Speak with your heart|JUJU WANG: My hometown is Shanghai

From Berkeley Alumni / Published on 12/20/2019

PrefaceThe seventh lecture in the “Speak with Heart” series is a great honor to invite Chinese-American installation artist JUJU WANG. Born in Shanghai, China, her works combine Eastern and Western aesthetics. She is good at extracting creative inspiration from traditional culture and nature, and combines it with contemporary art methods for artistic expression. Her art installations “House of Clouds” and “Palasee” have attracted widespread attention at home and abroad. JUJU’s artistic concepts and works have also been favored by many international first-line brands including Acqua di Parma, AP, Canda Gosse, Dior, Givenchy, Swarovski, Tiffany, YSL, etc., and they have been invited to carry out various forms of cross-border cooperation with the brands.  In 2019, she was awarded the “Swarovski Designer of the Future” award, one of three in the world. In the same year, the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai awarded her the “Future Leader of the Year” award.

Use artistic techniques to do engineering

SimpliCity Heart City:After studying engineering abroad for more than ten years, how did you start your art career?JUJU WANG:I attended Engineering Academy in high school in the United States. I had a very good teacher at that time who had a great influence on me. He will use a special artistic approach to teach us to do engineering, instead of drawing pictures on the computer which is very boring. He was more interested in teaching us how to use our imagination, so I became particularly interested in engineering at that time. Later I went to the University of California, Berkeley (UC Berkeley) to study civil engineering, or aerospace engineering in transportation engineering. Originally, I really hoped to continue studying for a PhD. I even went to NASA for an internship in college. My original employment direction should have been to do work related to aircraft flight control.
I was very lucky after returning to China. At that time, the Hermès Maison Shanghai project in Shanghai needed a project assistant who was fluent in Chinese and English and who knew engineering. I happened to meet the requirements, so I participated in this big project. As soon as I returned to China, I Worked there for two years. The building that the Hermès House wants to renovate and repair is a historical building from the early 20th century, and its exterior cannot be moved. There are two subways below the building, which will cause settlement problems. There are also a primary school, a fire station, and a century-old French building at the door. In Wutong, construction is particularly difficult. In addition, the requirements of the brand are very high, and I learned a lot from working with top teams in China and France to create. In this project you can see the combination of Chinese and Western design, the combination of historical architecture and modernity. Therefore, many of my current works use traditional handicrafts to make relatively modern things. Looking back, they are actually influenced by the time.

Hermès Maison Shanghai, Hermès Maison Shanghai

Good works can make people feel emotions
SimpliCity Heart City:You seem to be very interested in traditional Chinese culture. Why do you like these traditional techniques and patterns so much?
JUJU WANG:I particularly like handmade things. After coming into contact with these materials, I will imagine the creative process behind it, or how this history is passed down. Everything that comes out of the factory looks the same, with no trace of handwork, but behind the craftsmanship is the core and essence of tradition. All of my pieces are one piece and they have to feel like there is a story and emotion behind them.

Visit the palace, Palasee

Window panes have the function and aesthetic appeal of “separation but continuity” in traditional Chinese architecture and life. They not only ensure the independence of space, but also provide a sense of visual penetration and extension. The installation is based on the image of the window pane of the Dacheng Palace door, and is inspired by gauze. The projection is engraved on modern acrylic materials, forming a light-transmitting barrier. Between the screen-like “palace door” and the real palace door, a corridor of light and shadow is formed that is both real and illusory. The hazy overlay effect makes the Dacheng Palace even more majestic and creates a “avoidance” momentum.

It doesn’t matter how other people interpret my artwork is different from what I originally wanted to express, because everyone’s experience is different. For example, when I saw my work “House of Clouds”, many people thought it was very romantic and dreamy. Some said it took them back to their childhood. Others said they felt a little lonely after watching it. I think this has something to do with people’s state of mind at the time. related.

House of Clouds

The installation is “space, material and emotion”, which is just one word different from the “space, material and function” that I learned from studying engineering. I prefer to put perceptual emotions first compared to function. Many times my works are “beautiful but useless” because I think good works can make people feel emotions.

