Interviews | March 2, 2024 |

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Image courtesy of Xiaodong Ma

Interview: Xiaodong Ma
Luca Curci talks with Xiaodong Ma during the 12th Edition of CONTEMPORARY VENICE, at Palazzo Albrizzi-Capello.

Chicago-based visual artist and hybrid designer, Xiaodong Ma, was born in Nanjing, China, in 1991. After receiving his MFA from the California College of the Arts in 2019, he has been exploring the intersection between art and design for years with an unwavering obsession with the simplicity and intricacy of nature and man-made. Xiaodong’s work revolves around transforming everyday objects, mediums, and processes into resonant works of art by exploring 2D/3D forms and textures. By reimagining the familiar and inviting audiences to reconsider the ordinary with fresh eyes, Xiaodong is committed to pushing the boundaries of visual art through his works. He is currently a Senior Designer at SRAM, Road team, and lives in Chicago, IL.

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Image courtesy of Xiaodong Ma

Luca Curci – How did you get into Visual Art? Do you remember why you make your first visual artwork?
Xiaodong Ma –
For me, visual art is a form of self-expression, much like writing and speaking. Although my professional background is in industrial design, where I currently hold the position of Senior Industrial Designer at SRAM in Chicago, my personal passion lies in the realm of 2D and 3D visual forms a space that blurs the lines between design and art. While my career leans towards rational and engineering-oriented commercial design, I find deep fascination in the simplicity of visual art as a means of expression. In this creative realm, art and design serve as not just endpoints but also as methodologies and tools to help me rediscover the familiar world and convey my feelings and perspectives. After a decade of providing professional design services for markets, brands, and users, I embarked on a journey in 2018 to explore expressing my personal insights and identity through visual language. My industrial design career equipped me with valuable skills and knowledge in material technology and visual expression, which proved essential in translating my visual art concepts into reality. It all began with my first visual art piece, “Shadow Evolution,” which emerged while creating a paper prototype for a commercial project at work. I became entranced by the various shadows cast by the paper when exposed to sunlight. The interplay of light and shadow, forming different shapes and illusions on the paper’s undulating surface, transformed a 3D object into a 2D representation with distinct positive and negative spaces. Inspired by this revelation, I embarked on the “Reformation: Shadow Evolution” series – a collection of two-dimensional artworks spontaneously generated by blank pieces of paper.

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Image courtesy of Xiaodong Ma

LC – According to you, what makes a visual artwork? Which details do you focus on?
XM –
I hold the belief that the creation of visual art is a spontaneous and unscripted process. It calls for sensitivity, a continuous practice of observing, capturing, and documenting the details of life, and the ability to perceive endless possibilities in the mundane. Furthermore, a solid foundation in the technical aspects of visual expression is crucial, as it directly influences the quality of one’s artistic expression. Lastly, an open-minded approach that extends beyond traditional artistic mediums is vital—anything can serve as a tool for creation. In my visual art, I gravitate towards the ordinary aspects of everyday life, both in 2D and 3D. These elements, which repeat countless times in my daily existence, take on a heightened level of fascination through subjective visual expression. I find that there’s a unique charm in exploring shapes, forms, and the interplay of light and shadow that permeate our lives, and I seek to capture and convey that essence through my work.

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Image courtesy of Xiaodong Ma

LC – How do you choose your subjects? Is it a reasoned or an instinctive process?
XM –
Selecting subjects for my visual art is a dynamic process, shaped by a blend of deliberate exploration and instinctive response. Given my background as an industrial designer, my professional career is deeply rooted in rational and engineering-oriented commercial design. However, my profound fascination with the simplicity of 2D and 3D visual forms creates a captivating and somewhat ambiguous space bridging design and art. The choice of subjects in my visual art is far from predetermined; it’s driven by what I observe and my spontaneous reactions to those observations. For instance, consider my participation in the Venice Contemporary exhibition, where I presented the artwork titled “Re-formation: Image-Object-Image.” In this series, I constantly reassemble everyday objects from our daily lives and transform them into two-dimensional works of art. These everyday objects, in and of themselves, lack any inherent subject. Yet, once I treat them as continuously evolving tools for drawing, they naturally generate themes for their own creation, sparking new perspectives and interpretations.

