Artist, designer and illustrator Feixue Mei mixes Surrealism and Maximalism to create work that crosses boundaries and is open to multiple interpretations.
Originally from China, Feixue moved to the US as part of her studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Now, she works as an Assistant Professor in Graphic Design at Northwest Missouri State University. When she's not teaching, she creates illustrations and films that draw on various influences, including Chinese folklore, internet culture, manga and Surrealism.
It's a heady mix of inspirations that can be traced back to Feixue's childhood, where she would spend her time watching anime and reading manga. When not consuming art and culture, she was creating her own by making up stories and drawing characters. This helped her develop an awareness of the relationship between words, images, colours and shapes, which she channels into her projects today when she's getting to know students.
One of Feixue's latest works is Escape, an ongoing video and print project which, according to her, "explores how authors and readers work within and against the local heteronormative paradigm in the exploration of alternatives." This is brought to life on the page and screen by creating a Utopian world called Ocean State, inhabited by characters that do not fit into established social hierarchies.
At its heart, Feixue says this series is about the idea of belonging, which ties into her experiences of studying abroad. "Even though I speak English very well, I still feel like I am not a part of this culture," she tells Creative Boom. "Media consumption is always essential in my free time. I still like to consume cultural products from East Asia; they make me feel close to home even though I live in the US.
"Social media and the virtual world are like a Utopian place to me. I can immerse myself in these spaces, release pressure, and take a rest."
Like many of her works, Feixue describes the style on show in Escape as conceptual and iconic. It's a world rich in details and blends together high and low art influences you will likely recognise. "By using adaptation, appropriation, and reproduction, I free symbols and visuals from their original contexts and put them into new narratives," she explains. "I make the familiar unfamiliar and open to various interpretations and meanings."
It might not be immediately apparent on the surface, but one of the main influences on the Escape series is 'Boys Love' manga. This Japanese comic genre explores the intimate relationships between two male characters, although curiously, they are produced by females for a female audience. "This genre liberates readers not only from patriarchy but from gender dualism and heteronormativity," says Feixue.
She adds: "The idea of shifting points of view, creating a de-gendered space in a fictional world, and exploring female readers' internal conflict attitudes are very interesting to me. Female readers are not satisfied with the current heterosexual romance; they desire an equal love relationship. However, they enjoy a type of story that removes female bodies, and they see themselves in these male bodies.
"I am working on Escape to discuss these topics differently. I will create a series of videos, prints, and a publication. The first video I made talks about the background information of this fictional universe. There are four ethnic groups with different features that live on a planet called Ocean State, but there is no social hierarchy in this world. They don't have a gender. It is a Utopian world.
"Then, I will create a publication that collects background information about Boys Love culture and a female's notes when she reads this type of story. She also expresses her feelings in this publication. She will tend to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities by engaging in these Boys Love fantasies."
In a second video, Feixue plans to make a fake news report where aliens find this publication and report it in the news out of curiosity about the concept of gender. "I will then create a series of short videos to show their reactions and discussions on this new topic. Some of them think gender is good; they also want one. Others think it's bad because it creates so many problems."
Feixue enjoys debating these topics because she feels these questions do not have any definitive answer. This relates to the project's name, Escape, and suggests that if we live in a world without gender, does that solve all of its related issues? "In the Boys Love world, we've removed the female body from a relationship. Isn't that making the relationship equal?" she asks. "If we remove the whole idea of gender, is it going to be an ideal Utopia world?"
It's a thought-provoking project and one that Feixue has clearly planned to run and run. So where does she ultimately see it going? "In the future, I would like to show this project in a gallery space," she reveals. "I will use two large projections to display the first and second videos. The multiple short videos about aliens' discussions will be on smaller screens. The whole space will be dark with some blue spotlights. These spotlights will be used to show the publication and illustrations."
Can't wait until then? See further pieces from the Escape project below, and head over to Feixue's beautifully-website complete with flying Memoji by clicking here.