© 2020 – 2022. 2chairs artspace

A talk with Shiya Lu

Hi Shiya, how are you? I'm happy to host you at 2chairs, you're our first guest from another part of the world. Please, introduce yourself, what you are doing now and what was your starting point.

I am an artist and creative producer living and working in Sydney. I grew up in Sichuan, Southwest China and moved to the UK at 16. In 2012, I dropped out of the University of Oxford, where I studied mathematics and returned to China. At the time, I was battling depression and had no idea what to do with my life. To keep myself busy, I volunteered at an arts festival in China and met a group of inspiring artists. A choreographer, who later became my close friend and collaborator, said to me: "You ought to shine a light into the darkness in your heart and turn it into art." From there on, I began working as a cultural journalist and then a performing arts producer. Over the past eight years, I have worked with many renowned artists and organisations in China, Australia, Norway, the UK, Finland, and Belgium. Since relocating to Australia five years ago, I started my own artistic practice in theatre and visual arts while working for other artists as a producer.

So, you were born in China but studied in the UK. Is it a typical story for Chinese children?

I wouldn't say it is typical, but more and more middle-class Chinese parents aspire to send their children to study abroad so that they can broaden their horizons and have more opportunities in life.

Do you remember what forced you to change your subject from maths to theatre? Did your family support you?

Growing up in the Chinese educational system, I was conditioned to pursue academic excellence and material success to make my family proud. The weight of other people's expectations can lead to psychological trauma in young people. After finishing high school, I took a gap year and did volunteering and backpacking, which opened my worldview and made me realise that there are many alternative ways of living a meaningful life. When I commenced studying at a prestigious university, I realised that my interest was not mathematics. I decided to follow my heart and search for my true passion. I am so grateful that my family believed in me and supported me every step along the way.
You have so diverse experience living in Asia, Europe, and Australia. Are you still feeling attached to Chinese culture?

Yes, absolutely. Chinese cuisine, traditional family values, news stories about Chinese politics and society are still part of my everyday life. As there are many Chinese-born migrants and people of Chinese ancestry in Australia, Chinese cultural influence is very prominent here.

What was your life-changing moment? When have you decided to set up your own artistic practice?

Moving overseas, dropping out of Oxford, and volunteering at an arts festival were all decisive moments in the early chapters of my life. The decision to pursue my own artistic practice was more like a process. It is more accurate to say that my life experiences and the people I encountered ultimately led me to a creative life. In 2015, I was a freelance journalist working in Thailand. By coincidence, I landed the opportunity to be the assistant curator for a major exhibition for emerging Chinese artists at the Helsinki Festival. From then on, I began establishing friendships and collaborations with artists from various cultural and disciplinary backgrounds. As their producer and manager, I often feel a strong impulse to get involved in the artistic creation. Therefore, I eventually enrolled in a bachelor's degree in visual arts and art history at the University of Sydney. While being a visual arts student, I had plenty of opportunities to explore different art forms.
Could you please tell me more about your artistic practice? What are you passionate about?

I work across many mediums, including video, photography, installation, ceramics, and theatre. My cross-cultural background and working experience give me a holistic and transdisciplinary view of artistic practice. I am passionate about exploring the intersection of diverse cultures and disciplines.

You present video artwork "Wish by the Sea" at 2chairs artspace. What is it about?

"Wish by the Sea" is a two-channel video installation that documents my personal story of leaving home and wandering across the world for more than ten years. In this video artwork, I cook a home-style fish dish from my childhood memory to reconnect with my grandmother, who has passed away. This work highlights the significance of food in Chinese culture.

The taste of the fish becomes a familial bond, and the sea becomes a place that evokes a sense of exile. This work creates an intimate audio-visual narrative through the synthesis of moving images, food, and narration in order to express the universal experience of nostalgia when living in a foreign country.

Pandemic time is very challenging for art and culture actors. Could you please share your receipt on how to survive during endless lockdowns and limitations?

Despite the numerous inconveniences in the new normal, I believe the lockdown and travel restrictions offered me some silver linings. First, I learned pottery and spent a lot of time on the potter's wheel and creating glaze recipes. Ceramics teaches me to slow down, focus, and be patient and allows me to express contemporary ideas through a traditional craft. Second, I have initiated an online support group where I meet with five young Chinese artists based in different counties. In our monthly online meet-up, we talk about our lives, share creative ideas, and brainstorm artistic projects. Lastly, I made my first iPhone short film and created a living room exhibition called iBeckett, where I reinterpreted three Samuel Beckett's plays in the form of installations. All the above are examples of turning limitations into opportunities to adapt and innovate.

What does it mean for you to be a 2chairs artist?

Being an artist is more a choice than a fixed identity. You don't have to hold an MFA or have been presented by major museums to qualify as an artist. To be a 2chairs artist, I need to be brave enough to embrace the challenges and uncertainties that a different path would bring. While I have gained some formal education and training in visual arts, I always cherish my spirit as an "amateur." Although this word is often associated with non-professional or incompetent in everyday language, its earliest sense comes from the Latin word for "lover" (amator). I choose to be an artist because it brings me love and fulfilment.

Do you have certain plans for the nearest future or any goals that you are working to achieve?

Art and digital technologies are now interlinked more than ever, and I find it exciting to learn to utilise new digital tools in creative works. Therefore, I recently enrolled in a master's degree in simulation and immersive design, which is a new adventure for me as an artist. I want to adopt technologies such as 3D visualisation and AR/VR to create immersive and imaginative artworks and digital performances.

Many thanks for coming, Shiya! I hope that all your dreams will come true soon!