In this interview, Caomin Xie discusses the language of art.
What stage in your career do you feel you are in right now?
I guess I’m in the stage of mid-career. Maybe [mid] is not [an] accurate word. I don’t believe that [an] artist’s career should be categorized in different stages. It should be regarded as an organic whole.
I really want to ask this next question in three parts: why not return to China after grad school, why stay in the states, and why the south?
After I graduated from SCAD, I feel I need more experience of the American society and I like the free atmosphere here. To stay here, I need a green card and [I] applied [for] several teaching jobs. Finally, I got my teaching job in Atlanta, and I met my wife. Back then, she was [a] student at SCAD Atlanta campus. So, I decide to settle down in Atlanta.
Will you elaborate on the free atmosphere you feel we have in the States and how that has influenced your practice?
In China, [being] admitted to the Academy of Fine Art is very challenging. People [are] always accustomed to treating artists as the elite of the society, and always have a high expectation for [an] art school student. And indeed, the society will have a lot of support for art, but I feel this may be a bondage. After I come to [the] US, I soon found that the artist was not regarded as an elite here, and there are not too many people [paying] attention to what the artist wanted to do. This is the freedom I want.
You’ve really built a life for yourself in Atlanta, but I would not think of that city when I think of the arts. Will you help me to better understand the type of arts culture and
I did consider moving to other cities, like New York or Los Angeles, but after I live in Atlanta for such [a] long time, I feel I like the city very much. The art community here is small, but very supportive—especially the art museums here. They are very focused on the art and culture development of the region. They have a lot of programs to support artists and the community.
For example, the MOCA GA has a long-running program called Working Artist Project. This is a grant-supported program which supports Atlanta artists to expand their career in the museum and build the connection to the art community. I was the recipient of this award in 2010-2011.
A good deal of your exhibitions have either been in Chinese cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Hong Kong, or cities in the American South. I’m sure that there are endless examples of how those regions differ, but I want to know, from your perspective as an artist, does the culture navigate how you communicate the work to audiences or even what works you would exhibit?
[In] recent years, I have traveled between [the] US and China a lot and have many exhibitions in Shanghai and Atlanta because I know these two cities very well. Shanghai is the city where I came from and Atlanta is the city I’m living [in] now. Culture navigating does play a very important role in my art activity. After I moved to [the] US, I have a better understanding of China and the East's religious and classical culture. I believe that the diversity of culture is an indispensable soil for today’s art. I have exhibited my same artwork on both side[s]. Certainly, different people will have different feedback, but for [me], the most important thing is not the reality of the cultural differences between [the] US and China, but the activity of communication.
The power of art exists among the communication. Artwork opens a sphere for a true inter-subjective communication. It promotes cultural regeneration and social integration.
Right, and how is that for you to communicate the work to such varying audiences? Do you consciously have to modify how you speak of the work or engage with others?
The purpose of the art[’s] communication is not that the artist communicates his/her own thoughts to the audience, but [communicates] through the artistic activities to build an open and equal space. In there, subjects can freely exchange ideas. I don't like lecture-type artist talk. I prefer free talk. Sometimes, I feel that the audience's talk is better than my own artist[’s] statement.
It seems your concentration has been on exhibiting—why is that? Or, to ask that question another way, why haven’t grants or residencies been an interest?
I think every artist should concentrate on exhibitions. Exhibitions can be in different forms or formats. Exhibiting artwork to the public is the most direct [way to] communicate with people and extend the power of art to our society. I did receive grants and participate [in] artist [residencies] in past years. I received the grant from MOCA GA Working Artist Project. I participated [in] a residency program called Painter’s Edge in California several years ago. These experiences are very important in my art career.
What are [you] focusing on right now?
I’m planning to visit Dunhuang caves in China. It is a famous treasure trove of Buddhist art located on the Silk Road and a very important meeting place of East and West in the ancient world. I hope my travel plan can be realized this summer.
After receiving his masters at the Savannah College of Art and Design, Caomin Xie to make a home for himself in Atlanta, where he currently practices and teaches. Having studied sculpture and painting, his new media works subtly reference the disciplines of China and the States while maintaining a voice all their own. His works are held in the collections of Museum of Contemporary Art Georgia, Savannah College of Art & Design, and the Telfair Museum of Art. Xie’s works have been exhibited internationally, including in his past home of Shanghai and his current home of Atlanta.