© 2020 – 2022. 2chairs artspace

A talk with Jingwen Yao

Hi Jing, nice to see you at 2chairs artspace! Could you please start by sharing your journey as an artist? How did you begin, and what significant changes have occurred in your career to lead you to where you are today?

Thank you for having me here. I began painting at a very young age, and it's one of the few passions that has remained constant throughout my life. Despite studying product design and working as a designer for 10 years, I continued to pursue art whenever I had the chance in my spare time. Eventually, I came to the realisation that art holds immense significance for me, and I decided to dedicate my life to it. Consequently, I left my job and transitioned to being a full-time artist.

What initially drove you to pursue an artistic practice? And who has been instrumental in supporting your decision to transition into this field?

In the beginning, I simply enjoyed painting as a kid, and I was fortunate to have a wonderful art teacher who praised and encouraged me. Over time, art became my primary means of self-expression and communication with the world.

I believe that the fact that I could express myself through art played the biggest role in my
transition into the art field. It wasn't an easy decision to leave a stable income and venture
into uncertainty. However, the ability to express my thoughts, emotions, and perspectives
through art provided me with a profound sense of fulfilment and purpose. I planned my
transition step by step, from saving money to applying for a residency permit that allows
me to stay in Germany. However, I must acknowledge that my partner also provided
significant support throughout the journey :)
You studied design rather than fine art. Do you believe this background has posed challenges or provided advantages in your artistic challenges?

I see it as double-sided. It does present some challenges when it comes to proving my
qualifications as an artist, particularly at the beginning of my transition. However, it seems less important to others over time as they witness my consistent engagement in
artistic activities.

On the other hand, my experience in design has been essential for earning a living,
allowing me the freedom to express myself in art without excessive concern for financial
matters. Additionally, my design education in China included two years of diverse training
in fine art, laying the foundation for further development in my artistic pursuits.

Where do you typically find inspiration for your work? Could you elaborate on the themes around which you have developed your artistic practice?

I draw inspiration from my everyday life and personal experiences, often finding it in my
vegetable garden or the natural surroundings these days. Observing the interdependent
relationship between certain types of vegetables and pollinators, I created the series
"Silents Echoes", delved into the intertwined story of disappearing pollinators and the
endangered food and the ecosystem around us. Another work, "Unseen, Unheard, Unfaltering" is also partly inspired by my garden, specifically the weeds within it. This
project explores the untold narratives of marginalised lives in our midst – integrating
stories and desires of homeless individuals in Berlin with the overlooked weeds in my
vegetable garden.

My artworks primarily revolve around environmental and social issues. When exploring
environmental themes, I created a painting series "Nature Reclaiming" which portrays the
regenerative power of nature while reflecting on overconsumption issues. Endangered
pollinators are another focal point of my art and research, with the series "Mending Wings" aiming to raise awareness about the global decline of pollinators. When addressing social issue themes, my art focuses on amplifying the marginalised voices and discussing gender challenges such as inequalities, stereotypes and fluidity of identities.

Sarah Schultz, visual artist and teacher, sitting on 2 chairs
How does a feminist perspective influence both your artistic practice and your life more broadly?

A feminist perspective has been a great influence on my artistic practice and my life. Some of my artworks strive to challenge traditional gender norms and highlight the experiences of women. For instance, "Her Gaze" is a painting series that probes the differences between the male gaze and the female gaze where a man is placed in a traditional female position, reflecting on the power dynamics of the "gaze" and the societal constructs that shape our understanding of gender.

Beyond my artistic practice, feminism shapes the way I navigate relationships and provides guidance on personal principles and beliefs. When I first encountered feminist theories, it was a transformative experience that provided me with a new lens through which to view the world and understand my own experiences and struggles.

Do you believe that adopting a gender equality approach could lead to a rewriting of art history? If so, how?

Yes, I firmly believe that adopting a gender equality approach has the power to significantly reshape art history. Countless talented individuals have been overshadowed or excluded from mainstream narratives simply because of their gender. By acknowledging their contribution, we enrich art with diverse perspectives and experiences. Their stories
and achievements can empower future generations of artists knowing that everyone
deserves equal opportunities to express themselves creatively.

Your artwork "Grandma, Mom, and I" is being showcased here. Can you discuss whether it reflects your personal experiences with migration and what challenges have you faced in exploring your identity through your art?

"Grandma, mom and I" delves into the different life experiences of three generations of
Chinese women in my family. Following a visit to China in 2023, I reflected on the journey
that led me to Berlin and how women's lives have changed over time. This painting serves
as a homage to my grandmother, who sadly passed away during the time of COVID
lockdowns, when travelling to China was very restricted, and I was unable to visit my

Navigating my (cultural) identity through art remains a challenge. While this artwork
provides a glimpse into my personal background, I often grapple with incorporating more
Chinese cultural or artistic elements in my work. I strive for authenticity and hesitate to
force cultural motifs if they don't organically align with my artistic expression.

What are the core principles that guide your artistic practice? Are you aware of any limitations you encounter in your work?

The core principles that guide my artistic practice revolve around authenticity, empathy, and social consciousness. I believe in creating art that is genuine and true to my own experiences and convictions. I strive to connect with the subject and also viewers on an emotional level and evoke a sense of understanding and compassion. Last but not least, it's crucial to me that my artwork remains relevant to our contemporary world and era. I aspire for my art to spark awareness and stimulate meaningful discussions around topics that I believe deserve greater attention.

Balancing the rational and emotional aspects of my artistic process is a challenge I often encounter. On one hand, I must carefully plan and execute my concepts with technical precision. On the other hand, I strive to infuse my work with emotion and personal expression to connect with viewers on a deeper level.

Sarah Schultz, visual artist and teacher, sitting on 2 chairs
Finding this balance involves trusting my instincts and allowing myself to be vulnerable while maintaining a critical eye to ensure that my ideas are communicated effectively.

Could you please share your upcoming projects, exhibitions, or residencies with us? What direction do you envision your work taking in the near future?

I just completed an artist residency at Nåpoleon Komplex, during which I created two large paintings envisioning a matriarchal future, where women hold positions of leadership and influence akin to queen bees. My upcoming exhibition will be at Green Hill Gallery in Berlin, themed "DE: Construct Migration and Integration" where I'll showcase my latest work titled "Unseen, Unheard, Unfaltering" on the subject. Following that, I'm participating in the 2chairs group show at Bad Belzig during April-June 2024.

In the near future, I plan to continue working on the series "Unseen, Unheard, Unfaltering", which reveals the stories and desires of homeless individuals in Berlin, as well as explore the qualities of overlooked weeds in my vegetable garden. I also would like to explore different materials, techniques, and forms of expression that extend beyond traditional visual art.

Looking ahead, where do you see yourself as an artist in five years?

In five years, I hope to have further developed my voice and style as an artist, while
continuing to advocate for social and environmental causes that are important to me. I also aspire to expand my artistic practice, exhibiting internationally and engaging with diverse audiences. Overall, I envision myself to keep growing, evolving and making a
positive impact through my art.

Thank you, Jing, for sharing your insights with us. We look forward to seeing you at the next 2chairs group show at Bad Belzig. Best of luck with your future endeavours, and take care!