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Interview: Junk artist Gong Yunlong

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Detail of Gong's life-size wolf sculpture
Detail of Gong's life-size wolf sculpture

Hidden away in a neighborhood behind Think UK is a little storefront filled with tools, nuts, bolts and assorted chunks of metal. It looks like any number of junk/repair stores around Kunming.

But peering inside we noticed shelves filled with miniature steel statues of animals, people and unidentifiable objects. Sitting amidst all the clutter was Gong Yunlong (龚云龙), who is perhaps Kunming's lone junk art sculptor.

GoKunming sat down on tiny stools with cushions made from old jeans and talked with Gong about his unique brand artwork and how he got started doing it.

GoKunming: When did you begin making this type of art?

Gong Yunlong: I've been doing this for six years, always here at this shop. This is where I learned how to do it.

GK: How did you learn to do this? Do you have a background as a machinist?

Gong: The previous owner of the shop fixed metal things. He was a welder. I thought what he did looked interesting so I offered to pay 50 yuan a day to kind of apprentice with him. He taught me how to weld and let me practice on his projects.

GK: How long did it take you to learn to weld?

Gong: It took more than a year to become competent but much longer to become good. A sculpture that would take me ten days to finish in the beginning now takes me maybe two. I've gotten faster and better over time.

GK: Why this type of art?

Gong: Before I got into this I was selling CDs, real ones, but that market started to dry up. I wanted to do something different, something unique and thought about art. But I didn't have any background in drawing or painting.

GK: Where do you get your inspiration?

Gong: I'm pretty much self taught and haven't seen other people doing the same sort of thing I do. I keep to myself for inspiration.

GK: When you see a pile of scrap metal do you see art or do you change it into art?

Gong: I usually see the individual pieces and try to visualize how they could fit into something I'm working on or planning. It's organic and practical at the same time. I usually start with larger pieces and augment them with smaller ones.

The artist and some of his creations in Beijing
The artist and some of his creations in Beijing

GK: In the West this kind of art is often called "junk art" or "found art", what do you call it?

Gong: I guess I'd call it "abandoned iron art" if I had to give it a name. Junk art is fine too.

GK: Where do you get your materials?

Gong: I go outside of the city to different recycling shops. I've had to go many different places over the years because all my regular haunts keep getting torn down. Right now I go to a scrap metal yard in Majie (马街). They charge by the kilogram so I can pick out exactly what I want. I use spare parts from old bikes and cars as well as scraps from remodeled or demolished buildings.

GK: Do you only work with metal?

Gong: I work with steel, iron, sometimes bronze — anything that I can weld together with other things.

A table made of a motorcycle wheel, watches and other found materials
A table made of a motorcycle wheel, watches and other found materials

GK: Have you had any exhibitions of your work?

Gong: There have been several, mostly here in Kunming. I have also had one in Beijing. There is one coming up in October at the Yunnan Provincial Museum. The curators have yet to set an exact date. I do know my works will be displayed beside an American artist's, although he uses a different medium than I do.

GK: People have many different definitions for what art is. Do you consider your sculptures art?

Gong: I like them myself. I like doing it so I keep doing it. I never set out to be an artist. But this year I'm teaching art classes at the Kunming Art Institute and the Nationalities University, both in Chenggong. So there must be some art in what I do.

GK: Do you make commissioned pieces?

Gong: I do. This rack here [rummages around and pulls a sculpture with several hooks out of a corner] I designed to display hand-carved jade fish. The man who asked for my piece commissioned the fish from another artist. He asked me to build something to hang them on.

When the other artist saw my work, he peeled back the scales of some of his fish sculptures, so-to-speak, and inside carved metal bones and circuitry like I would have made!

Editor's note: Gong Yunlong spends most days when he isn't teaching or searching for materials at his shop. He encourages people interested in viewing or purchasing his work to call first and make sure he is there. Gong can be reached by phone at 13658879117. His studio and ironware workshop is in the Caijiacun neighborhood (蔡家村小区), just out the east gate of Think UK.

Images: Gong Yunlong

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Comments

Kunming has an amazing amount of artistic talent.

Gong's works are full of creativity!

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