LC – Do you use art to express something in particular? Is it your medium of expression?
XM –
Yes, absolutely. Visual art serves as my chosen medium of expression, offering a potent tool to convey specific thoughts, emotions, and perspectives. It grants me the ability to delve into the intricacies of our everyday world, enabling me to reexamine and deconstruct it through my unique lens. One example of my creative passion lies in nostalgia. I hold a deep sentimentality for bygone eras and enjoy scouring antique markets in search of aged objects. What truly captivates me about these items are the stories they carry, etched into their surfaces. Even when these objects bear cracks or layers of peeling paint, I find myself drawn to the intricate details that narrate and preserve history. It’s this fascination with history and preservation that led me to create my speculative artwork, ‘Repairing Society: A Nostalgia Future.’ In this piece, I advocate for a society that values the restoration of objects over their replacement, exploring various techniques to bring new life to the aged. In essence, my artwork becomes a language through which I articulate and share the nuances of my inner world and my unique perception of the external environment.

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Image courtesy of Xiaodong Ma

LC – How do you feel when you see your work completed?
– Creating visual art brings me immense satisfaction, akin to a patient who has been rendered speechless for years suddenly finding their voice. Through visual expression, I can liberate and communicate the experiences and emotions that have accumulated within me over the past few years. Visual art, more so than sound or text, provides a direct and potent means for me to convey these profound sentiments. Additionally, I carry a profound sense of curiosity, envisioning the potential interactions between viewers and my artworks. I find great joy in observing others as they engage with my creations, as their reactions and insights often ignite the spark for my next artistic endeavor. These interactions serve as a wellspring of inspiration that propels my ongoing artistic exploration.

LC – What is the message linked to the artwork you have shown in this event? How is it connected to the theme of the entire exhibition?
XM –
During the Venice Contemporary exhibition, I had the opportunity to showcase an artwork from my Reformation series titled “image-object-image.” This piece carries a profound creative concept: that any object from our daily lives can serve as a medium for modern visual art. By challenging the conventional boundaries between 2D and 3D, “image-object-image” was conceived to explore the fascinating transition between dimensions. In the creation of this piece, I deliberately selected everyday objects and reimagined them by disassembling, editing, and recombining them, transforming them into functional drawing tools capable of producing dots, lines, and intricate patterns. As I continued to experiment and reconstruct these drawing tools themselves, I concurrently generated new experimental 2D drawings. With each iterative cycle of practice, both the drawings and the drawing tools underwent a mutual evolution. During this process, the 2D and 3D outcomes may have lost certain connections to their original forms, but they also gave birth to something entirely new, inviting the audience to reimagine the familiar. The overarching theme of the exhibition was open-ended, yet centered around contemporary art. Through this particular piece, I sought to convey the idea that creators of modern visual art should not be confined by traditional mediums. Everyday objects, while conveying the artist’s emotions and vision, also maintain a tangible connection to our real lives, bridging the gap between art and the everyday world.

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Image courtesy of Xiaodong Ma

LC – We were attracted by your last artistic production, has the artwork presented been created for the exhibition or as a part of preexisting works?
XM –
The artwork I showcased at the Venice Contemporary exhibition was created in 2021. It marked the first occasion I had the opportunity to present it at an art show, and I was truly excited to share it with the audience.

LC – Did you enjoy cooperating with us? 
XM –
Yes, definitely! ITSLIQUID has a great reputation in the art field and a vast audience worldwide. As a visual artist based in Chicago, I feel horned to showcase my work to overseas audience. The professional assistance of ITSLIQUID before and during the exhibition was very impressive too. I like to share my other artworks in the art shows hosted by ITSLIQUID in the near future.

LC – What do you think about ITSLIQUID Platform?
XM –
Once again, thank you to ITSLIQUID for offering a platform that enables artists from around the world to showcase their works and engage in the exchange of ideas. The diverse and engaged audience, coupled with the professional exhibition space, left a lasting and profound impression on me.

LC – What do you think about the organization of our event?
XM –
The entire exhibition was exceptionally well-structured and thoughtfully planned, providing exhibitors like myself with ample preparation time and invaluable professional assistance. Moreover, I was particularly impressed by the effective communication with the curator. Despite the time zone differences, I consistently received prompt updates on the progress of the exhibition.

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Image courtesy of Xiaodong Ma

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