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Production still from the Art21

‘It’s a Kind of Meditation’: Watch Artist Guan Xiao Break Free of Her Phone—and Find Liberation in the Process

It’s not often that a millennial makes the decision, willingly, to go offline. But that’s exactly what Chinese artist Guan Xiao does everyday in her Beijing studio, which doesn’t even have an internet connection.

In her practice, Guan tries to break free from the pressures of technology or politics, instead creating trippy installations and humorous videos that riff on contemporary culture and the tendency to idolize certain artworks and artists.

The artist, who spoke in an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of its new spring 2021 season, does use a computer to develop 3D fabrications and plan her futuristic sculptural works. But she describes the liberation from her phone as “kind of like meditation,” adding: “even if your body feels tired, your spirit is totally relaxed.”

Guan talks about the cadre of young artists she identifies with, a generation removed from those creating overtly political works to condemn the government.

Production still from the Art21

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Guan Xiao: Breaking Free.” © Art21, Inc. 2021

“No one can escape the era they live in,” Guan says, acknowledging that in China especially, people are drawn to works that express a strong opinion on social issues.

But she says “they forget that political artwork is just one category of many.” 

Instead, Guan hopes to find an opening for her and her peers to be freed from those constraints.

“Everything an artist does is to express their sense of freedom, to break our ideas free of the frames that hold them in,” the artist says. “That’s what is actually political.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. 


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