Minjun's Story. Using art to connect and express my emotions
I’m from Fuzhou, China, and now based in Seattle, WA.
I’m a product designer at Spotify, building digital tools for Spotify Ads Studio.
When was the first time you found out about art?
I discovered my passion for drawing at the ripe age of 4 in kindergarten. Bringing my imaginative ideas to life on paper through the use of various shapes and colors was a thrilling experience. I quickly became engrossed in painting and its endless possibilities as it transported me to another world and kept me focused as a young child.
You did different projects while at university. Could you walk us through your two favorites?
Before delving into the world of product design, I come from a background in fine art. I constantly experimented with different materials and mediums in my art practice during my school years. I am still incredibly proud of my artwork and would like to share two of my favorites.
One is called "Autonomy," a text-based installation that utilizes bacon and its fat cells as a medium to reflect on the inextricable relationship between media control and human freedom.
This typography installation allowed the audience to walk around and view the petri dishes, which had a distinct and peculiar smell. The audience was not aware of what was inside these petri dishes, and they were pretty surprised to discover that bacon was being used as a lens to stimulate discussion around individual free will and media control. I thoroughly enjoyed the design process for this project, as it was a hybrid of design and science. I spent countless hours perfecting the typography, layout, sizing and installation details while also experimenting with different chemistry and petri dishes in a biology lab.
My other favorite project was called "More than meets the ear". This art installation highlights the issues surrounding the translation between two languages (Chinese and English) and how this tension affects one's sense of self-identity, particularly within the context of an increasingly globalized and culturally diverse world.
From my personal experience, I found that the meaning behind my Chinese name was often lost in translation when written in the English alphabet. For example, my first name Minjun represents being smart, kind, and honest. Though the English alphabet may replicate the pronunciation of my Chinese name, it is less likely to convey the specific concept behind it.
I noticed the same pattern when I interviewed over 100 young Chinese people who lived abroad. My interpretation of the contemporary fringe is linguistic, cultural, social, and individual, and Chinese names can be regarded as personal symbols that reflect an individual's identity.
Thus, I created this art installation using stacks of sticky notes as a medium to display the Chinese name as well as its meaning on each side—the stacks of sheets, which were continually replenished, served as giveaways to visitors. During the exhibition, the audience was encouraged to participate in the conversation by tearing off the paper and discovering the different possibilities of stories (some Chinese names can speak of domesticity, identity, and memory, while some indicate socio-cultural changes) behind these hand-written Chinese names.
As I look back on all the artwork I've created, I am still filled with motivation and a sense of grounding. They are constant reminders of who I am, why I began this journey, and what my original aspirations and personal values are, no matter where I am in life or how chaotic and disordered the environment may be.
How can you describe your art? What do you want to communicate with it?
My artwork is a physical and visual embodiment of my thoughts and reflections on my experiences and observations within our society. Creating art is a process that allows me to delve deeper into my emotions and confront underlying issues that I may not have been aware of in my day-to-day life. Through my art, I aim to communicate themes surrounding inner self, freedom, and self-identity within multicultural environments.
How is your creative process when working on your installation art?
My creative process is quite iterative and involves a lot of sketching and rapid prototyping. Generally, I begin my projects with research to define problems and gain inspiration. Then comes the fun part, sketching, and prototyping. I start with 2D design to envision how it will look in a physical space. I then use inexpensive materials to create rapid prototypes, which allow me to test how the artwork functions in real physical space and receive feedback from my instructors and peers. From there, I iterate, iterate, and iterate. It's interesting to note that I apply a very similar creative process to my artworks and digital product designs.
What is the best part when putting together a show?
Undoubtedly, it's about inviting everyone to come and visit my art exhibition. There's nothing quite like having an audience stop and look closely at my artwork or even ask me thought-provoking questions. It's truly a fantastic experience.
Which artists are an inspiration to you?
I find inspiration for my digital product design work in modern art and contemporary furniture design. Andy Warhol is a huge inspiration for me in both art installation and product design. Charles and Ray Eames are also role models of mine. This couple of industrial designers made significant contributions to modern furniture, architecture, and graphic design. I'm deeply inspired by their work and their philosophy on design - that it should be accessible to all people.
Why is creating art important to you?
Early on, art was a tool to bring my ideas and thoughts to life in the physical world. I was very shy and anxious about expressing myself through my voice and across languages. Art has allowed me to express myself freely.
How do you see your work in the future?
I envision myself continuing to work in the tech industry as a product designer while dedicating time to personal art projects. I also see myself actively contributing to the design community as a content creator, sharing my stories and offering advice on product design and career growth. Additionally, I hope to become a part-time pilates teacher to support people's physical well-being.
How can other artists and designers connect with you?
You can find me on LinkedIn and Twitter @MinjunChen3.