Interview By Amanda Acosta
Yang Mai hails from Guangzhou, China, one of the country’s most fashion-manufacturer populated regions. Having studied leather design at the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology, Mai originates as a designer and has made transitions towards contemporary art since moving to the states and earning a masters from the School of the Arts Institute of Chicago.
Following his first solo show in New York at Chashama I spoke with Mai via FaceTime.
AA: Did you start out wanting to be an artist first or fashion designer?
YM: Fashion designer. My background is accessory design when I was in college. It was all about technical skills and yea thats all [it was] about in my college: how to make. And then I came to this country in 2014 and I started to learn the new function of fashion if I can say that.
AA: So coming to the states you saw the new function of fashion as art. Art as fashion, fashion as art as opposed to technical wearability?
YM: Yes, I started under the artist Nick Cave. He has been pushing me and inspiring me. When I first came to the school in Chicago [SAIC] and I was making garments he was like ‘just try to something different.’ And then I started to make art. Not about commercial, not about the part of making, not the construction. Its about the idea. Like where you come from and who you are, what you are trying to say, what you are trying to express. Something like that.
AA: Where do the clothes that you use for your art come from?
YM: I bought it. [They’re] brand new suits. I only use suits. The reason is that its the most representative of Made in China. When its comes to Made in China people will think fashion. The reason why I use suits is because the majority of my family members are educators in public school system in China. So I grew up watching them in formal wear.
When I was in high school and first got frustrated with conventional training and trying to shift my direction towards thinking creatively so that’s why I use the suit to reconstruct a new form. I think my work – its a response to my chaotic cultural surroundings. Im trying to challenge the traditional form.
AA: So your work is a mixture of your personal narrative and a comment to the industry itself. Did you ever consider using clothes from your family in your work?
YM: I did but I wasn’t able to because they’re in China. Thats a good idea but I also want to express the manufacturing industry so why not just buy some product made in factories?
AA: And so looking at your work, initially I think tree branches. Then I see the fabric and think yards of fabric and then the fact they are suit pants is revealed. Did the form define itself?
YM: At the beginning of the process I was over controlling. I was trying to make my work to be perfect, perfect form. I realized I always controlled it. I needed to let it go, to go how it goes. Like the idea of my work, I don’t want to over control it. I don’t want to manufacture it. I don’t want my work to look like a product
AA: So you say your work is removed from commercial but they’re still brand new clothes. What are your thoughts toward this?
YM: Good question. I want to show the raw material. I want to remove the commercial seriousness. I’m trying to transform the commercial material to something unique, something different, something interesting. So thats why I brought the clothes instead of making new ones or going to second hand store. Because if I make clothes and reconstruct the construction it goes against my idea. I’m trying to address the manufacturing industry so if I made the clothes it would be [too] personal.