Reconstruct and Expand

In conversation with artist Weijing Xiao.

"What if we could reconstruct the bodily organs and expand the physicality like the Mother-Bird?". A conversation with NYC-based fashion designer and creative technologist Weijing Xiao.

Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to pursue the world of fashion. 

I am Weijing Xiao, a fashion designer and creative technologist based in New York. I focus on post-human narratives and material research to investigate the relationships between the body, gender, technology, and politics. I see fashion as a visceral visual medium, and I’m obsessed with the anatomy of clothes, one of immense surgical beauty. I’m drawn to fabrics with the duality of natural and artificial, such as liquid metallic georgette, mirror-finished vinyl, and matte lycra. For me, to create is to study the materiality of others, thus understanding the physicality of myself.

Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum is hosting your work in its permanent collection. How do you feel about this achievement? Can you share another defining moment or experience in your life that has shaped who you are as a designer today?

Ms. Miren Vivez Almandoz and Ms. Jone de Felipe at Cristóbal Balenciaga Museum are true visionaries dedicated to preserving and promoting Mr. Balenciaga’s legacy and cultivating modern reinterpretations of his techniques. This acquisition is an immense honor for me. However, it wouldn’t be possible had the museum not opened its archive for designers like me to research in such depth. I’m very grateful that the board was moved by the post-human and utopian story I told through couture. And I would be beyond willing to advocate for their ongoing mission.
In November 2022, I was selected as an artist finalist for Fashion for All Foundation’s Bridge to Basel Competition and joined their first year-long activation cohort including the trip to Art Basel Miami, weekly journal reflection, career coaching, and invaluable advice sessions on personal growth. It is a recent event, yet it has shaped me so much. It has allowed me a safe space to expose my vulnerability, create provoking, intimate works, and the most significant theme is love, care, and giving back.

Many creatives state that technology is limiting their creativity (A. I systems etc). How do you identify the relationship between creativity and technology?

Somewhere in my head is a permanent space for McLuhan’s words, “the medium is the message.” How can the technology and its application reflect critical commentaries we, as designers or artists, attempt to make? Few other mediums, like technology, have the autonomy of self, except for nature. Over the years, I have created audio-visuals, generative arts, and quantum computing projects, and there is no doubt that technology brings forward possibilities previously unthinkable. However, we must go the extra mile and search deeply into philosophical and social landscapes to make truly meaningful and creative works with technology. For my collection MOTHER, I used TouchDesigner to create an interactive pseudo-AI operative system as part of the composition. In this simulated system, every layer of reality is controlled and monitored by a higher dimension in the hierarchy, from the physical experience to a meta energy exchange. In this case, technology serves as a tool to create a larger vision in which my fashion narrative resides.

Socrates believed that as long as a man’s soul is confined to their body, they will never be able to acquire the truth. Do you consider the human body as a physical limitation of human existence? and if yes, do you think that technology and digital fashion can “detach this physical aspect” from human existence?

It’s quite a utopian and hopeful thought to transform humans through our current digital lens. I think that, at the moment, we are very detached from our physicality. This concept of duality has been much discussed over the past decades, where, in plain words, our minds/souls are no longer in sync with our bodies. And this very detachment blocks us from getting to Socrates’ query in the first place. Digital fashion and technology at large is an intriguing narrative as it transformed the meaning of fashion into something else, which surged us further off from our bodies. I won’t say necessarily in a positive way.

How do you approach collaborating with other artists or designers, and what do you think are the key factors for a successful collaboration?

I have learned much from collaborating with Yo-Yo Lin and her team for their multi-sensory Channels performance at The Shed. I have experienced tremendous love and care in a non-binary and inclusive surrounding, where we would check in on each other’s states and proceed mindfully in each stage. This practice of empathy applied to the audience as well. It’s also vital to recognize dynamics and identify the technique sets and personalities to bring on board.

As humans, we possess a biological sex and a socially assigned gender. Machines, however, are void of such differences unless assigned so. Thus, the progression of robotics and A. I in fashion has the potential to take us to a new personalization. Is the combination of contemporary fashion and technological capabilities enough for the formation of a queering new reality?

Technology has given us so much hope in achieving a queer new reality, yet we must proceed with caution. We saw machines/robots being used on stage these past fashion weeks. The dynamics and narratives they presented were incredibly worrisome. Although machines are void of gender dynamics among their “peers,” they are entirely at our disposal regarding their relationship with humans. Thus, it’s crucial to determine who is using the technology, what perspectives they hold, and what narratives they wish to promote.

What role do you believe art and design play in shaping societal discourse and change? How do you incorporate sociocultural commentary in your work?

Art and design are such subtle yet powerful tools for progression (and regression as well). They are results of systematic influences and will circle back to influence the system itself. The socio-cultural commentary is always the starting point of my work. For my work, Healing Machine and Children of the Cyborg, the design acquired by Cristobal Balenciaga Museum, it began with my very discomfort of the incomprehensibility of my gender and this work is an investigation attempting to take back my autonomy. Recently I created this piece called Savior, for Fashion For All Foundation Bridge to Basel Contest, presenting the impossibility of protection as a response to the many concerning political, gender and social problems worldwide.

You mentioned that Donna Haraway, an American biologist and feminist, affected many aspects of your work. In her essay titled A Cyborg Manifesto claims that we are all already cyborgs and she posits that the advent of cybernetics might help in the construction of a new world era capable of challenging gender disparities. These notions had been stated in 1985. Do you believe that the technological achievements of our days filled her expectations about the future?

I have read extensively about Scholar Donna Haraway’s works and opposing papers about them as well over the years. I agree that it is seemingly an unsubstantial dream now. With our current use of technology, it can result in even more extreme inequity. When I first started my post-human futuristic exploration, I was all over creating a genderless cyborg utopia. However, it came to me only later that “by abandoning the battlefield, we are not winning any battles.” It’s critical to truly use technology to subvert an existing dynamic without flocking to create something entirely otherworldly. Ms. Haraway is teaching at UCSC right now and I would sure love to hear her thoughts.

Would you consider yourself an outsider in today’s fashion industry?

I am working now as head of the couture atelier at Marchesa and I’m enthusiastic everyday to put my couture specialty into use at what can be said as the heart of the fashion industry. There are incredible values in knowing the traditions and dichotomies when one tries to break those boundaries. As I strive to contribute to the discourse of shifting gender narratives and recontextualizing fashion, my personal projects mostly are within film and theatre productions of similar themes. In that sense, I am a bit of an outsider. However, I think storytelling is so essential in art and design and I will continue to work on these more interdisciplinary projects.

Can you talk about a project that you’re currently working on and what you hope to achieve with it?

I’m currently working on the fashion design for Veles/Тіні, a contemporary performance and multimedia piece for solo performer, digital avatars, and visual projections by 2022/23 BRIClab Performing Arts resident EYIBRA. This piece explores queer identity in Ukraine and Lithuania from pagan times up to the present, including during the current war. It combines 3D video technologies with ancient ritual songs, experimental electronic music, movement, and queer techno. In my design, I aim to capture EYIBRA’s memories, emotional and complex identities, combining fluid visual lines and utilitarian materials with sharp accents. Our show dates are Mar. 16 & 17, 2023.

Weijing Xiao / Reconstruct and Expand

Credits:

Artist: Weijing Xiao / @weijingxiaony
www.weijingxiaony.com
Interview: Iro Bournazou / @irwb

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