Guoping Deng

Interview by Lei Wang

Expose Art Magazine (February 2016)

Gouping Deng

Everyone would know the symbolic essence of you purchasing a Louis Vuitton bag. Art, on the contrary, is much more complicated than what you can see on the surface. It represents ideas coming from philosophy, aesthetics, politics and more. Therefore, art with its diverse nature is a very interesting subject to study. Unfortunately, its diversity is usually absent from the works by local artists. We have a lot of artists in China, but the homogenisation of their works is problematic.

When I first met Prof. Deng Guoping, I felt that I have come across a very interesting female artist, for her continuous efforts in searching deeply in her thoughts, for the fact that she practices art and life in an almost wild manner.

Cezanne believes that painting does not mean blindly copying reality, it means finding a variety of harmonious relations. To me, being an artist is to exhibit the worlds that are hidden away. In other words, it is to show energy, happiness and all other inner strengths. I’ve always wanted to use the word “regressiveness” to describe Prof. Deng Guoping’s work. It discusses the ontology language of art itself. She mentioned that: “I don’t actually think about complicated things, I wish to be happy like a child. The purpose of my creations is to bring happiness to all.”

W.L: I’ve studied a lot of your works; the majority with paper being the carrier of your ideas. I find that very interesting. What’s so special about this material that you use it so much?

D.G.P: I can’t actually explain. Perhaps hard stone would be a better medium to use for a female artist (laugh). Many believe that paper is easily breakable therefore it has a vulnerable element to it, but I think it’s very delicate and exquisite, and can be easily adapted, just like women. I love paper. I feel that it agrees with my inner self. When I was a little girl, we do origami for fun. But I didn’t start using paper as a medium until when I first started my job in the education sector in 1987. I was delegated the task of designing curriculum arrangements for an experimental art class. I got back to the office, sat on my chair and started thinking…

W.L: Was your office like this one?

D.G.P: My office was no doubt much shabbier than this. Apart from several pages of used paper I didn’t have much on my desk. So I picked a piece of paper up and started fiddling with it (many people do this for when they are deep in their thoughts), but then I suddenly realised that this is exactly what I’ve always wanted. This mindless, straight forward, simple and fun activity allows me to pick it up whenever I want, and of course leave it be for when I don’t feel like playing. Such two dimensional object can be twisted into having solid edges and corners, and creases can be left intentionally or unintentionally on something smooth like paper. This is magical.

W.L: Did you use manuscript paper like this? (Point to the paper on the desk)

D.G.P: Even manuscript paper has changed a lot, just like each and every one of us…

W.L: Yes, I completely agree (laugh). So that’s how paper ended up being your medium?

D.G.P: Yes, naturally. A great impression has been left with me from that moment of realisation; it still leaps before my eyes. I was listening to The Story of a Small Town by Teresa Teng (footnote 1) from this old tape recorder from the office.

W.L: Yeah, Teresa Teng was very popular.

D.G.P.: Yes, I liked her. She’s full of emotions. Her songs draw you in. I’m quite sensitive in that way you know.

W.L.: When was the first time you used paper in your creations?

D.G.P.: It was in 1987, after I’ve completed the design of the curriculum of that experimental art class. I have, in my older brother’s studio (Deng Guoyuan, footnote 2), created a large quantity of works. It was an experimenting rocess in itself. I’ve realised that a sense of space would appear the moment my knife departs from the paper. Its softness and rhythm immediately shows. Paper as a medium has given me an endless possibility.

W.L.: Have these experimental works been exhibited before?

D.G.P.: Yes, it was at my school’s internal exhibition. This actually reminded me of something interesting. Among the audiences there was a dealer from Australia.He was very interested in my work and expressed an interest for cooperation. However, he wishes to use it to decorate a shop for during the Christmas period. Of course I said NO! Well, I guess everyone interprets it differently…

W.L.: This deviates from your “pick it up and leave it be whenever you like” concept right?

