Wan Yunfeng is a self-taught Chinese designer and performance artist. In his apartment in Eastern Beijing, he creates rare pieces of art using trash. He wears his designs, which are usually gowns made from discarded items and takes photos in them. According to him, his artistic work is meant to relay information on the destructive power of human consumption rather than to be worn in daily life.
“I make clothes to bring awareness to the environment, it is performance art. So, of course, you can’t wear these clothes in daily life, it is to deliver a message of environmental protection.”
In one of his pieces, ‘Protection of the Ocean’, he appears to be trapped in plastic waste and nets. His tortured facial expression was reflecting the pain that ocean animals undergo when they are in traps compliments the photograph. He created the piece to create awareness about ocean pollution.
I want to reconstruct the scenes of those animals struggling before their deaths, caused by ocean pollution.
He inherited his sense of artistry from his father, Wan Lun. He was a performer in the local errenzhuan theater, which is a Chinese Opera from China’s Northeast, and its performance usually involves two people. Errenzhuan features a cabaret-style mix of comedy and dancing and is more relaxed and relatable than the high culture of Peking Opera.
His father’s female partners’ costumes during performances inspired what he is doing today.
I loved the costumes more than the opera. Male costumes aren’t powerful — their color and style is very simple. But female clothing can be dramatic.
Wan had previously done different jobs before settling for design. What he did in the past, however, was still art-related. He had worked as an actor and also as a make-up artist for some of the top Chinese celebrities. He had seen his father’s performance partners wearing had a great impact on him. It had kept him thinking about it even in his previous jobs.
He had once found a pile of dumped clothes when he went to his parents’ house and decided to make something out of it.
A sudden whim came into my head, and then I designed them into something I wanted … to make them alive.
Wan Yunfeng then began to collect used items from his apartment and also from his friends to create his designs.
I ask for materials from everyone. Some come from my daily life… some come from my friends. I also travel globally. I go to some antique markets and flea markets to buy things. You need to make it beautiful.
His designs consist of items with both traditional Chinese and Western influences. He says late designer Karl Lagerfeld is a major influence for him.
His design is creative and also for daily use. I worship him.
Of course, Wan has faced challenges in his work. China being a conservative country, Wan has often received criticism for dressing and walking like a woman. To his defense, he says he ‘imitates how animals walk’.