Li Xiao Qiao is an artist from the Guangdong province, China, and he is currently earning an MA in printmaking at Camberwell College of Arts in London. His prints, photographs and mixed media works explore his upbringing and identity, as well as the physical, temporal, and psychological aspects of city life. View his EAS profile here.
I'd love to know more about your background in the arts—your school in China, and then in the UK. Are you still in England?
I have a BA in Visual Arts from Macau Polytechnic Institute, and now I am studying for an MA in printmaking at Camberwell College of Arts, University of Arts London.
Did you intend to study art, or did that interest develop later at some point? Today it looks like you're mostly focused on printmaking, including photography.
When I was a high school student I had an interest in studying art, but at that time I just preferred drawing. However, when I studied for my BA degree at Macau, I had the opportunity to apply other, different mediums in creating artworks, such as ceramic, sculpture, oil painting, printmaking, etc. So far I just really like to focus on printmaking and photography.
I'm very curious about your family portraits on wood and how they are made. Are they photographs you've printed on these small slabs of wood? Where are you getting your materials?
In this series of works I want to explore myself, my family, and my background growing up. I used some found wooden pieces, and mixed them with the printmaking language. The wooden pieces were damaged by outside environmental factors and thus could not be used in woodcarving and woodcut printmaking. However, I found some awesome textures on the wood mouth surface (the cross section of the timber) that are all from nature. On this surface I tried to apply digital printing and screen printing. This is an experiment about materials. Unlike in my previous experience with traditional methods, here I aimed to explore the relationship of material to surface and image.
Their illegibility, due to the warp of the wood or its rings or the printing process, makes me think of the difficulty in reading and reconstituting our own memories, especially since these would normally be very recognizable family snapshots or portraits. Do these images and the year 1987 invoke specific memories for you? How did you want to deal with those through these prints?The year 1987 is the year I was born and I grew up at the end of the '80s. That era was China’s reform period, and a time of opening up. There were some important policies that were implemented, such as the one-child policy. When I was born in Guangdong, the new legislation regarding giving birth had only been in effect for a few years. There was a serious restriction on giving birth to a second child, which I am. My parents were being forced to forgo my birth by the government--even my dad was trying to persuade my mom to abort--but she insisted on keeping the baby. I ended up being born into this stressed situation.
The memory of my childhood influenced me deeply. Image 1 (left) represents the large financial gap between my neighbor and my family. He is holding the brand new car in hand; in contrast, I could only be given a package of the car, on which I drew a car doodle. The cross section of the timber and the tree rings remind me of each stage from birth to becoming a grown-up, and leaving my childhood playground. The series of the old photos includes the snapshots not only of my family, but also the neighbors and the friends I had when I was 7. I tried to use childhood group photos.
My background reflects all of these elements. These patterns and images were printed on the wooden mouth surface to analyze a piece of memory and discuss the relationship between time and memory.What are some of the more blurred or warped images? Are those also family photos?
Some of them are my sibling but others are neighbors. Image 2 (right, top) includes two of my faces. It doesn’t show the entire face and the cracks make it more unclear. The irregular shape of the timber and the warped image are like the memory that you want to remember clearly but the further you go, the mistier it is. To create Image 3 (right, bottom), I remade the photo by arranging the sticks and placing them at angles on purpose. The complex crossing lines represent a connection through time--particularly the thick stick on the bottom left goes straight to the center, to my self-portrait.You mentioned the political and social climate of China in the late 1980s—it could feel like the image of the three children, memorialised, solidified in the wooden image would defy the cultural expectations of the day (in the 80s) I know they are very personal but do they feel at all political to you?
The images and the climate is that of the story I mentioned earlier. The work itself is not political to me, but the background I think is a political issue.
I also really like that you can see the rings of the tree in these, which is always such a lovely measurement of time, but it also keeps the tree, the wood frozen in this one point in time—similar to the children in the photographs. Did that come into play for you at all?
Absolutely, I think you are right. Because I really focus on the wood frozen in one point in time particularly. The wood as a material offers a lot about concepts of time, linking to concepts of memory--that is what I want.
I really like this statement from you EAS portfolio:
"Collecting the elements by direct record or photocopy can give me more inspiration. Catching the different feeling with the help of technology can transfer the printmaking language into contemporary art form."
It really stresses the role that technology is playing in your work and actually, how the ability to use these tools can serve as further inspiration for you, as opposed to the other way around. Your work couldn't exist without these devices, their conception is contingent on "collecting and "catching" materiality. Can you talk about your process in creating the city and water series?
In creating the 'city and water' series, I first found the material to print on––blue print paper. This material can transfer images onto paper by direct exposure. The created effect is really similar to printmaking and photography. This effect inspired me to create this series and to review/revisit the city where I had been living. I walked around the city trying to capture the moments which touched me most.
What kind of moments do those tend to be? Why these images?
I am an emotional person who can be touched by the street vendors, a ruin, or a lamp in the night. During my studies in Macau, I was living in the old district. My school hall, however, was a modern, tall building in the area. As I walked home late at night with a tired body, I saw a street lamp lighting up the stained wall. I stood there for a while, staring at the wall and imagining that there was a group of elderly people, brewing tea, chatting and sharing their long lives. It was actually a reflection of my hometown. When I saw the scene, it suddenly came to my mind. The emotion and the memory poured out and connected the past and the present moment.
Do you see your images of the city as a form of documentation, recording urban changes? Or are you trying to capture something else?
I do see my images of the city as a form of documentation to record urban changes, but I also try to capture something which I call the humanity of this flavor. Because every city is unique, every city has a certain taste. To be able to enjoy the different taste from different cities is a meaningful thing.
How has your experience living in such different cities informed your interest in urban environments and lifestyles? Are cities and city life a point of commonality across otherwise very different cultures?
As mentioned, I was born and grew up in the Guangdong Province in southern China. The town where I grew up and the city of Macau, which is very close, have totally different cultures and ways of living. However, some customs are similar. This informs my interest in both urban environments and lifestyles. I agree that cities and city life are indeed a point of commonality across otherwise different cultures.
What encouraged you leave Asia and why go to London, specifically? Has your work changed living away from home and in a very different cultural and artistic environment?
I think my answer is a cliché. I want to broaden my view and explore the world as much as possible. The reason why I chose London is the combination of the traditional and the contemporary in this city. Instead of leaving or throwing tradition away, they try to connect them fluently. I have received a lot of visual information this year, allowing me to become bold and see everything in a different light.
And, as always, is there anything new you are working on or are excited about?
I have two ongoing projects at the moment. I am recently excited about the texture of different surfaces and the short, peaceful, personal time of smoking.