Fashion, Design, Art: the works of Zhijun Wang are fully integrated into these three areas. It is no coincidence that they are wearable and collectible objects, designed to have a well-defined function and a peculiar aesthetic, and are designed to convey a clear message, comprehensible all over the world. Zhijun Wang is a Chinese artist who for some years now has been revolutionizing shoes and bags of the biggest international shopping brands, transforming them into masks. Everything started to find a remedy for the high levels of smog that cloud the sky of Beijing, his adopted city. Now, however, following the emergency that the whole world is experiencing due to the spread of the Covid-19 virus, his creations take on an even more powerful meaning. We asked him his point of view about the relationship between his art and the epochal changes that our planet is experiencing in recent years.
Cristina Bigliatti: How did you start making your masks? Zhijun Wang: Someday in 2014, when I was jogging at night I can saw the severe smog under the street light, and felt sore throat after jogging. I tried a lot of masks from market, but they are not prefect fit for my face, so I started to thinking of making a mask for myself which can combine both aesthetics and utility.
C.B. Why did you begin making your masks from sneakers? Z.W. I love to collect sneakers since teenage. when I got the idea to make a special mask and needed to choose a suitable material for my first mask at that time, I noticed my sneaker collection — most of the upper material of sneaker (especially running shoes) is light-weight, durable and breathable. I decided to use it as the key material continuously. I made almost near 200 different pieces of mask in past 7 years.
C.B. Your creations are halfway between design works with a real function and collectibles works of art. As works of art – they are part of the permanent collection of MoMA in New York – what is the message they want to convey? Z.W. The name of the exhibition is ‘Items: Is Modern Fashion?’, and it’s my first time to show my work through an exhibition. Fashion is a form of design and it has consequences — social, political, cultural, also environmental. One of my sneaker mask — Yeezy Boost 350 V2 Mask was selected in the object of SURGICAL MASK. The mask becomes a sort of essential accessory in daily life like scarfs and gloves when people start making the mask more fashionable.
C.B. I think that your works were initially conceived as protection against pollution, but at a time like this, when the whole world is fighting its battle against the Coronavirus, their function is being revisited. Do you think the masks will begin to be part of the everyday life of the entire world population? Z.W. Uhm, if human-being still keep destroying this blue planet, wearing a mask daily is just a temporary solution, more and more punishments are waiting for us.
C.B. Right now in Italy we’re having great trouble finding masks. Are you thinking of making a model to be produced on a large scale? Z.W. Yes, I am working on it now, to share my idea on mask. It will be a quite simple design of home-made mask. For a better understanding to different people all over the world, I need to reduce the difficulty, use simple skill and easy-to-get materials in life. It is not my way to make a mask, but it would be helpful and useful to the people who can not get surgical mask in their quarantine time. By now, it is still in the testing process, I need to think about it carefully, hope it would be helpful to people in a safer way.
C.B. In the near future, are you more concerned about new threats of pandemics or problems resulting from air pollution? Z.W. Actually I think it’s just an other response to the behaviors of our human-beings from the nature. Most of human-beings don’t face the reality and change our behaviors for protecting the fragile environmentfor us and the next generations.
C.B. How can art and design be put at the service of the battle against climate change? Z.W. I think the goal of both art and design is to use more intuitive and even ridiculous way to stimulate your curiosity and focus attention, so that everyone who sees it might look at the climate change in different way, capable of magnifying our rawest emotions and awakening people to make changes. It needs the support of our generation and the future.
Captions and Photo credit (from top to bottom) Zhijun Wang – Ph. Yutong Duan Camo Mask – Ph. Zhijun Wang Split Mask, Au Revoir Mask – Ph. Zhijun Wang Terracotta Warrior Mask, Yin-Yang Mask – Ph. Zhijun Wang Beluga Mask – Ph. Zhijun Wang Gladiator Mask – Ph. Zhijun Wang