A chance encounter with Chinese culture

Writer: Debra Li  |  Editor: Zhang Chanwen  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2023-06-26

It's hard to believe if someone tells you that the last thing they want in life is money and fame. However, when the proclamation came from Poul R. Weile, it sounded fairly convincing.

Weile, a Berlin-based artist with a residency in the TNT Contemporary Art Space at Dafen Oil Painting Village in Longgang District, travels frequently between China and Europe to pursue a prolific and constantly evolving career.

Poul R. Weile. Li Dan

“TNT offered me an apartment in Dafen during my stay in Shenzhen,” he said. “It’s simple, clean and tidy, which I prefer over expensive upscale places in other parts of the city. Here in Dafen, you can buy everything needed for creating art; life is so convenient.

“The most important thing is: People here are getting used to me and I feel comfortable with them,” he added.

Weile with his sculpture. Photos courtesy of Bananajam Space unless otherwise stated

Born in Nyborg, Denmark in 1954 and educated at the Academy of Arts in Odense in his home country, Weile has lived and worked as an artist since 1984, experimenting with all types of visual art.

Defying the suffering artist stereotype, Weile lives in contentment and happiness, because he doesn’t care too much about material life.

“There is no clear distinction between life and work for me, as art is my life and my tool of communication. So there’s no struggle in trying to ‘balance’ between the two. I see my career as a kind of freelance job. Perhaps the difference lies in that a regular freelancer produces something ‘useful,’ and an artist produces something with no [obvious] tangible use.”

Weile stands in front of his ink painting at Banana Jam Art Space in Shenzhen.

In Denmark, Weile was pretty well-known, with his sculptures “Paulus” (1995), “Elle” (1997) and “Five Steps Towards Never Ending Joy” (2008) installed in public spaces. Seeking for a change of view and new inspiration, he moved his studio to Berlin in 2009, where he has since called his home.

Upon meeting a Chinese poet friend a couple of years ago, Weile traveled to China for the first time in 2011, visiting Beijing, Shanghai and Hangzhou, among other cities. The most obvious change he has noticed over the years is the proliferation of coffee shops everywhere. “I still have the habit of bringing quality coffee beans to my Chinese friends, which I find totally unnecessary now. You can get a cup of decent coffee here in Dafen, or any other place in the city.”

Weile stands in front of photos of his performance art work Water Sculptures. Courtesy of the interviewee

Weile got acquainted with Chinese culture through his first wife, who then became fascinated with Chinese food. Then, he came upon Richard Wilhelm’s translation of “Yi Jing” (“The Book of Changes”). “Chinese philosophy is deep, and I fell head over heels into it,” he said.

Weile signs his ink painting.

From there, he learned about Chinese art and experimented with adding ink painting elements into his visual art. His interest in Chinese culture also led to his acquaintance with his current partner Wang Lan, a Chinese designer and artist in her 60s who is also based in Berlin.

“She is actively involved with the Chinese art circle and got me involved in exhibitions and exchange events in China.”

During his TNT residency, which began in 2018 but had been interrupted by the pandemic, Weile curated and participated in several exhibitions at the venue, including “Flower Power” (2019) and “Gravity Anomaly” (2020). Inspired by symbolic images prevalent in Chinese culture, he came up with a series of works featuring “bamboo” and “lilies.”

“They are planning a new exhibition at TNT, to which I contributed a piece of sculpture. Then they asked me to input the description of my work into AI so that the computer would come up with an image of its own based on my description. The result was a disaster. I don’t trust AI,” he laughed.

The artist said he doesn’t care much about sightseeing either. “What intrigues me most are people and their ideas.”

Weile playing the guitar at a friend's studio.