Jasmine Zhang: “Do not date anyone when your career just started”

I did not become an artist, instead I realized art has come to me. I chose to become a photographer that is able to produce beautiful images and content. Then I realized what I started doing might be “art.” So I decided to use photography as one of my mediums instead of my main practice. […]

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I did not become an artist, instead I realized art has come to me. I chose to become a photographer that is able to produce beautiful images and content. Then I realized what I started doing might be “art.” So I decided to use photography as one of my mediums instead of my main practice.

As part of my series about “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started Leading a Cannabis Business” I had the pleasure of interviewing Zhang Mengjiao.

With a conceptual approach, Zhang Mengjiao tries to increase the dynamic between audience and author by objectifying emotions and investigating the duality that develops through different interpretations.

Her works never show the complete structure. This results in the fact that the artist can easily imagine an own interpretation without being hindered by the historical reality. With Plato’s allegory of the cave in mind, she makes work that deals with the documentation of events and the question of how they can be presented. The work tries to express this with the help of physics and technology, but not by telling a story or creating a metaphor.

Her works are an investigation into representations of (seemingly) concrete ages and situations as well as depictions and ideas that can only be realized in photography.

Her works directly respond to the surrounding environment and uses everyday experiences from the artist as a starting point. Often these are framed instances that would go unnoticed in their original context. By demonstrating the omnipresent lingering of a ‘corporate world’, she tries to develop forms that do not follow logical criteria, but are based only on subjective associations and formal parallels, which incite the viewer to make new personal associations.

Her works demonstrate how life extends beyond its own subjective limits and often tells a story about the effects of global cultural interaction over the latter half of the twentieth century. It challenges the binaries we continually reconstruct between Self and Other, between our own ‘cannibal’ and ‘civilized’ selves. By examining the ambiguity and origination via retakes and variations, she presents everyday objects as well as references to texts, painting and architecture. Pompous writings and Utopian constructivist designs are juxtaposed with trivial objects. Categories are subtly reversed.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the story of how you grew up?

I grew up in Suzhou, China, went to ordinary schools and an international high school for preparing myself to go abroad in the light of my father’s American Dream. On the other side, my mother forced me to recite and memorize Confucian’s Analects and other traditional Chinese writing about Confucian’s value system and it nationalized my brain.

Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?

I chose International Relations as my major in undergrad, then I realized it’s all about “America.” Not saying I am a Chinese nationalist, but the value system of how the world should be working upon is only constructed based on one state. It’s centered around America and represents American gaze. I felt tired and chose other more historical classes to take which talked about state-craft, nationalism and the ideas of modern empires in order to understand the system better. During my Junior year, I became fond of photography. After persuading my father to support me in going to art school, I eventually enrolled in the San Francisco Art Institute for grad school. That was in 2018.

Can you tell us the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

I did not become an artist, instead I realized art has come to me. I chose to become a photographer that is able to produce beautiful images and content. Then I realized what I started doing might be “art.” So I decided to use photography as one of my mediums instead of my main practice.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

One project that I am working on is making green-screen-colored Qipao and asking people who live in Chinatown if they are interested in wearing them. Qipao is a representation of being “Chinese” and green-screen-Qipao can show its visibility and invisibility at the same time. It’s a social practice art project which has a research-based background centered on labor history in Chinatown, particularly focusing on garment laborers.

Another project of mine is toilet paper ballots. As an international non-citizen person, I would never have access to a voting ballot. Also, as a Chinese citizen, I have never experienced what “democracy” is. However, I think democracy should be for all people who are living in this country. Not only myself. I invited people who are in my artist collective to draft very sarcastic and unrealistic propositions, then screen print them onto toilet paper. At last, I ask my artist collective people to use the toilet paper then subsequently review them. With this process, the message of “I gave a shit” is completed. I am looking for organizations or institutions to work with that are able to make this project go further — I would like to hear more from people who are from different areas in The Bay, and their opinions on voting rights.

Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?

They are a bunch of conceptual artists that I had known of. Once you hear about their work you will be able to see how dope and brilliant their ideas are — it’s like you heard a story instead of actually needing to see an art piece. One of my brilliant conceptual artist friends connected a working mic on the floor and made it pointing to the floor — where it has an actual orange placed on the floor gradually in decay. He recorded the sound as well.

Where do you draw inspiration from? Can you share a story about that?

I respond to my personal experience, trying to give my adverse personal experiences an explanation from societal causation. My work depends on my emotions and my rationalities. The Dada and Fluxus are definitely my inspiration. Nutshell brother, a social practice artist in China who makes brilliant art work to attract media attention, then actually brings good to the community that he works with.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I have influenced some people and am still trying to bring awareness by broadcasting the art that I make.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

First thing: art school helps but it won’t tell you the full story of what art actually is. Art schools will teach you how to make an art object that satisfies the institutional criteria of what art is.

Second thing: no one tells you what to do to become a successful commercial artist, if you want to make an art project that actually means more, don’t just make objects. The art market might not work the way that I wish it did.

Third thing: do not be too harsh on yourself, especially on the technical part. As long as it works out.

Fourth thing: do not date anyone when your career just started.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Maybe I will be able to de-americanize American people. I do not know if it’s a good thing.

We have been blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she just might see this.

I want to have a private breakfast and lunch with the head of the modern art museum. I would like to know what they think art is capable of doing and how they think about the roles of museums and institutions as they are the authority of defining what art is.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

@ConceptualArtDealer on instagram.

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