London-based Ming Lu is a multidisciplinary artist who combines contemporary techniques with an examination of social and cultural expectations. Her works assess how everyday objects that are often associated with women – such as cosmetics – are built around the body as icons for metaphor. We speak with the artist to find out more.
A: Your work examines cultural and social expectations of women, utilising a variety of mediums. How and why do you choose specific mediums?
ML: Normally when I do a work, I have my idea and concept first, then the mediums will come to me naturally. I start with drawing a sketch, and during this initial process, I decide which medium will express or sustain the idea the best.
For example, for Some Contain Milk, Some Don’t, I was inspired by a prehistoric fertility cult, and I wanted to create a fertility tree with multiple “breasts” on it. I knew it would be an installation with a real tree, for people to experience it physically.
And for Lipstick Love, the most important thing is the act of eating a lipstick, and for people to see me eating it, so the medium is performance.
A: In which medium do you feel the most comfortable? The most uncomfortable (and is this a good thing)?
ML: Recently I have found that I enjoy installations the most. I find my installation work usually turns out to be both pre-visualised and unexpected. I like the process of finding an actual space (not necessarily a gallery-like white cube) and turning it into whatever is in my mind. It’s like transporting it from my brain to actual life, although I often experience some very practical difficulties and frustrations during the materialisation process.
I also like photography as the medium since it was my major at university. The most uncomfortable medium is performance because of my self-awareness; I really prefer to stay behind the camera or backstage. But I have to do it sometimes when I know performance is the best medium for some specific ideas that I have in my mind, and I just have to deal with it.
A: To what extent is your work autobiographical?
ML: My recent work has to do with how I feel about being a women, or more precisely, what I fear of being a women. However, I notice that because of my self-awareness, I use my personal feelings as an initial start for my work, and I search the outside world and histories for inspirations and references that connect to my feelings and experience, and I take them in.
A: You take advantage of everyday objects such as cosmetics, and transform them into metaphors of the female body – which objects catch your attention and why?
A: Amongst cosmetics, I like lipsticks the most, as an object itself and also to use it. A lipstick is colourful, characteristic and it almost has a phallic form. I thought it would be absurd and uncomfortable to see someone eat it, but it’s actually what women do more or less when they wear lipsticks, so I eat one in my performance Lipstick Love.
As for other objects, I prefer what we use at home, like a lamp or a mailbox – the objects that surround us and serve us. I like the translations between forms and functions, and the act of modifying objects as bodies, or visa versa.
A: How did you physically feel after eating so much lipstick in a performance piece?
ML: The lipstick was slippery in my month, and my saliva was pink for the rest of the day. I felt nauseous for a while.
A: The specific use and/or representation of breast milk appears in numerous works in 2017 – why is this?
ML: I guess I was trying to build a absurd and funny visual language in my work. I put milk in balloons because it was direct, and it gives the “breast” a function linked to fertility and motherhood, not just something to look at visually.
As a women of 24 in the 21st century, I have never had children; it makes the idea of breast milk blank and something that can be only be imagined, even though as babies we were all very familiar with it. I found it fascinating and scary at the same time. I guess my vision will be different if I have child.
A: Some of your works (for example the M on Tage and Manifesto series) are contemporary explorations of traditional elements of Chinese history. What is it about this that interests you, versus your current work?
ML: This is my seventh year in the UK, and I studied art from A-levels to my master’s degree here. I can feel two cultures are merging inside me, and collage is a perfect art form to mix different things together.
The M on Tage series shows my journey searching for ancient Dunhuang murals and paintings from China to the UK and looking into the history. I’ve been to Dunhuang on the Silk Road in China, and in London there are enormous manuscripts and paintings in the British Library and British Museum, and I made appointments to see them in person.
In my work I put myself in it as a character, and move through the conversations I set up between Eastern and Western aesthetics. This series and my recent work are all connected to my experience and identity. My identity as a woman, and a Chinese artist in the UK. I borrow languages and references from my Chinese cultural background from time to time, in a way it identifies me.
A: How often do you return to China?
ML: Once a year or every two years. I don’t go home very often.
A: You are currently studying for an MA degree at Royal College of Art. How is this experience different form your studies at London College of Communication?
ML: My personal practice was within the medium of photography when I was at LCC. I did many documentary projects at that time, which is very different with what I do now. It helps me to build up my photography skills and enables me to do commercial work now.
It wasn’t until the end of third year at LCC that the fine art part of me “woke up” and started to value idea more than the medium. I have to free myself from thinking within one medium. At LCC I learned the importance and influence of Internet technology in relation to art, and it’s an important part of the course. At RCA, what I practice more is critical thinking. Because if you aren’t be critical with yourself, other people will be. You can get some harsh feedback on your work.
A: What are your plans upon graduation?
ML: I have been accepted to do a three-month residency at SomoS Art House in Berlin for my project Flat Packed Woman later this year. I’m really excited about it.
I’m also going to participate in some art fairs such as The Other Art Fair. And I will split my time between China and Europe, doing my art project and at the same time doing some commercial photo shoots to help fund myself.
The work of Ming Lu appears in the Artists’ Directory in Issue 81 of Aesthetica. To pick up a copy, visit our shop: www.aestheticamagazine.com/shop
1. Some Contain Milk, Some Don’t, 2017.
2. Solo, 2017.
3. Feed, 2017.
4. Still from Lipstick Love.
5. Kiss, 2016. From the M on Tage series.
6. Kiss Pop, 2016. From the M on Tage series.