Between Play and Labor, Brooklyn-based Sculptor and Installation Artist Huidi Xiang

Huidi Xiang (b. Chengdu, China) is an artist and researcher who is currently based in Brooklyn, NY, USA. She holds an MFA in Art from Carnegie Mellon University (2021) and a BA in Architecture and Studio Art from Rice University (2018). In her practice, Huidi makes sculptural objects, installations, and systems to examine world-making processes and the coexistence of multiple contexts and narratives in late capitalism. Her current work explores the spatial and temporal effects of inhabiting both the virtual and physical worlds.

Huidi’s works have been exhibited internationally, including OCAT Biennale, Shenzhen, China; Hive Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, China; Contemporary Calgary in Calgary, Canada; LATITUDE Gallery in New York, USA; and Miller ICA in Pittsburgh, PA, USA. Huidi has also attended some artist residency programs, including the NARS Foundation International Artist Program (2022), ACRE Residency Program (2021), the Millay Colony for the Arts (2020), and Project Row Houses Summer Studios (2016).

My Playbench in the Workground, installation, 2021

We’d love to hear how the journey has been so far, Huidi. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I was born and raised in Chengdu, China, and I am currently based in Brooklyn, New York, USA. I came to the United States in 2014 to pursue my undergraduate studies in Architecture, where I started to pay close attention to the built environment and designed objects around me. And while I was still in architecture school, I began to create some sculptural objects as an alternative way of exploration. Then, I gradually felt that these objects I had been making on the side became a more authentic way of expression for myself. So I decided to go to grad school to further develop my artistic language. The interdisciplinary program I attended gave me a lot of freedom to experiment with different things. Now, I primarily practice as a sculptor, mainly making sculptural objects and installations, but my work also incorporates various mediums and ways of expression.

I Am Sorry but the Elephant Slide Slid., 3D printed wood PLA, 3D printed general PLA, wood pattern printed on clear acetate, cement, MDF, wood, duct tape, 36″ x 18″ x 18″, 2021

What is your practice about? Do you have a specific theme or topic in your practice?

In my art practice, I make sculptural objects, installations, and systems to probe the spatial and temporal effects of inhabiting both virtual and physical worlds in late capitalism. I am interested in the constant wrestlings, negotiations, and translations between the virtual digital contexts and the tangible sensorial world we occupy with our bodies in an era dominated by onscreen and networked experiences. Through reinterpreting elements from different on- and off-line contexts in my life, I create work to construct a realm in-between, intending to cultivate alternative narratives to illustrate and fathom emerging politics and critical issues associated with the ever-expansive merging between the physical and the virtual, the real and the simulated, and the fact and the fiction in today’s world.

My current research focuses on the complex interplay between play and labor in our contemporary life, where the boundaries between these two are increasingly blurred. It seems like the combination of play and labor can make both more productive and fun. Yet new exploitative logic in the guise of fun, self-engaged, and self-actualization emerges. Starting from my own exhausting and work-like gaming experience while playing life simulation video games, my research topics now include the laborious gaming culture, game worker, alienated play, the notion of gamification, the burnout culture, and the growing virtual telematic economies. Using a sculptural language, I intend to construct a personal ontology to articulate my idiosyncratic experience and research, with the aim to understand the more extensive renewed labor structure in late capitalism.

“Then I’ll Huff, and I’ll Puff.”, 3D printed wood PLA, 3D printed general PLA, drawings printed on clear acetate, cement, MDF, wood, tube, wheels, modified Maneki-Neko. 36″ x 52″ x 48″, 2021
O(0,0,0,0), 3D printed general PLA, MDF, wood, wheels, 20″ x 45″ x 10″, 2021

You’ve been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting thing you’ve done or accomplished so far?

One of the most exciting things is that I participated in a residency hosted by Ender Gallery, an exhibition space and artist residency that exists inside the game Minecraft. Prior to this residency, I had never played this game before. So it was quite a learning adventure for me. In my residency project, titled “How to be an artist in Minecraft,” I created replicas of my artist studio (both physically and in another video game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons) and attempted to live a parallel artist life in Minecraft. Taking on the role of an artist-laborer in the game, I also kept a detailed log of my every activity on the server for the residency period, creating a visual data record or ledger for the increasingly overlapping contexts of play and labor in video games – as well as serving to concretize my labor as an artist. This residency was so much fun, and it also fed into my research focusing on the renewed labor structure in late capitalism.

See Shovel Saw, 3D printed wood PLA, 3D printed general PLA, wood pattern printed on clear acetate, cement, MDF, wood, bolt, wheels, 72″ x 24″ x 18″, 2021

What does “community” mean to you? How do you see yourself in a community?

For me, a community is where I can both thrive and contribute. A community is a safe space full of care and inspiration. I think the making of art tends to be a solitary practice, but living in our present world of uncertainty and precarity, we need to make connections more than ever. I am lucky enough to have a sense of belonging in many different communities. I hope I can take a more active role in providing support in my communities in the future.

Cheese Column, site-specific kinetic installation, 2019

Is there any topic or theme you’ve been particularly interested in lately?

Recently I have been interested in toy tools. This interest is part of my research on the increasingly blurry boundaries between play and labor. By looking closely at toy tools that are targeted at children and tools appearing in cartoon animation, I am exploring the idea of toys as educational tools and the concept of ludification, a process that injects playfulness and gamefulness (game structures) into other aspects of our life.

Cheese Column, site-specific kinetic Installation, 2019

Do you have any advice that you would offer to others?

Documentation of the work is very important. Make sure you get good shots with clarity, and archive them carefully. Also, keep your website updated on time, and put your email address somewhere very obvious on your website or your social media page. I know not every artist wants a website, but it can be convenient for people to learn about your practice. It also comes in handy when applying for residencies or fellowships.

text and photos courtesy of Huidi Xiang

Instagram: huidixiang

Author: Adrian D. Cameron

Conservatory-trained theatre artist developing methods and techniques devoted to modern approaches in performance

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