The Many Worlds of Lu Pingyuan

by Chris Moore 墨虎恺
translated by:Fang Xiaoran 房小然

Lu Pingyuan makes stories. The stories he makes involve things and theatrical and interactive situations. They involve text, film and miscellaneous objects. He is an artist and he has a cat. The cat sometimes makes an appearance in the stories.


Christopher Moore: What is the difference between a short story and an exhibition narrative?

Lu Pinyuan: A script is exists to enact a performance, a television drama or other kind of narrative medium. However, a story exists independently and does not function as a script for another form of media.

CM: How does an exhibition narrative change a story?

LPY: An exhibition narratives possess all the characteristics of a story, but it is not an independent form of media [that can exist on its own]. I want to create a lot of independent stories, and even when I appropriate existing stories and incorporate them into my own, it is meant to complement the independent existence of my own stories. Of course, these stories can also be used by someone else in the future, to become a script for something else or be used for other purposes.

CM: But your stories are also intended to be found and read in an exhibition, right? That frames the context from the beginning; it means you read the story through the scenario of the installation.

LPY: Yes, they are indeed read in the exhibition, but I don’t believe that my entire exhibition takes on the form of a narrative; I don’t see it this way. I want that all the objects in my work installations, paintings, stage sets, and other works together constitute a pedestal or foundation for my “stories”—one that exists only to enhance the enjoyment of the story. Because for me the story is the work itself. We would make a plinth for a sculpture, a frame for a painting and at the same time we can design an environment for reading stories and it functions very much like a “pedestal.” The pedestal is all of these realized works. So it is different from a narrative space, a set, script or picture frame.

CM: So there is a physical narrative—the installation—which frames how the visitor will read the story? This feels very theatrical. It relies on a physical and emotional context, not just intellectual or conceptual.

LPY: I feel like there are some interesting installations which help the audience to appreciate the spectral or ghostly content of the exhibition; this is at the core of my work—the story. Just as the act of ritual gives a participatory element to faith; the bare truth is already established, but sometimes we need to add in some creative ritual. Different scenes and rituals help the viewer to distinguish the different thematic content of the story.

CM: Does time play a role in how people interact with each work/story? After all, there are many subjective aspects to a person’s experience that affect how one reads and interprets a story. For instance, is it dusk? Are you hungry? Are you alone or with someone? Are you at home or in a gallery?

LPY: I hope that my story, or my exhibition can, through this unique experience, reduce to the greatest extent the sense of temporal discrepancy and the experiential particularity. I hope the story will bring a multi-sensory experience to the majority of viewers. That this approach will transcend both concrete historical and temporal specificities and individual differences—a kind of enhanced or amplified abstract aesthetic, sometimes I define them as stories but they are actually abstract, at least on the conceptual level; it’s just that they are realized in a very concrete form.

HOME ALONe, Lu Pingyuan, 2017, Exhbition view
HOME ALONe, Lu Pingyuan, 2017, Exhbition view

Schrödinger the Cat

CM: Please tell us about your cats. What are they doing in your work?

LPY: My cat’s name is Schrödinger, and he is a son that I got by “accident”: a female cat I had gave birth to him and he has lived with me ever since. He also became a source of inspiration for many of my later works. For example, I created the series, “Behind Every Successful Cat There is Always a Cat’s Owner”. Because since Schrödinger had grown up, I wanted to build him a house which would accommodate us both. So I designed a number of large cat trees where people and cats could live together.

CM: Have you read Lao She’s 1932 science-fiction novel Cat Country?

LPY: I haven’t read this novel, but I roughly know its plot. I like it a lot.

We Have to Talk About Kevin

CM: The current show refers to a number of American film and TV shows about growing up: Home Alone (1990), Growing Pains (1985-1992) and Toy Story (1990), all of which were around when you were a child. But how much is autobiography a function of the media we are processing? And in China, how much of that is American media, an American idea, albeit a strange fantasy version [of it]?

