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Candid talks to light-installation artist Aowen Jin

December 7, 2015

ArtsMixed Media | by Harry Seymour

Aowen Jin does not fall into any pre-conceived notions you may have for an artist. There is no clichéd beret in sight and she is neither timid nor boastful about her remarkable achievements. You get exactly what you see: an enticingly intelligent woman, excited about her ideas and refreshingly open about her involvement in the arts and current affairs.

Having been encouraged to pursue an academic trajectory by her family (whilt her drawings were hidden away in the hopes of deterring the pursuit of a vocational subject), Aowen’s studies in law and economics created a solid foundation upon which her arts projects are built on.

Jin uses her past experience in business and economics to realise the complex projects she proposes, whilst bringing in her experience in humanities to emphasise attention of intimate concepts which is central to her work. Furthermore, her openness to explore (be it in her field of study, work or travel) is paramount to the collaborative nature of her ideas; a mix of technology and art, of heritage and modernity, each piece is open to interpretation and encourages interaction between itself and the audience.

Aowen Jin, Midlight.
Aowen Jin, Midlight.

Aowen is currently preparing for her upcoming, interactive installation in Birmingham named Midnight. But she took some time out to chat to Candid about her mission and driving force behind her work.

CM: I was looking at your transition to the arts. The arts obviously relate and draw inspiration from every field. I wanted to know a bit more about your transition.

AJ: Apparently my parents were hiding all of the drawings I did when I was a little. My mum was a chemist and she would have her laboratory and in China there is no childcare so she just gave me a piece of paper and pen and said “entertain yourself” while she was doing experiments next to me.

The earliest [drawing] I’ve done was a cake. So my mum turned around and saw me licking the paper and thought I must have found some chemical, but I actually drew myself a cake and was only licking the paper. She only told me last year. So that is how much she tried to supress.

CM: Obviously you are really influenced by social factors. Would you say however that your education prior to going into the arts (and studying at Goldsmiths) has influenced you – maybe in the way you approach your work?

AJ: Yes, definitely. I am so glad I studied law. Anytime I sign anything I think of what the criteria is and how I protect my rights. Because a lot of artists do not understand. But because my background is from law and economics I really look at it as a business in a way.

CM: I want to talk about the teaching you did with young offenders and whether that influences your practice.

AJ: That’s the thing, in China I would never get the opportunity to go to a prison. So I wondered what a western prison looked like. I was just very curious. And the people there were wonderful. We had a young offenders course and by the end my students were waving their certificates coming to me and saying oh Miss I got my certificate, thank you! You know, when they were running towards me, I will never forget that moment that I have changed someone’s life forever. I think that was the gold thing of the whole experience. Very, very rewarding.

CM: So it all comes down to interaction and people. It’s all about collaboration.

AJ: Exactly. So I get so much back. Because I always encounter people all the time, volunteers. And they are just willingly helping me out. I mean there is no better thing in art that you get appreciation and respect not because of your name but because they love what you do.

CM: And is there an element of voyeurism in your work? Do you want people to interact with your work but to also get the chance to maybe look at things they wouldn’t have the courage to?

AJ: Another thing about Birmingham – it is the second biggest city but it has no public art. This is why this project, they love it so much (the Midlight project). The next step is to try and install them throughout the city so wherever you go there is a field of light. That is the next step. The whole point is it is like a stage and to have more of a permanent display. It does not matter if you are a singer or just a child; it reacts to you differently so you feel better. So the art becomes a stage to celebrate individuality, celebrate people’s differences. Later buskers, everyone, if they want to sing they can go there and sing, it can become a stage for them to flourish.

Now, we don’t feel very comfortable with what we can achieve. This is to give them a little bit of energy. Because you can see, light is very therapeutic. Light really influences our lives. That is why I chose lights – because it really has a huge impact on psychology. So you see a light, and you are drawn to it and you can see the change. It is magical.

Aowen Jin, Midlight.
Aowen Jin, Midlight.

CM: How many lights are there?

AJ: Two thousand. And each tiny little light has nine thousand variations. Not only this, it has artificial intelligence. So it can get used to your voice and it’ll think – hang on a minute, I have been displaying the same colour for a while. I’m going to change. So it will have a learning process. So that means every experience will be different.

Aowen Jin, Midlight.
Aowen Jin, Midlight.

CM: So you are really looking at the individual. You are saying every different person will get a unique experience every time.

AJ: Absolutely. It is like a field of grass – fibre optic grass. And people can touch it as well so you can feel it, it blows in the wind, people can talk to it and change it. I think we need to feel better. Especially in the arts.

Now it is more about interaction with the audience and how you push the boundaries of technology as well. And we always say there is a lack of female coders and programmers. That is another reason I really wanted to do it. Because the biggest survey for the country showed less than 3% of girls want to be scientists when they grow up. 6% want to be a lawyer. That is so bad. Some parts of society really separate women and men in a way. But I think we should do whatever we feel comfortable to do. You have to take the initiative. You set an example and then others can say they can do it!

By Alexandra Constantine

The Midlight project is in Birmingham from the 12th to the 18th of December. (http://midlight.org.uk/)