have these experiences at such an impressionable age had a profound impact on me: it shaped the way I think.

KS: Was part of this influence connected to your upbringing. I know that through your parents’ jobs you were exposed to many cultivated people, and heard discussions on ideas which people outside of intellectual or artistic circles would have encountered.
XJ: My father worked in the film world. He majored in