Yixuan Pan, one of our Wind Fellow recipients, is an artist whose kaleidoscopic practice spans across video, performance, installation, poetry, conducting, and more. As a native Mandarin speaker now based in the States, Pan is interested in exploring the limitations and structural substrates of language, doing so in unexpected ways that strike at the heart of fundamental human questions.
Kevin Sun: What made you decide to get into art?
Yixuan Pan: I think I am just very curious about so many things and people I don’t know! Maybe being an artist gives me the perfect excuse to study them, get to know them and create connections.
K.S.: Your work often includes the participation of others, such as visitors in An Orchestra at Elsewhere and professional choir singers in How I Wonder What You Are. What do you feel that outside contributors bring to your creative process?
Y.P.: I am very grateful for the trust that people offer in my projects. I don’t want to make a project that is only for people with professional art training. Instead, I believe art should live in a real world, the one I live in with other people. Art is not a vacuum that creates this separate idea of “insiders” and “outsiders”. I find it very humbling when people with different skill sets and backgrounds (choir singer, piano tuner, people who look through their windows in their house…) are willing to work with me.
I just finished this guided walking tour project for a public art class at Arcadia University. Through this project, my students and I were able to research the history of Glenside, PA, study an ancient creek that runs underneath the landscape, discuss the sugar trade history behind a celebrated castle, as well as interview community members like a firefighter, cafe shop owner, a descendant of Chief Tamanend, and a little 4-year-old who just knows so much about the playground… We had many fruitful conversations, and built relationships with buildings and people we didn’t know, or [that] we thought we knew—this is what I find most joyful when making a project.
K.S.: You’ve described your approach to art as “anti-disciplinary.” Could you elaborate on what you mean by that?
Y.P.: Instead of being driven by medium (glass, ceramics, paper…) or form (drawing, sculpture, performance), my art making process is question motivated. Often it originates from a simple curiosity, and is followed by playful investigations. Different from interdisciplinary processes, the anti-disciplinary approach centers on the questions rather than the mediums or forms. I believe it challenges the discipline-driving habits under Western hegemony, and rethinks the departmentalized academic framework. By decolonizing the structure of knowledge, it creates vocabulary for a common language.
K.S.: Your practice ranges across a variety of media, including video, performance, sculpture, poetry, and more. When you’re thinking about a new project, how do you decide on which medium best suits the concept you want to explore?
Y.P.: I think the truth is, with the context shift, my form can change too, and sometimes I try them all! For instance, How to Clean A Window started as an investigation on the hidden connection between glass and language, so I went to Finland, did my research and wrote an essay. Then it became a performance piece where I cleaned a window in a snowy forest. Next, during an artist residency, I invited the locals to join my window cleaning routine, and I made it into a two-channel video. When Covid-19 hit, face shields, acrylic dividers, webcams…more and more things became windows. So, I did performative workshops with people from all over the world over Zoom to reflect this shared traumatic experience. Now, with the world slowly opening up, I wonder what the window is going to become, and what I can do with it next!
K.S.: Your work explores the theme of miscommunication and the limitations of translation. How do you approach thinking about interpretation, or possible misinterpretation, of your own work?
Y.P.: My work needs the audience to be complete, because essentially, it’s a conversation. Other people’s interpretation enriches my own experience of the work I made. When I put posters up on Fishers Island, NY and invited people on the island to participate, I got so many responses. When I showed up with my camera and speaker, many of them were shocked: it turns out that they thought I was going to clean the windows for them! This assumption of labor distribution was super interesting to me. In a way, I built relationships with people over awkward moments like this.