D.G.P.: Yes. I don’t wish for my art to become an artefact.

W.L.: Has there ever been a problem with your creations since then?

D.G.P.: Well, it’s hardly ever a problem. It’s just that paper breaks easily, which is the nature of the form. On the other hand, this fact has pushed me to keep creating. Every time I touch the paper and feel the difference in its texture, I have a refreshed mind which then promotes more excitements and inspirations. At the same time, paper gives me an endless opportunity every time I move, intentionally or unintentionally. I am more intrigued by paper as a result.

W.L.: Technically speaking, the nature of paper is exactly what you’ve always wanted. It agrees with your artistic concepts, even pushes you for the better.

D.G.P.: Yes. So I feel like that paper is not just my tool and my material. It’s more like the partner and friend I’ve always craved for. It’s my language too. I don’t have to prepare myself for anything, I can get started whenever and I can stop whenever. I do it as I please. It’s so different from all other materials. The rest of materials give me counterforces which make me upset. That’s going against my concept of just being happy. I need pure happiness. I do not like to spend a lot of time, to invest all my energy to polish something. I need to be expressing myself quickly and directly when the feeling is there.

W.L.: In China, when you think of paper art, naturally, you would think of it as a part of traditional or folk art. Do you think your work has been influenced by those art forms?

D.G.P.: No, I don’t really like folk art. I think anybody could do it. It merely depends on the proficiency of your skills. That’s not what I wanted. I want to create some-thing different, something that speaks my language. I need myself to be thinking of new ideas. It’s not about “practice makes perfect”, it’s about advancement. It’s not about having a set way of doing things, nor enduring hardship, but making changes and having epiphanies. I don’t want to be tortured and depleted in the process, I want to enjoy myself and make progress, and I want to emerge myself in more happiness. The way I do things is probably determined by my character, by who I really am.

Gouping Deng

W.L.: Do you have a long creation cycle?

D.G.P.: Yes, very. I’m always preparing for my next concept of creation. To other people, this might actually be a short period of time, for I seem to be doing nothing at all for some time, and then suddenly the work is completed. It requires lots of time, effort and past experiences to figure something out of a complicated tangle. But to gather up happiness and to express that happiness is very relaxing. Therefore what I’ve shown is truly pressure-free.

W.L.: What do you want to show in the “Us” series?

D.G.P.: Well, that was back in 2004 in Dubai. It was completely different; I used other materials like bottles and socks; I used materials that are transparent, opaque, smooth, textured, with all the opposing factors. The exhibiting organisation has given me lots of freedom in terms of ways of showcasing my work and the space I could use too. This has really helped with expressing the fun aspect of my work. And the results were great. People at the exhibition were free and happy. They could easily move about the exhibition hall in between my works, to observe, to touch and to feel. My works kept on reassembling and each combination has given me something new and beautiful. The different angles one could take in the space and the right amount of lighting have made all the difference. Some people say that it was a wanton release of human nature; some say that the whole thing was like a ceremony on a dazzling altar…
these were all spectacular. My intention was to reveal my pure consciousness pressure-free in that given space and allow the audience to wander about in it. I hope the audience to simply feel happy. And yes I did it. Everyone was laughing like a child.

W.L.: What do you think of immersive art according to your artistic concept?

D.G.P.: It’s very important. To allow the audience to be part of it is one of my goals in my creations. Besides, I’ve found the key element for everyone to be fully engaged, and that is to express oneself honestly. Honesty is an appealing factor which is the most powerful. It draws people in to get to know more about me as an artist, and most importantly, to have fun with me together. I’m glad I seem to be able to do it every time.

W.L.: I see that you are using different types of paper in your work.

