As part of the Station Museum of Contemporary Art's show in(di)visible, internationally renown performance artist Miao Jiaxin performed an installment from his Next Performance series. ExA had the pleasure of seeing Next Performance 2018 and then discussing it with him afterwards via email.
ExA: The performance at the Station Museum in 2018 is part of a multi-year series which began in 2014. What was the impetus for that series? What is the theme(s)? Is it significant that you performed both your Next Performance, 2017 and 2018 in Houston?
Miao: The series of the performance is titled Next Performance, and I would add the year to the title for the major performance I do during that year. Next Performance, 2018 is the latest one.
Before I became an artist, my Chinese old school education usually gave us the writing assignments with specifically or narrowly assigned topics. But I always knew my absent minded writing skill works better if I entitle the assignment after I finish writing. If I am curating my own art career, which I might not be the perfect person for, the connection between all my performances is that one performance is the next performance after the previous performance.
And, if it’s a group show, my performance is the next performance after another artist’s performance. It does make unnecessary sense, but somehow corresponds my performance style, where every step follows and unveils the previous step, and each step presents a different level of un-necessity as performance aesthetics, however you would see humor and helplessness of one’s life that was transformed on the stage. My life so far wouldn’t give me a break. Every year it strikes me with different anxiety, or same anxiety on a different level. In life, people would sum up the year of occurrences, experiences, and reflections, and probably a new year’s resolution in addition. In business, we make a year end report and set up the next goal annually. In art, I tend to make it short and abstract. The lack of specificity develops the ability to relate other people.
Next Performances each year share same type of white cube space with a white table sitting in front a white wall, flat lighting setup and a black suited Asian guy empty handedly coming up to the stage. Next Performance becomes a series, not because of the meaning of the title, but of the time indicating our restless, or maybe repetitive life events in the personal as well as the political.
ExA: The show in(di)visible is in essence about the "implications of assimilation, integration, and invisibility for Asian American." Your work often involves creating and destroying divisions in ritualistic process. Can you speak to the importance of that conflict/tension in your work?
Miao: This is a good question. And this is a very well curated exhibition. The curators not only found such a forgotten topic in all time urgency, but also found great artists who live, breathe and struggle in this context.
In general, I wouldn’t describe myself as an artist who works for identity politics. I am more of an old school artist who lives his life and expresses his emotions that reflect the living conditions via various medium, with honesty, as well as the awareness of art in relation to politics. When Alex Tu, the curator approached me for a live performance in such theme, I immediately knew that I was the right type of artist whose works cannot avoid implications of identity politics as Asian American, especially because the major body of my works were developed in the past 10 years since I migrated to the United States. All my works are the branding marks of each year of my life, with pride and excitement, as well as shame and fear, while living for an American dream as a person, an artist, a Chinese immigrant, an Asian American, an international individual, or an unidentified person among people flow.
The hesitation in my definition is that a small picture projects a large question: What is Asian American? Where are we from? What do we want? Why do we care? I am simply not the type of artist who gives answers and shouts out in slogans. I’d like to be the one who discovers some old questions, and throws some false answers (the aesthetics of the un-necessities) for rediscovering the new issues of these old questions. The creating and destroying, then conflict/tension you perceived from my art is not only the old school art patterns/emotions, but also a strategic struggle for the legit contradictions.
ExA: Legitimate contradiction of life? of art?
Miao: Both life and art.
ExA: In a facebook post about the performance, you describe it thusly, "A hole is drilled on the shield in front of my head. The curator is asked to shoot with a metal bulleted BB gun, and pass the gun to the next persons who he trusts." But that's simply the climax. A majority of the performance involves you literally dividing the space into a shooting range for target practice on you. You delineate the space by creating a substance and then crawling across the floor, spitting-regurgitating-marking the floor with this substance from your mouth. You then create a target on the wall in which you will stand in front of and invite the audience to take aim at you.
Miao: In general, I don’t really see myself as a performance artist. I’d rather see that I sometimes create performance actions to achieve my art in concept. Therefore in tradition, my art was usually already done before I went on the stage. "A hole is drilled on the shield in front of my head. The curator is asked to shoot with a metal bulleted BB gun, and pass the gun to the next persons who he trusts”. This was it. The extension of this art on the scene was the result of these actions. I might get hurt, get seriously hurt, get mysteriously hurt or I survive as I hoped, etc.
That’s not related to the concept. The concept is to deliver the fragile relationships that I see between an artist and his/her curator, an individual and an institution, a performer and the audience. If Institutional Critique is an old school last century art practice, it’s really not over yet. The power of doing art to me is an individual staying in distance from authorities, not only in his/her art practice, but also in his/her mentality. We have too many artists in craft practice refuse to see the larger picture