LPY: This is related to local TV stations and the era when people would rent videotapes. The sum of film and television culture was mostly circulated through these channels. Every summer vacation, the local TV station would broadcast Growing Pains, then there were videotapes, VCD shops, and the most popular films in these shops were Home Alone and Toy Story. In these series and films, the average American family appeared cheery and full of humor, living in a state of abundance. Each child had his or her own bedroom; some of them even built tree houses in the their backyards, where they would do things away from the watchful eyes of their parents. Kids would steal their parent’s cars and go to parties. All of this was extremely different from the the childhoods of me and the people around me. We felt very envious [of this lifestyle]. But what I should say is that in China nowadays, most people from second and third tier cities have this life: they have a garage, a stand-alone house, a living room and two children (since the new regulations). This is all very far away from the lives we had as “only children,” living in small cramped environments. Therefore, at that time, the American values seemed to offer a model lifestyle—one filled with cheap western consumer goods.

CM: Actually, I read recently that in the story of Home Alone, the little boy, Kevin, who causes so much chaos by being left home alone when the family goes on vacation, is actually a ghost.

LPY: Haha! So this gets even more interesting. Did you know in China “Home Alone” is translated as “Xiao Gui Dang Jia (lit. trans. Little Ghost Minding the House), “Xiao Gui” refers to the child but also to “spirits”. It’s kind of a pun.

HOME ALONe, Lu Pingyuan, 2017, Exhbition view “成长的烦恼”,陆平原,2017,展览现场
HOME ALONe, Lu Pingyuan, 2017, Exhbition view

Home Alone

CM: In fact, your adoption of Home Alone or Toy Story—which is also about childhood abandonment—could be metaphors, because as foreigners, we experience American culture as a spectral presence somehow, something idealistic, imaginary and lost.

LPY: In fact, this symbolizes as kind of cultural life which is slowly becoming obsolete. This kind of obsolescence, is not only due to changing trends; [this lifestyle] actually does not even exist in America anymore. This obsolescence also involves my own passage into adulthood; someone who had lived abroad for many years told me at the tiem this kind of American humor was popular, young people were all chasing the American dream; perhaps it was an illusion.

CM: Are stories always particular to their time and space? Does someone reading a story or watching a TV show in California in 1988 read a totally different story, see a different show, to a kid in Chengdu in 2017?

LPY: I believe the that stories exist in order to transcend time and space. Most stories take place in the past not in the future. But as we read these stories under different spacial and temporal conditions, we absorb them in different contexts. We integrate the content of the story with our own personal experiences and environment. For instance, viewing this middle-class or bourgeois life portrayed in the series during an an era of deprivation, versus an era of abundance creates a completely different kind of feeling.

CM: Authors are sometimes asked what sort of person would be their ideal reader. Who would be your ideal reader?

LPY: [I would make] a series, then after I would start to broaden the theme, but I would still maintain practice of creating works within a story, or have them blend into my artistic approach, because I realize that only the art made within this story is important; the story has the same kind of function as the exhibition hall does to the artworks. So it’s just like asking who the audience is for my exhibitions; it’s everyone.

CM: This kind of story-telling tied to televisions also relates to your homage to Nam Jun Paik, right?

LPY: The theme of my show relates to the culture of television and video only by coincidence; it doesn’t constitute a particular homage. I hope that one day I can make an homage to Nam Jun Paik.

HOME ALONe, Lu Pingyuan, 2017, Exhbition view

CM: So, can you tell us more about your current show? Is there a particular way to experience it? If we treat it like a short story, and someone walks in, what would be a good way for them to begin?

LYP: The installation and paintings in the exhibition don’t have any particular narrative quality. There is no need to attempt to capture all the information. However, I built a set similar to those used to shoot sitcoms, with a lot of installations and other objects in it, with a video projection at the back, as if the video constitutes a realistic version of a film shot in this décor. Perhaps such a viewing of the two media in this order might provoke something from the viewer. But as mentioned above, with the other objects [works] acting as plinths; they exist as plinths in order to support three short stories, like the three faces of Thomas the Tank Engine in the exhibition. I think it is more fun to understand it this way.

CM: What is an artist as opposed to an author? How do their respective roles differ?

LPY: Artists can attach themselves to authors, possessing them in order to make art.

CM: Submersing oneself into a story is a both a retreat from the world and a path to thinking about new worlds. What sort of stores does China need now?

LPY: This need is a contemporary one. Today so many shopping centers are like churches; people flock there on the weekends in search of salvation. You will have a family of three that goes to the supermarket to buy the week’s worth of groceries, watch their child play in the mall playground, line up at a crowded restaurant for dinner and finally at the cinema on the top floor they take in a story—satiated they return home. But if one week, for whatever reason, they don’t go; they feel as if they are missing something, like missing a prayer session. Perhaps the answer to this question will at last be found in the story?

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