JIN WEI is completing his Sculpture MA at the Slade following a BA at the Glasgow School of Art. He works across the disciplines of sculpture, drawing and textiles, centring his investigations around the body. JEAN WATT interviewed him about his practice.
What have you been doing at the moment during lockdown?
I started growing plants on my balcony. A lot. The process of caring and researching is very meditative. I am also reading Escapism by Yi-Fu Tuan, a Chinese-American geographer. He talks about this ‘middle landscape’, which could be a garden, theme park or shopping mall. These places become the destination for escaping to another reality, which seems to be very relevant to what we are experiencing now.
Your work seems to be inspired by the natural world, has growing these plants influenced that?
The shapes of [my embroidery] are very organic. I think nature has always been my inspiration, but it was a bit distant while I was studying in a massive city. It seems to be quite a common phenomenon during lockdown that people are buying or growing plants: from mint, to beans, to plants, to flowers. I think it’s a kind of ‘back to nature’ phenomenon, that’s what I’m seeing. People starting to get close to plants, looking at them unlike before.
What were you working on most recently in the studio?
Just before lockdown I was collaborating with a fashion student from Edinburgh College of Art. At the time I was welding steel buttons ready to be sewn onto his garment. We were almost in the final stages of finishing the project. So I was looking for materials, but most of the making depended on the Slade’s facilities; these sculptural metal bags and buttons.
Have you been able to make work at home?
The most difficult thing is to keep on track at the moment, because you are so disconnected from people and things happening in the world. So I started to make clothes: jackets, shirts, trousers. There wasn’t very much of an intention in it, it was about keeping my hands busy and my mind active– trying to stay mentally healthy during the first months of the Covid-19 situation. All these very crafty and technical practices are not simple, so I was watching YouTube videos and asking friends who study fashion, ‘how do you do this?’. What fascinates me about fashion is how garment constructs identity, interiority, exteriority, boundaries and surface, as well as the interconnections between emotional and physical experiences that are rooted in the body.
And I see you’re auctioning one of the bags you’ve made in support of BLM ?
Since George Floyd’s murder, I’ve been thinking a lot and trying to find my own position in this. I wanted to look for a way I could help the Black Lives Matter movement. Thinking about the Artists Support Pledge and all the ways that artists have been trying to support each other at the moment, I thought I could generate some money and make a donation. This bag I’m making is very labour intensive and it’s almost an emotional experience. For me, there’s an excitement in that it is something you can carry and also something that is a piece of [art]work, which always plays into my work. [The bag for auction is pictured below]
It is interesting that you are getting into fashion as there seems to be overlaps in your work between function and non-function, craft, fine art and fashion.
Yes, I am inspired by archives in museum collections, including garments, jewellery, furniture and many other artefacts. Craft objects often have a functionality that is given by the maker but they enclose the human body like a container.
Can you tell me about your process from drawing to sculpture?
I am drawn to automatic writing, so I begin using free-motion machine embroidery to engage with drawing on a more subconscious level. When I incorporate them into sculptural works, they morph into symbols that suggest mark making and tattoos; the texture is very tactile and sensual.
Do you do any of your own writing?
I have only just started doing bits of writing recently and again I think it’s almost as tricky as fabric. It’s so heavy, every word you choose, like with fabric every thread you use, makes a difference. I’m still sort of looking for this self-conscious materialised language, in between fabric, text, line, thread, and gesture, but it’s tricky. It’s part of my final essay report as well, around automatic writing, fluxes, and symbols.
What artists are you particularly inspired by?
I’ve recently been looking at an artist called Unica Zürn, she’s often known for her automatic style writing. The language is very bodily, it feels like it’s growing while you’re reading it, you feel that your body is reacting to it. It’s not fluent in the way you would expect. To read, it almost felt like an out of body experience, or like vomiting, like you can’t control your body reacting to something. She also made drawings with incorporated text, found newspaper, books, scribbled notes. They are quite grotesque but also illustrative. You can almost see the motion of her hands with pen and with paper, the continuous gesture to create repeated patterns, symbols, creatures, that happen as the pen moves. It’s not about representing something; it’s the energy flowing out of her mind through the pen and onto the paper.
What does the future hold? How has lockdown affected your mindset?
I feel very limited by screen-based information. I really miss the physical encounter. My peers and I have been discussing the possibility of finding other non-domestic places [to work]. Because even though some people have gardens, or a spare room, or some people work in the bedroom, living room or kitchen, what’s missing is the community. There is no community at home. You’ve maybe got flatmates, or you live alone, or with parents; it’s not an art school community, and if that continues for another 6 months then that’s not good, because you’re just making art for your own bedroom. And although you can show people and take pictures, what’s really special about the Slade is you walk around the building and you just bump into people, but that’s not happening if we’re at home until the end of the year. [The MA Programme at the Slade may not be returning to the studio until January.] So, we are thinking of finding alternative places but that’s very ironic: looking for art schools when you are in art school.
You can find Jin on Instagram at @jinwei_studio.