Guanyu Xu

Artist Interview

January 20, 2021
Influenced by the production of ideology in American visual culture and a conservative familial upbringing in China, Guanyu Xu’s practice extends from examining the production of power in photography to the question of personal freedom and its relationship to political regimes. Xu negotiates this from his perspective as a Chinese gay man. In his work, Xu migrates between mediums like photography, new media, and installation. These movements operate similarly to his displaced and fractured identity.

Hello Guanyu, can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

I was born and raised in Beijing. Earlier, I studied in Beijing Film Academy and then I transferred to the School of Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) to continue my pursuit of fine art education.

How did you get into photography and installation?

I started taking photographs during my high school years and entered college for further education. But it was until I came to SAIC that I began to understand contemporary photography and fine art. With interdisciplinary and critical training in SAIC, I started to expand my photography practice.

Parallel Rooms, 2019

Parallel Journeys, 2019

For Temporarily Censored Home, as an act of reclamation and rebellion, you brought queer and homoerotic photographs shot in Chicago back to your parents' home in Beijing, then transformed the home into photographic installations while they were at work. Can you tell us more about this piece? How did this idea come about? Did the experience change how you see or interact with your parents?

My family always asks me what photographs I am making. It made me ask myself how should I bring work I made in the US back to my home in Beijing. I was also influenced by Sara Ahmed’s book Queer Phenomenology. In Temporarily Censored Home, I covertly situated photographs in my teenage home in Beijing to queer the normativity of my parents' heterosexual space. These images taken in the past four years consist of portraits of me and other gay men in their domestic settings from my project "One Land To Another"; prints of my artwork made in the U.S.; photographs of landscape and built environment taken in the United States, Europe, and China; torn pages from film and fashion magazines that I collected as a teenager; images from my family photo albums. Through positioning and layering images, I aim to juxtapose, contradict, and collapse space and time, disrupting my teenage home. It bridges the relationship between personal and political in the context of the oppressive systems of both China and the US. It didn’t change much experience with my family as I haven’t had a chance to see them for 2 years since the final shoot of the project.

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Your early works focus more on landscapes and (societal) structures. What prompted you to start exploring your identity and sexuality in your photography? How has this exploration evolved over the years?

They were more coexisting as they are always intertwining.

You mentioned your interest in collapsing time and space by juxtaposing photographs with their surroundings. Can you tell us more about this aspect of your work?

By using images made across different times of my life and representation of different places and spaces, these installations allow the viewer to travel to and make connections between different past, present, and potential futures.

Space of Ruptures, 2019

Your photo series, One Land To Another, touches on complex themes such as masculinity, sexual stereotypes, racial fetishism, and power. Can you tell us more about this series? What was on your mind at the time?  What was the process like?

Because of my study of critical knowledge of representation, cinema, and photography. I was particularly troubled by the lack of and stereotypical representation of Asians in the mainstream. In my long-term project, "One Land To Another", I present my personal journey in the United States in a half documentary/ half fiction narrative to examine the intersectionality of race, sexuality, and citizenship. I interstice American landscapes with self-portraits in which portray the act of intimacy with other gay men. Through finding collaborators on apps like Grindr, I created photographs not only express alternative ways of gay male intimacy, but also interweave with my transnational way of seeing. The presence of my Asian body disrupts the dominance of queer aesthetics which privilege a narrow, “white”, masculine homonormativity. My confrontation and exploration allow a diverse representation that usually is underrepresented. I have photographed the project in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia.

Alpha Male, 2018
Blind Massage, 2015
A Good Asian Boy, 2015

What are you working on right now? Are there any themes or ideas you would like to explore next?

I am working on a sister project of Temporarily Censored Home, named Resident Aliens. I’m especially interested in the temporary existence of/within immigrants’ home. The project will examine the complicated notion of the legal body and how we define an alien. Who has the privilege and power to decide the legality of a person?

Would you consider collaborating with other artists? If so, what do you look for in the artists you work with?

Yes, of course. I think that depends on the specific project.

What do you do when you find yourself in a creative rut or feeling unsure about what direction to go?

Hmm...maybe don’t put too much pressure on yourself (or maybe put more pressure on yourself). Do something that’s not related to your art.

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Have you seen or listened to anything interesting recently that you would like to share?

I am re-reading Lisa Lowe’s Immigrant Acts and The Intimacies of Four Continents.

Do you have any bad habits? How do they affect you?

Yes, I procrastinate like many people. I’m also bad at concentrating nowadays.

Is there anything else we should know about you and your work?

Feel free to contact me (  if anyone has specific questions.

For more of Guanyu: | @xuguanyu