Interview Wenqi Zou

    Wenqi is a visual artist and researcher whose practice and studies focus on issues of female identity politics and public health care. After graduating from Royal College of Arts, she attempt to inspire these forgotten objects and methods used in witchcraft and legends for medical purposes, to create a generous, generative space infused with female energy, and to evoke these stigmatized non-traditional healing models and practices.  She tries to reassemble these liminal elements by incorporating personal experiences and speculative common gestures while reattempting to refine these past narratives of women’s healthcare.

    Your sculpture series is based on FEMINIST NEW MATERIALIST and QUEER BOTANY, could you elaborate on their specific meanings and your understanding of these two topics?

    In the practical framework of FEMINIST NEW MATERIALIST, material is considered to be the emergence of relations in a constant shifting and dynamic intertwining, rather than a property of the thing itself. It is active, self-generated, unstable, and has the potential for pluralism and infinite openness. At the same time, this notion of overthrowing convention in favor of chaos, breaking down many existing barriers and boundaries, and confronting the interdependence between the body and the material (including materiality or the body itself) is what is perceived as feminist in character. My sculptural practice is deeply inspired by this concept. I see these experiences as a process of re-creating sensory and perceptual pathways, both in terms of the imagery presented by the narrative of plants themselves, and in choosing to work with materials that match the ethos of such narrative. I have been attempting to enable these artworks to generate a spacious, healing and resilient space of feminine energy that allows illness to rearrange the emotional and physical embodiment in unpredictable ways.

    Meanwhile, the idea that QUEER ECOLOGY challenges heterogeneous ecology from a non-normative and gendered stance echoes my understanding of the historical narratives behind these herbs used for therapy purposes. Namely, these narratives were born out of an established historical script, generated under perspectives that include and are not limited to, for example, anthropocentrism, heterosexuality, cisgender masculinity. Thus we can clearly see how natural and marginalized social groups have been historically exploited. I try to draw on these stories while subverting and resisting the prejudices and categorizations that these stories and interpretations produce through the means of practice and “making things”. QUEER ECOLOGY offers a new way of rethinking how I see myself, my relationship to nature and my ability to relate to it, and to move away from human cultural assumptions about how nature should be interpreted.

    Resin, Wool, Silicone, Glass

    I noticed that some of your research is related to people with chronic diseases. What motivated you to focus on issues related to people with chronic diseases and body perception?

    It started simply because I am a patient with chronic illness myself. My years of experience in the clinic made me realize that a large number of women are facing the same dilemma as I was. The status quo of failure to be cured, and the experience of failed visits, left these women passively gaining control and agency over their illnesses by opting out and withdrawing from the healthcare system. Even though chronic illness is particularly prevalent among women, the gender-unequalized medical environment often leads physicians to regard women’s symptoms as the product of anxiety, depression, or being “all in their heads”.

    I believe it is important for this group to be able to identify and voice the pain associated with illness, as well as to validate and re-narrate the existence of chronic illnesses through art outside the healthcare field, thus allowing this group to reclaim their identity. This vision has led me to practice and work in this context in recent years.

    Epoksi Resin, Glass, Illuminator for X-ray

    Your work is inspired by Silphium, how did you learn about this plant? And why do you use it as a model for your work?

    My interest in herbs originated when I was treated with a lot of herbs for my condition, which inspired me to learn more about herbs for women’s ailments. I then researched numerous records and stories from around the world. I traced the possible presence of estrogens in plant species of the past and examined their interactions with women and social culture. Among them, Silphium, as a herb that only existed in Roman times, its juice caused uterine contractions or damaged the endometrium, and was used as an aphrodisiac or for “purifying the uterus” by people of the time. Its rumored effects led to the use of its seed shape to refer to love, the product of sex and affection, in the form of the heart symbol that is widely used today. The composite narrative and mythic associations that have been given to Silphium are, in my opinion, a good example of the need to reevaluate our understanding of the plant today and re-examine the links between plant biology and cultural practice models through the eyes of the underprivileged.

    Resin, Wool, Silicone, Glass

    You work across a wide range of mediums, which medium is your favorite or the one you rely on the most and why?

    I enjoy the experience of “making things” that sculpture gives me, and the feeling of giving new narratives and life to the objects. During the process of creation I fully allow my physical perception of the material to guide my thinking and consideration of the work, and often I can’t predict the final visual effect of the material experimentation. This is an experiential process and state that is difficult to achieve when using digital medium.

    As a research-oriented art practitioner, sculpture is a medium that allows me to circumvent the limitations of language and theory during research. The power of sculpture allows me to better explore and feel artistry and experiential perception itself on the practical path

    In your statement, you wrote that “herbs with estrogenic components have often been given a specific patriarchal colonial capitalist narrative”. What do you think is the reason for this phenomenon and how does it affect your creative direction and research thinking?

    The fact is that not only herbs used for healing, histories and narratives related to women’s care around the world have been characterized in this way. In the past, whether rooted in science or supernature, women have always been a central player in healing. Therefore healthcare has always been our heritage and history as women and part of our birthright. Traditional female midwives, plants, and the medical artifacts they used were even considered witchcraft at times. These female therapists saw the life of plants and textiles as something with information and intention, transcending patriarchal colonial capitalism’s assertion of the merely material, and in the process finding space to reimagine the human experience. It was not even until the early 1970s that feminists began to realize the many ways in which the modern medical system mistreated or treated female therapists and caregivers unjustly. These historical backgrounds and contexts are rooted in the direction and path of my work. In the future, I will expand my work beyond plants to include discussions of natural energies, objects, rituals, and other related elements.

    Photography Installation

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