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Nathan Zhau - 'A Clown Without a Past'
Nathan Zhou at Monument of the Peach Blossom Valley at K11Courtesy of K11 Shanghai

See how Chinese artists interpret Vivienne Westwood’s legacy

A new exhibition at Shanghai’s K11 Art Mall showcases the designer’s activist work and asks contemporary artists to interpret it through their eyes

It’s no secret that Vivienne Westwood is a national treasure for Britain’s fashion industry, but she’s also a political force to be reckoned with. Relentlessly spreading a message that our futures are, for lack of a better word, fucked, if we choose to ignore climate change and the environmental damage we wreak on it through questionable practices such as fracking or simply every day pollution. Through protests, her fashion shows, and a voice that refuses to be silenced, she is slowly encouraging a new generation, as far flung as Shanghai, to listen up.

In a city that sits amongst the top 300 most polluted in the world, Westwood’s warning of the dangers that we pose to our own planet has never been more important. Her latest message comes through two exhibition openings in Shanghai – Monument of the Peach Blossom Valley and Get A Life! – at the city’s chi K11 Art Space. The joint exhibitions are in dialogue with one another, with Monument of the Peach Blossom bringing together eight contemporary Chinese artists, curated by Song Zhenxi, to respond to the designer-activist’s legacy. Get A Life! is curated by the designer-activist herself and showcases a range of her designs and her own artwork.

Hosted by the first art mall in the world, K11 fuses nature, art and people as a carefully curated space that works with global institutions such as MoMA and The ICA. At the shows’ openings, founder, Adrian Cheng, touched on China’s relationship with contemporary art and the importance of fostering a community that supports young artists, saying, “We want to create a culture and we want to propagate culture – educate culture to the new generation of Chinese people.” By infusing a space such as a shopping mall with art, Cheng hopes to democratise the art world; making it less threatening to those new to art appreciation, and, in this case, environmental activism. He added, “Our audience is undergoing a strong paradigm shift, where everyone's talking about being green, but they don't understand it. So I thought I'd ask Vivienne to talk about it. She's so experienced and she's a climate revolution activist.”

With the show now open to the public, we spoke with three of the artists involved in Monument of the Peach Blossom Valley to find out how and why they responded with Westwood’s work.


Can you just tell me in your own words what your work is about?

Zhang Ruyi: People, the outside world, and wisdom. Also, physical space, like your home space and the relationship with the ability to interact. I use a second-hand electric plug as this is always important for all of society to function. By linking the sockets together, this is the reality for people living in society – the link.

What themes does your work respond to from Vivienne Westwood's work?

Zhang Ruyi: Vivienne Westwood's work has always been beyond just material, beyond just campaigning. There's always something that's quite tangible; the voice the message; the action. And with her work this time, it's also based on individuality, the people who are in their lives, which is quite tangible. Vivienne Westwood asked you to kind of stop a little bit and step back and look. And this, because of the materials, because of the nature of these pieces, because of the used socket, it goes back to the person and in turn, asks the person to step back and think of his or her world or his or her life and how that relates to environment and nature. Electricity itself is intangible but essentially it runs the whole world. It’s kind of like Vivienne Westwood's work... it's always ongoing, her campaign is always ongoing. Not tangible, but it's dissimilated throughout people seeing it everywhere around the world.


Can you tell me about your video piece in your own words?

Wu Junyong: So this is related to Noah's Ark, the story in the bible. But what I changed about the story is that the animals actually live on a bark of a tree and the tree is symbolic of Earth – it’s very fragile. The piece is very surreal.

What themes were you responding to from Vivienne Westwood in your work?

Wu Junyong: I was looking for something that entwined environment and nature, and for me, this piece, is all about the language, about conveying those two elements with interesting language. But with a humorous take. It’s a very good connection between that – there's a perfect combination between those two, a nice energy.

Do you feel that with art and fashion we can make a difference? Do you feel like it's a powerful tool in activism?

Wu Junyong: For artists, it's mostly indirect. It’s hard for artists to have a direct impact, mostly indirect. Pollution is inevitable but is there a way that we can improve the process to make it nicer, less destructive. And as an artist, I try to make people think about what's a better way to proceed as the human race. 

So it's not a solution, it's a conversation starter.

Wu Junyong: I’m actually less optimistic. Artists and the artistic aspect of it have only so much power. There's not a powerful or direct impact so mostly, it's one for thinking.


Can you tell me about both of your works?

Yu Honglyei: Both sculptures are interpretations of ‘line’. For me, a line is always the connection between one person to another or to connect two things. Or like a road that leads from one place to another. In the past two years, I’ve been relating a lot of things to line.

So how are the two works connected?

Yu Honglyei: In infrastructure or measurement, this piece is about the audience looking at it, which is one connection, one line, and also the connection between these two objects. In relation to the two works, you could say that the connection is that they've both taken form, derived from life.

What kind of themes were you responding to in Vivienne Westwood's work?

Yu Honglyei: It's because of the bones, of the skeleton aspect of it – there’s an element of punk to both of them. There are the two connections. The first one is that the last time the Earth got destroyed, when dinosaurs got wiped out, there was also a climate change. When you think of dinosaurs you think of the skeleton as well. I’m also personally advocating for environmental change by eating less meat and wearing less leather – that’s human behaviour directly affecting the environment. We are all thinking how we can change the situation, how to improve it, but we're not doing it. So really, it comes to us taking the first step as a person and artist.

Get A Life! and Monument of the Peach Blossom Valley are on until 28 February 2017 at Shanghai’s chi K11 art museum