‘It’s a Kind of Meditation’: Watch Artist Guan Xiao Break Free of Her Phone—and Find Liberation in the Process

As part of a collaboration with Art21, hear news-making artists describe their inspirations in their own words.

Production still from the Art21
Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Guan Xiao: Breaking Free." © Art21, Inc. 2021

It’s not often that a millennial makes the decision, willingly, to go offline. But that’s exactly what Chinese artist Guan Xiao does everyday in her Beijing studio, which doesn’t even have an internet connection.

In her practice, Guan tries to break free from the pressures of technology or politics, instead creating trippy installations and humorous videos that riff on contemporary culture and the tendency to idolize certain artworks and artists.

The artist, who spoke in an exclusive interview with Art21 as part of its new spring 2021 season, does use a computer to develop 3D fabrications and plan her futuristic sculptural works. But she describes the liberation from her phone as “kind of like meditation,” adding: “even if your body feels tired, your spirit is totally relaxed.”

Guan talks about the cadre of young artists she identifies with, a generation removed from those creating overtly political works to condemn the government.

Production still from the Art21 "Extended Play" film, "Guan Xiao: Breaking Free." © Art21, Inc. 2021

Production still from the Art21 “Extended Play” film, “Guan Xiao: Breaking Free.” © Art21, Inc. 2021

“No one can escape the era they live in,” Guan says, acknowledging that in China especially, people are drawn to works that express a strong opinion on social issues.

But she says “they forget that political artwork is just one category of many.” 

Instead, Guan hopes to find an opening for her and her peers to be freed from those constraints.

“Everything an artist does is to express their sense of freedom, to break our ideas free of the frames that hold them in,” the artist says. “That’s what is actually political.”

Watch the video, which originally appeared as part of Art21’s Extended Play series, below. The brand new 10th season of the show is available now at Art21.org. 

This is an installment of “Art on Video,” a collaboration between Artnet News and Art21 that brings you clips of newsmaking artists. A new series of the nonprofit Art21’s flagship series Art in the Twenty-First Century is available now on PBS. Catch all episodes of other series like New York Close Up and Extended Play and learn about the organization’s educational programs at Art21.org.


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