Maleonn, an artist from Shanghai, spent 10 months travelling around China with his minivan and mobile studio to take portraits of ordinary people. He appealed for subjects on the microblogging service Weibo, asking to provide food and shelter for him and his seven-strong team in return for a portrait. More than 1,600 portraits were produced. You can read more about the project at www.maleonn.com
AN INTERVIEW WITH THE STUDIO MOBILE
1. How would you describe yourself? Are you a photographer? An artist? Or a just creative talent?
I don’t really care. The title of your interview marked me as a photographer, then I can well be a photographer. That’s not really important.
2. What’s your original purpose of the Studio Mobile? So far, does the influence and social reflection it has brought about meet up your expectation? Is there anything interesting to share with us?
I came up with the original idea when I looked back at what I did: I thought they meant a lot to others but actually there were quite detached from life. My works have become the art pieces in galleries, for which I feel honored and I can make a living based on this. However, I sometimes think my work and life are much too secluded and they have nothing to do with others just like being kept in the ivory tower. Then the idea occurred to me that I wanted to do something for others using my creativity and make my “art” more useful. I hope to transform my creativity and passion into a present and give it to those who like my works or even total strangers. My art should not have a commanding position; instead, it’s my kindness and my keen love for life. I want to share it with others, making the participants happy and positive and therefore realize the friendship among individuals. That’s what I aimed to achieve.
Up to now, I suppose everything has been going on the right track, for all the participants have received my “presents”. I haven’t noticed much in other aspects. For a small team as mine, our ability is limited. Having fully realized that, we are acting in a low-key manner and all the information has been posted on my personal weibo while I’m actually having difficulty handling the increasing demands.
I’ve got a great many interesting stories, but it’s hard to talk everything about them here. I’ll write them down later.
3. What did you do to prepare for the Studio Mobile?
It took us seven months to get prepared. A great deal was done. We designed the detailed plan, including painting the sets and background boards, getting ready for the costumes, producing the props, purchasing and reforming the truck, arranging the locations all over the country and communicating with those who make reservations for the project. Of course I still had to earn money, for the trip will cost us much. Besides, since I won’t be earning any money for nearly one year, I had to manage the rent and some other cost. I also had to look for my companions and persuade them to go through all the difficulties with me. Meanwhile I had to contact some sponsors for my private savings were not adequate anyway, so I needed the help from some companies and friends. But most talks broke down because I don’t want to make this project too commercial, which means the companies could expect little profit. So I have to express my special gratitude to Hangzhou-based clothes brand “Croquis”, agent of printing paper brand “Canson” and the movie company of my friend “Union Square Media Group”who eventually decide to support us.
4. You have received many awards previously. From your view, what do you value most? The praise from others or self-approval? Between the great impact and the final works of the Studio Mobile, which one pleases you better?
Awards did show the approval I have received. I won’t behave indifferent because they did make me happy. But I have to move on, both in my life and my career, so I have to calm down and talk to myself. It’s especially important for me since I usually act on an impulse.
The Studio Mobile is my action. The photos are presents, the one who sends them out cares about the joy of the recipients—that’s my true feeling. These works may not be really “artistic”, but they have been the best I can devote. They are not that important to me, but I can tell the recipients really like the photos I took and most of them told me their true feelings—they enjoyed being part of the project, they like the photos and will always keep them. That’s enough. I don’t have any plans for exhibitions, nor do I have any ideas about what’s following up. The only thing that makes me satisfied is to see them cheerful with the photos.
5. Every city you’ve been to has its unique character. Which city impressed you most?
In fact, I don’t focus much on the city characters. I’m just coming up to people’s cities and take photos for them. What I pay attention to are the people being photographed but not the cities. In addition, cities nowadays are more or less the same, urban views don’t differ much except for those intentionally aggrandized tourist spots.
Most people who want to be a part of my project are into literature and art. Beijing is undoubtedly “the capital of literature and art”, for there are over 1000 applicants. At last, I stayed there for five days, working for more than eight hours each day and took photos of over 140 people. Beijing naturally impressed me.
6. You were born and raised up in Shanghai, what is the city like in your eyes and your lens?
Yes, I was born in Shanghai and most of my works were created there. Shanghai is the setting for my works. In fact, my works are all about the city where I was born, grew up and where I’m currently living.
I’ve always hoping to describe my childhood in Shanghai through words or movies, which has been my dream since became of age. In future I’ll do everything to make this dream come true. You’ll see the work which is all about Shanghai.
7. During your trip, who have showed up in your pictures? Did they understand the meaning of the project they were taking part in?
People from all walks of life: artist, photographer, worker, student, teacher, civil servant, security guard, dancer, movie star, movie producer, writer, book and magazine editors, merchant, director, curator, professor, housewife, very old people, many little children, athlete, etc. They were all very glad, truly enjoying the whole process and that’s enough. I shall keep it in my mind, they don’t have to realize what I’ve got; the only thing they need to do is to well keep the photos.
8. You are nostalgic and interested in collecting, so there are always many props in your works. Can you talk about your collections? And does the widely used yellowing color in your works come from your addiction to the old things?
That’s right. I collect a great many things as long as they are useful and may appear in my works. I’ll buy them if I can afford. A large part of my collection are the old photographs, various kinds of used papers, including posters, certificates, letters, receipts, notebooks and other things that may easily decay. Also I collect many small toys and puppets.