Disposed to Add, 2019. Silicone and pigment, dimensions variable. Photo: Courtesy the artist

States of Flux: A Conversation with Jes Fan

Jes Fan’s work unspools complexities, unifies diversities, and creates new forms of beauty. His unique vision includes abstract systems that allude to gender and racial distinctions as well as to outer/inner structures, merging art, science, philosophy, and cultural histories. This fluid approach embraces trans and queer states of flux—beyond traditional binary masculine/feminine categories. Using glass, testosterone, estrogen, melanin, wax, and soybeans, Fan, who identifies as trans, creates sensuous forms that fit into the body’s curves and folds, sometimes transitioning from liquid to elastic to solid states. Through these works, he updates and reinterprets Heraclitus’s maxim “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man” to demonstrate another truth applicable to every human being—“We’re always in a state of flux.” In ways both subtle and dramatic, Fan proves that binary oppositions are false, outdated constructs that differ from biological facts. In fact, he suggests, what’s inside counts most.

This year, Fan, who was born in Canada and raised in Hong Kong, is participating in both the Sydney Biennale (March 4–June 8, 2020) and the Liverpool Biennial (July 11–October 25, 2020). He also has a show scheduled for 2022 at The Kitchen.

Jan Garden Castro: You have said that your work is about biology but is not biographical; you address themes “beyond trans-ness,” which are about “the liminality of being a biological body in an age when the body is reconfigured in terms of the molecular, the digital, and the informational (to borrow the words of Rachel C. Lee).” Could you discuss these directions further?
Jes Fan: I don’t want my identity to hyphenate the work I do or my status as an artist. In so much of the art world now, the artist becomes the spectacle and also the content of the work. I’m not interested in that. My work has to do with decentering not just in terms of the role of the artist, but in terms of humans in general—the importance of history or value that’s anthropocentric. By quoting from Rachel C. Lee’s Exquisite Corpse of Asian America: Biopolitics, Biosociality, and Posthuman Ecologies (2016), I am trying to say that when you think about what constitutes you as an individual in late capitalism, I am hesitant to call the sausage casing that I’m encased in completely mine. We’re in a day and age when apples are packed in plastic cling film in supermarkets. Everything is neatly packaged. We think of ourselves as impenetrable with no leakage or porosity, but in fact, we’re more entangled with each other; and what leaks out at stages is not what we think of in literal terms . . .

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