An Xiaotong may have been born in the ancient city of Xian, famously the site of the tomb of the first emperor of China and the Terracotta Army, but her artistic sensibilities place her firmly at the vanguard of modern Chinese art.
Segueing seamlessly from one medium to another, she taps into the psyche and restless spirit of the urbanite with images of skyscrapers caught in an eerie sunset, silhouettes of trees in an alien landscape and surreal underwater scenes that seem to float out of the walls.
Xiaotong now lives and works in France; her intuitive grasp of the transient is an apt metaphor for the global diaspora. In her surrealistically beautiful work – whether a mosaic labyrinth or a stylised image of a supernova – she is careful to erase any trace of place. Tellingly, one of her major pieces for the Le Méridien Medina Saudi Arabia is titled Everywhere.
On a broader scale, Xiaotong’s oeuvre embraces past and present to imagine the future. She uses watercolour to transform images she appropriates from the net – websites, blogs and chat rooms are all rich hunting grounds. Le Méridien’s cultural curator Jérôme Sans cannily describes her painted images of young Chinese women, each profiled in sparely drawn lines, as ‘stolen instants in the lives of anonymous people… whose status goes from being an anonymous lost into the pool of images available on the net to a celebrity that everyone in our star-obsessed society aspires to become’.
More recently, Xiaotong has been working with, of all things, Lego blocks. ‘The simple brick offers great scope for creating different artworks,’ she says. Her most ambitious subject matter to date, called Constellation, is nothing less than the universe, the installation now anchoring the lobby of Le Méridien Etoile in Paris – its scale belied by, literally, its tiny building blocks, and its message a quiet semaphore about the universe we live in. Here we caught up with An to find out more about her artwork and inspiration...
Wallpaper*: How has living and working in France changed or influenced your approach/philosophy to art?
An Xiaotong: It has given me more freedom at work and greater access to information.
W*: How would you describe your work?
AX: It is the way in which I can express myself to my full potential.
W*: Previously, you have used pictures from the internet, pictures taken from social networks - what was your aim and reason for this?
AX: I like using images to emphasise the characteristics of this era. Also, I want to visualise virtual or imaginary phenomena and lifestyles through my work.
W*: Now your work is often influenced by the sea, the stars and outer space. What has inspired this movement?
AX: Living in such a busy and crowded society, we have hardly any private space. The inspiration has come from my deep longing for freedom and space.
W*: What is the reason behind you switching from traditional painting to working with Lego? Why Lego in particular?
AX: It is not a switch, rather a new working experience. I’ll still use anything feasible to facilitate my work according to the commission. I chose Lego for its unique characteristics in terms of elements and construction, and because it offers a brand new experience in the creative process.
W*: What are you influenced by?
AX: Everything in life.
W*: What do you want to achieve with your work?
AX: I get a sense not only of achievement but also of release through my work.
W*: What are you working on now?
AX: The Lego series, painting, design, and some public space installations.
W*: A lot of your work is quite un-conventional; can you give us a hint at what you plan to work on in the future?
AX: In the future, I hope that my work will engage with a wider audience, gain more attention, and create a dialogue through the form of art.
W*: What is it about Le Méridien that has led you to have, and continue to have, such a fruitful relationship with them?
AX: Le Méridien’s art vision sets it apart from other hotels. Its most successful strategy is promoting intimate communication and interaction with guests through artwork, and delivering a creative and inspiring experience.
When Starwood Hotels acquired Le Méridien in 2005, it immediately set about injecting the group’s French heritage with a jolt of cultural modernity. With more than 100 properties in 50 countries worldwide, the project was ambitious, but with creative input from Le Méridien’s cultural curator Jérôme Sans, the result is an intelligent synthesis of individually distinct properties within their respective cultural settings. Le Méridien Hotels & Resorts have been transformed into staging areas for contemporary artworks by both established and up-and-coming artists and through partnerships with local cultural institutions, the group has forged a place for itself at the core of the art world. Via the Unlock Art™ programme, guests’ key cards designed by LM100™ members are literally a complimentary ticket to a city’s leading art forums. By any measure, the group’s elevation of the quotidian hotel experience into a cultural one is inspirational.