Aesthetic: Pan Daijing
“Gender is not really my thing, I feel more comfortable when I’m androgynous,” says Pan Daijing, her long hair bleeding into the black of a plain long sleeve, a reddish pink shadow covering her eyes.
The last time I saw Daijing was during the debut performance of her recent project Fist Piece at the Berlin Atonal festival. Appearing shortly after the release of her debut album Lack 惊蛰 on Berlin-based label PAN, it fused the new material with performance art which Daijing describes as “an exhibition of the weakness, strength and horror of women, a melancholic celebration of our being.” In a vast and dimly-lit industrial warehouse space, she performed a corporal dance routine in front of unsettling visuals to the tune of experimental, opera-inspired noise music.
The scene today is abundantly different. It’s Sunday morning and we’re eating croissants in an upscale cafe, surrounded by couples brunching in the sun. We’re discussing what all female artists are eventually asked to discuss in interviews – the complicated issue of gender. “I don’t speak very strongly about me being a female artist,” she says. “But all my work is actually related to women.”
The well of inspiration Pan Daijing draws from is eclectic to say the least. Her first remembered experience with music is a Michael Jackson cassette pitched down and distorted by a tape machine low on batteries. Childhood dreams of androgynous warriors from Chinese myths learned in her southwestern hometown. Opera. Dance. Psychedelic drug experiences. Experimental music pioneers like Pauline Oliveros. Putting expression to the inexpressible. BDSM philosophy. Melancholia. A thirst for intimacy.
While her music is stunning on its own, it is in performance where Pan Daijing truly hits her stride. She builds her shows to the last detail, thinking of costumes, physicality, lighting, and visuals. “I sometimes describe [performance] as therapy,” she tells me, “there’s a part of me that has this scream inside, something I need to communicate but don’t know how to say in a language we can understand in daily life.”
Daijing’s performances occupy a space of hyper-vulnerability – vulnerability that is so jarring it allows her to access a special wealth of power. And while the power she harnesses on stage could be interpreted by some as disturbing or aggressive, her intention is the opposite. “I like to film people when I perform because I try to understand other people,” she tells me. “When I look people in their eyes sometimes it’s fear, or they’re about to cry. It’s this kind of intimacy that I’ve been craving my whole life with people and I can get it when I’m performing. Even though my music is kind of heavy, and disturbing maybe, I’m just trying to hold people, hug them.”
The connections drawn between Daijing’s work and BDSM aesthetics are largely based on clichéd ideas. But some of the subtler aspects of the power role-play do influence her art. In the beginning she felt somewhat uneasy about having this part of her personal life tied so publicly to her artistic practice. “[BDSM] is just one of my hobbies. I also like to go bouldering. I also like to eat cakes,” she laughs. Having grown to feel more comfortable with it, Daijing is sure to note her performances don’t draw from the aesthetics, but borrow greatly from the philosophy. “At the end of the day BDSM is not someone standing there whipping or dressed like a dominatrix,” she explains. “It’s a mind game. You don’t have to touch this person and you can make them feel like they’re going to die. These kinds of experiences have inspired me a lot in how I place power in my music.”
As she drapes herself over a bed in a cheap hotel in Berlin for her Crack Magazine photoshoot, dressed in scarlet and leather, it’s Pan Daijing’s simplicity that’s striking. A sort of Mona Lisa character, her expression blurs the line between callous and soft. She is the maestro and the philosopher of this egoless body of work which plays with us, exploring human fascinations and long considered concepts through audiovisual experimentation. Daijing seems to frequent this line between light and dark. Her aesthetic is beautiful and profound, a quiet occurrence, a momentary feeling of weightlessness wrapped in a screaming rugged package.
Photography: Vitali Gelwich
Styling: Lorena Maza
Hair & Makeup: Anna Neugebauer / Agency Bigoudi
Photographer’s Assistant: Julien Barbès
Lack 惊蛰 is out now via Pan