Yaolan Luo is a creative thinker, artist and curator, based between Guangdong, China and Amsterdam. She is making multimedia, intertwined with socio-political and technological contexts in current borderless society. Her practices range from books, filmmaking, visual objects and texts. She studied Art and Design at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, then received a Bachelor degree from Central Saint Martins College in London and her master of Information Design from Design Academy Eindhoven in the Netherlands. She co-founded Chuling (除零, Division By Zero) in 2018, an incubator and laboratory based in the Pearl River Delta Metropolitan Region for art and culture. Chuling is continuously evolving, in which she directs, focusing on curating and research in order to develop new models for enterprises and non-profit organizations. It’s dedicated to create objects, stories and values rooted in the hybridization of contemporary cultures.
Her recent exhibitions and activities include: 2020- Artist Residency, Swatch Art Peace Hotel (Shanghai, CN); 2019- Extended Views: From dusk to dawn (K11 Chi Art Space, Guangzhou, CN); 2018-Lost and Found in the Sights (The 5th Gallery, Zinitang Creative Center, Guangzhou, CN); 2017- In no particular order (Vanabbe Museum, Eindhoven, NL); 2015- Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism\Architecture (Shenzhen, CN); 2015- Thing, Nothing (Vanabbe Museum, Eindhoven, NL).
Can you tell us a little about your creative journey? What brings you to art?
Grew up in an art-loving family, I have always been obsessed with design, fashion, music, and film since childhood. My mother is practicing photography and Chinese ink arts, my father collects paintings and sculptures from his artist-friends. In my adolescence, they took me to exhibitions every weekend. I was dreaming that I could create my own works one day and live with the arts for the rest of my life. After being perplexed by my future career in high school, I eventually decided to take art and design as my major in the university. I was craving to learn everything and work really hard, in order to prove to my family that I made the right choice. When I was 20, I moved to London to accomplish my bachelor’s degree, then to Eindhoven and Amsterdam for graduate studies and working. Those years have shaped who I am today, so I treasure them a lot. I traveled and made friends around the world. I always keep my mind open and get inspiration from new things. Even though I was trained in design school, I wasn’t lucky enough to get an office job being a designer for clients and brands. A year after my master’s graduation, finishing some short-term jobs, I chose to build up my own studio because I got a sponsorship from the public fund in the Netherlands. It was a crucial period when I started to get serious about making art. I collaborate with people from different backgrounds and professions, to actively practice my personal creations, at the same time co-founded a start-up in my hometown. Those fragments in my creative journey keep evolving and push me forward at certain moments – it is adventurous and fulfilling, even though there’re many unexpected obstacles coming to me day by day. I am still fairly gratified with my multiple roles as a contemporary artist, curator, and creative director.
What is your art philosophy? What is the theme you are currently addressing?
I try to keep my “philosophy” fluid, as I don’t want to be fixed in a particular box and narrate a glorious story to fill up the forms. After editing my artist intro to the public for five years, I want to break up the rules and tear off the label. I embrace challenges, and I like to self-contemplate. I am emotional and sensitive, and I am also a thinker who likes to reason and give myself critiques. My artworks usually represent what’s happening in the complex real world associated with socio-political, technological issues, still, I would love to give them some eternal meanings. I got the result from a psychological test that a large part of me is constituted by a philosopher – I have gained great wisdom from the ancient sages like Artistotle and Zhuangzi. While I am editing a film-clip on my laptop or paint a stroke on the canvas, I shut down the rationality to let my instincts express and maintain the spontaneous values.
I am now studying semiotics, which provides theoretical support to my practices in filmmaking, scripts writing, as well as abstract paintings. Moreover, there’re a few keywords that guide me recently: hierarchy, randomness, power, and wildlife. These words are not directly correlated to each other, but they have influences on me which are embodied in my works.
You co-founded an incubator and laboratory called Chuling (Division By Zero) in Guangzhou, China. What is your idea behind this practice? Is there a picture you are presenting?
It’s an ambitious plan. When I studied the contemporary art in China with my business partners, I strongly recognized the colonization of the western power. I have been educated by the West European system and highly appreciate it. On the other hand, I am continually self-aware of my own identity due to the multi-cultural environments that I was living with for years. I feel like a responsibility for our generation to take actions in my country, firstly from my hometown – if I wasn’t doing anything, the society wouldn’t see it to make some changes.
Together with the team, we already planted the seeds – I play the curator/director role to create exhibitions and facilitate collaborations with individuals and institutions from the local community and abroad. We cultivate this land carefully and aim for a sustainable ecology. We want to make an impact for the next generations. We are located in the Pearl River Delta, but we foresee a global movement.
What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in your community?
It’s an essential part of contemporary life. Families, schools, companies, LGBT groups, fan clubs of music idols, online gaming partners, amateur football weekend squad, housewife cooking live broadcast studio, etc. – the form and volume of a community is diverse and changeable. There’re all kinds of tribes in this digital age, they are no longer purely defined by locations, nationalities, ethnics or gender. The boundary of a community becomes blurred so there’re many possibilities – I feel excited about it!
I belong to many communities, from schools to working in the industry, for instance, the yoga class, the university orchestra, the alumni club, the artist collective and my team for Chuling (Division By Zero) that’s still growing. I usually play the role of an organizer or designer for the society which I actively participate in, because I like to make things happen and communicate with the audience.
Do you have any advice to share with others as a creative practitioner?
Be honest to yourself. Follow your gut-feelings and work hard on your talents. What you’re trying to speak loud or disguise, will be reflected on your works and behaviors. This quality is extremely valuable that will make you shine.
Never give up. This is not a quote of cliché to success. I believe that if you choose arts or any other creative pathways, it will accompany with you in your whole life – consider it as the best buddy. It nourishes you like the air you’re breathing every day. I am not saying that you do not have to think about the reality like fortunes and fame – take a wise balance between each other.
Live a good life. I was rejecting this concept as a creative input a few years ago. I am often attracted by the darkness and once thought that artists have to experience frustrations, damages and sadness in order to get inspired. However, I gradually began to appreciate life and goodness around me. Eat well, play well, sleep well, and love others – I chose the light to conquer the gloominess. Once you could live a life that you feel contended about, sometimes with a sense of humor, what you create will deliver hopes and happiness.
text & photo courtesy of Yaolan Luo