Mengting Zhuo: an interview with our artist in residence

Mengting on stage performing

In the summer of 2022, we were approached by Mengting Zhuo a performance artist whose work truly blew us away, and to our delight connected with us with an interest in joining our residence programme. She has now been with us for a little over 3 months! In this interview we invite Mengting to share her story, her art and her secret psychic ability to read people. 

Hi Mengting, it’s so lovely to have you with us, can you tell us a little bit more about how you found yourself in London?

I’ve been living in London since 2015. This is a city where I feel I can be whoever I like to be - because no one really cares! So many tribes and cultures converge here and there is a community for everything. London is colourful, inspiring and sophisticated.

Chinese is my native language and I find it interesting to embody a different language environment. It makes constantly aware of translation, the message lost in translating, meaning, and the deconstruction of meaning.

What’s most important to you when it comes to your art/ What do you hope to capture?

Presence and liveness is at the heart of my practice. In a sense, I’m working with material that is evanescent, uncapturable, and is essentially (at least originally) against commodification. This paradoxical preposition is what fascinates me.

Mengting on stage standing under a strip light 

What made you want to join our programme, and what interests you about scent?

Scent as a material shares a lot qualities with what I’m working with: it is time-based and space-bound and requires human presence to enter cognitively. I’ve been interested in scent for a long time, but it always seemed to be a discipline that is quite hard to access. So it was a good surprise to come across this artist-in-residence programme, and three months in, I’m very much enjoying the openness and multi-disciplinary makeup in the team!

In your 3 months with us, tell us what you’ve been up to so far?

To date I’ve led two main projects with aequill:

One is Aequill Symposium: a monthly, internal gathering of thoughts, each session focusing on a particular idea about scent. Once we talked about scent and VR technology with a nod to the 1939 invention of the smelling TV, ’Smell-o-Vision’. Once we discussed the Proust effect, Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, and voluntary/involuntary memory withdrawal. 

This is an ongoing project and we may consider opening it up for the public to take part!

The other project is a pop-up installation in an office block in City of London. I designed a scent tent with instructions to invite people to take a break from their busy working hours, and to reconnect with their body and sensations.

Tell us about your work and what inspires you?

Although I use a combination of sound, text, and digital media in my work, I would say my work is more Conceptualist.

Loosely borrowing the famous quote from Pina Bausch: “I'm not interested in how people move, but what moves them.” I think I’m not so interested in what the material is but how they’re composed and driven.

I’m often inspired by anomalies that are almost not perceptible to our eyes, and sometimes superstitious and surrealists tales.

Mengting performing on stage and sitting on the floor

What are you hoping to explore during your time with us? 

What is the current discourse about scent and perfume? Does it come with an imperialist, colonialist and sexist baggage?

Can there be a post-modern and post-colonialist scent culture?

What would a Conceptualist perfume smell like?

What feelings do you want to inspire in others?

Nothing is ever so fixed and certain, and only with open minds we can seek truth.

In your performances, do you see people like art? Like acting maybe? What’s your secret to knowing what’s next?

I don’t try to predict, but I try to be aware of my body, the aura, and the stimulus around me. In fact, focus and spontaneity are the goal of of almost all the performance training.

What do you love about what you do?

Every day is different, every performance is different, and every encounter is different.

Tell us where else we can see your work?

Archive of my live work can be found on my website and social media. To catch me in full liveness, a confirmed date is 1 June when I’ll perform at an exhibition opening at APT Gallery. For more updates, do sign up to my newsletter.

Do you have an instagram account we can follow you on?

Yes! Connect with me at @timelessclock