The Interplay Between Psychology and Visual Arts, NYC-based Artist Xuemeng Zhang

Xuemeng Zhang is a visual artist whose practice is driven by exploring connections between the mind and the eye. Her work navigates between self and identity, belonging and alienation, and perception and cognition. Zhang currently lives and works in New York. She holds an MFA in Photography, Video, and Related Media from the School of Visual Arts.

Zhang’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at Arte Laguna Prize Arsenale Nord (Venice, Italy), Untitled Art (Miami Beach, Florida), Kühlhaus Berlin (Berlin, Germany), Floor_ Gallery (Seoul, South Korea), ZAZ 10TS (New York, NY), and Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Philadelphia, PA).

P39, UV print on Dibond, Photo by Fan Yu, 2021

Thank you for joining us, Xuemeng. Can you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a visual artist who finds inspiration in the intricate connections between the mind and the eye. My explorations and experiences of the world manifest themselves through my work, which, while primarily focused on photography, also encompasses other mediums such as video, sculpture, and installation art.

P18, UV print on Dibond, 2022

What ideas are you exploring in your practice? Is there a theme you are currently addressing?

My work primarily explores themes of self and identity, belonging and alienation, as well as perception and cognition. These themes are heavily influenced by my background in psychology and art. One of my earlier projects, “Fantastic Worries,” delves into how the act of imagining unactualized events can provoke anxious feelings. This project was fundamentally an experiment, built on the hypothesis: if imagination can trigger apprehension, could it also serve as a tool to help us cope with our worries?

In my recent project, “Other Rooms,” I explore the brain’s methods of processing, storing visual information, and the imagined spaces that form within our minds. The interplay between psychology and visual arts is fascinating to me, as they both involve the transformation of intangible concepts into observable forms.

However, I don’t intend to limit my art practice to the ideas and themes I’ve currently explored. I’m always looking forward to expanding my creative horizons and evolving my expressive methods.

G14, UV print on Dibond, 2022

You have been very active during the past few years. What is the most exciting project that you worked on?

While every project offers its unique excitement and challenges, my project “Other Rooms,” which started in 2021, has been a particularly exhilarating long-term exploration. This project emerged from my observations of the increasing predominance of virtual communication in our lives. I was fascinated by how emotions and cognition arising from virtual interactions might diverge from those in face-to-face contexts. What impact would prolonged reliance on online communication have on our brains’ information processing mechanisms? How would our minds visualize and categorize this information?

The term “rooms” in the title symbolizes these ‘imagined spaces’ in our minds – an architectural structure of information, emotions, and perceptions cohabiting. During the project’s conceptual stage, I experimented with photographs, 3D wireframe models, and video projections. Eventually, I decided to employ photographs to construct and reshape the imagined spaces, using shape outlines as their skeletal framework and entrances.

B19, UV print on Dibond, 2022

Through “Other Rooms,” I sought to explore the formation and function of these imagined spaces and how individual perception shapes our interpretation of the world. While I present the imagined architectures I’ve built, I also invite viewers to think about how they might structure their own imagined spaces.

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

To me, a community represents a network of individuals who share commonalities and provide mutual support. It can exist either physically or virtually. Take ‘Li Tang’ for example, a virtual community that brings together Asian artists and serves as a platform to showcase our artwork. If we were to envision the world as a vast piece of paper, and each of us as a tiny dot on that paper, I see similarities as the lines connecting some of these dots together, forming unique shapes. These shapes could be perceived as communities. The size of these shapes can vary, but being part of a community gives us a sense of belonging, validation, and support.

G21, UV print on Dibond, Photo by Fan Yu, 2023

Is there any advice you would like to share with others?

I’d like to share a piece of advice I once received, which I find very inspiring: many challenges in the creative process might not be resolved by merely thinking through them, but by actively working through them. I often find myself spending considerable time contemplating problems and weighing the pros and cons of each potential solution. However, sometimes the most effective and efficient way to tackle a problem we encounter during the creative process is simply to dive in and address it head-on.

G11, UV print on Dibond, 2022

text & photo courtesy of Xuemeng Zhang

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