Brands and artists need to respect each other
SimpliCity Heart City:How to develop your own artistic concepts under the client’s proposition?
JUJU WANG:When a brand selects an artist, it is actually a two-way selection process. For example, the brand’s concept still needs to be in line with my values. In turn, I will try my best to complete the brand’s proposition within the limited time and budget. A good cooperation should be Mutual understanding and respect.
Take Swarovski for example. Before I came into contact with it, I thought it was a very fast and fashionable brand. After going to their headquarters for in-depth communication, I discovered that this is a brand that supports environmental protection and is very low-key. Their factory is in Wattens, Austria, a place as beautiful as a fairy tale world. What surprised me the most was their contribution to environmental protection. For example, they have set up their own Swarovski Waterschools around the world, providing education to 500,000 young people through 2,400 schools around the world. Water conservation education, while ensuring that crystals do not pollute water resources during production.

Image source http://www.swarovskiwaterschool.com/

Ms. Nadja Swarovski, Chairman of the Swarovski Foundation, pays close attention to and supports women and artists. I am honored to receive the 2019 “Swarovski Designer of the Future” award and become the first Chinese artist to receive this award in thirteen years.

Shanghai will always be my harbor
SimpliCity Heart City:
After living abroad for many years and then returning to Shanghai, what is your different experience?
JUJU WANG:Shanghai gives me a very international and market-like feeling. The feeling here is that it is very “certain”. When I hear someone speaking Shanghainese next to me, it makes me feel safe. Even if I don’t go anywhere, this feels like home and is a harbor for me. I’ve been to many cities and none of them gave me this feeling.
After watching the clip directed by Xu Zheng in “My Motherland and Me”, I vaguely remembered that my childhood was like this. Everything in the alley is very close to each other. You brush your teeth and wash your face together. Things are thrown here and there. You can just grab a rice bowl and go to someone else’s house to eat. The first floor of Shikumen is for eating, and the upstairs is for sleeping. Even though I am abroad, my family and I have always spoken Shanghainese. My husband is also from Shanghai, so I have always spoken Shanghainese very well. Sometimes when I go back to the United States, I feel that the pace of development there is relatively slower.
Shanghai’s rapid development is not only about urban renewal, but also about allowing people to enjoy a more convenient life and making our thinking more avant-garde. But at the same time, everyone will also realize that the value of traditional culture needs to be preserved, so the decoration of many new hotels emerging in Shanghai is very simple, paying more attention to natural texture. I think Shanghai’s development has two sides. Because of the city’s inclusive spirit, it doesn’t necessarily have to be glittering or particularly futuristic to be modern. There are many people in Shanghai who are high-end and down to earth. I think this is a reflection of the avant-garde.

SimpliCity Heart City:You recently co-branded a City Sense urban exploration guide about Shanghai. Can you share how you, as an artist, explore the city?
JUJU WANG:Canada Goose selects an artist in each city to create a City Sense urban exploration guide. I selected six places in Shanghai that I thought were particularly great after personal experience. For example, Jinmao Tower Skywalk, yacht rides at Shiliupu Pier, Jing’an Sculpture Park, etc.
Another place that I particularly like is Chongming Island. I really like the cedar forest in Yiqinyuan. These tall trees will show different colors in different seasons. The ancestors planted trees, and the descendants enjoy the shade. It takes 60 years for the saplings to grow into the towering trees they are now. The sunlight is captured through the forest canopy, and the four seasons show different light and shadow. I take my family there once a month, and sometimes I stay at a local aunt’s house so that I can eat farm food picked by myself, my daughter can ride a bicycle, and my husband can go fishing. It’s hard to imagine that there is such a paradise just over an hour’s drive from Shanghai.

Light and shadow of ancient treesBlack can also express warmth
SimpliCity Heart City:
As a woman with a successful career and family, can you share with us your work and life status?

I am a very optimistic person, and this energy will be reflected in my works. The experience of growing up in Eastern and Western cultures can help me present and spread China’s traditional aesthetics from an international perspective.
At the same time, I’m trying to slow down. Although I have many meetings or activities to attend every day, I actually enjoy being busy in the studio making things. If you have to interrupt to attend a meeting halfway through, it will be difficult to find the energy at the moment when you come back. 

Regarding family, although I am very busy at work during the day, I will try my best to go home for dinner every day and find time to spend with my daughter. My daughter is only in grade two this year, and her favorite color is black. Maybe it’s because I prefer wearing black clothes. I read an interview with Takashi Murakami. He said that he likes to use bright colors to express darkness. I think I am the opposite of him. I want to use black to express warm things. Every time I come back from a business trip, I will find a piece of paper written by my daughter I LOVE YOU MOMMY on my bedside. This kind of love and warmth can make me more motivated at work.
This article is compiled based on the on-site interview with Ms. JUJU WANG.