D.G.P.: Yes. This agrees with my concepts. I like to

travel, and to collect paper from different parts of the world. They each bring me different feelings, so I would use these papers in different projects. They all carry with them my own memories and thoughts. I’m a very optimistic person, and I like things that are full of positive energy. I like to visit flea markets all over the world, I adore chocolate shops, and I like to try different things. To me, I’m not just collecting materials when I’m traveling, I’m also collecting things that carry with them happiness, so that my work is filled with them. This is what I want everyone to see and to accept. The result is that most of my works have been bought and added to collections. I’m not particularly concerned with whether they are sold. What I really enjoy is the process – the process of my happiness being accepted by you as an audience. Of course I’m very happy if they are sold. I have gained my rewards and this is exactly the point I’m making. I’ll keep travelling to collect more happiness and I’ll make sure to showcase it to more audiences, so that more people are happy because of my works. I enjoy a virtuous circle as such.

W.L.: Can you explain the “happiness” that you would like to express in your art work?

D.G.P.: It’s a state of mind. My choice of the motions and trends in my works are all positive, beautiful and hassle free. The preparation is fun too. I keep extracting the moments of happiness and combining them together to show the world. It’s like the sunshine, it’s there, however gloomy or rainy the day might be, it is always there.

W.L.: Are there any other artists or other artistic concepts that you admire?

D.G.P.: I don’t like to be grouped and labeled, but I adore all of them. What I like is to do something different, something new and something fun. That’s enough for me.

W.L.: Do you think your roles as an artist, a Professor and a manager have similarities in nature? Do you think your works are influenced by these roles?

D.G.P.: I don’t think so. I’ve mentioned before that I’d like to have these tasks separated. At the University, I would naturally consider different aspects of things, including the macro-environment, the interpersonal relations. I would think about interpersonal differences. But the most difficult thing for me is the fact that a lot of people think exactly the same. Given the current system, they do not want to change. Therefore, if change is too aggressive it would hurt everyone in the process including me. If this happens, it would diminish art itself. This differs from my artistic concept. Therefore I think it best for me to see these roles as unrelated, and make my art works simple and fun.

Gouping Deng


Gouping Deng

W.L.: You are also managing your own designing company. Is this similar to the work in education? Do you think of the experience with your designing company as unrelated to your art works as well?

D.G.P.: No. I think education is related to the designing business. Students learn factual things off textbooks, naturally lacking practical skills. I believe that my experience with my designing company would help the students in a way. My experiences whether successful or not would serve as a prior example to them.

W.L.: As a female artist…

D.G.P.: I actually do not agree with your positioning me as a female artist. I’m a woman, but I don’t want to be labeled as just a female artist. I’m the observer when I’m with friends whether they are male or female, a mere observer not a woman. To observe is an interesting thing to do. It’s making my mind clearer which then enables me to think better and to analyse better. It’s the same in my art works. I do not wish to separate the maker and the observer. Everyone is in it together but individuals would also be able to see and think, just like what an observer would do.

W.L.: It seems that you are very calm and well-rounded when it comes to analysing.

D.G.P.: Yes I agree. I am able to quickly analyse the people and matters in a calmly fashion, so that I can deal with them in appropriate ways accordingly. I’m very good at analysing things such as clothing, language and behaviours for example. I do art the same way. I would first think about it before actually doing it. This gives me good results every time.

W.L.: Ok, last question. It’s a hypothetical one. Suppose one day you do not work in the art field, what would you like to do?

D.G.P.: Well, I’d like to have some dogs I guess.

Footnote 1: Teresa Teng, Taiwan singer, representative female singer of the Japanese Showa era. Her songs became very popular in the 70s and 80s. In the late 80s, her songs became big hits in mainland China. Teresa is accepted in mainland China not just as a pop singer, she has marked a brand new era of readmission to the normal cultural life decades after the society’s departing from the mainstream culture.Footnote 2: Deng Guoyuan ( 1957—), a Chinese Contemporary artist; member of the China Artists Association; President, Professor and Supervisor to postgraduate students at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts; Honorary Professor at University of South Dakota; Visiting Professor at the Halle Academy of Fine Arts, Germany.

Gouping Deng

“They No. 8”, paper and glue