Q 1: As an early practitioner of Chinese contemporary arts, what’s your first memory of Chinese contemporary arts in its initial stage?
No special memories. I would say I am among the group of relatively independent artists, there’s not much involvement in the art scene at the time, and little contact with the outside world, I have participated very few exhibitions inside China. I remember once being asked in an interview: As a Chinese artist, why not doing exhibition in China, yet the exhibitions are mostly outside? I find it difficult to answer this question. My first collaboration with other artists is in 1996, I participated “Image/Phenomena, 96’ Video Art Exhibition” organized by Wu Meichun and Qiu Zhijie in gallery of China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, which is the first large-scale exhibition of video art, exhibiting works from Zhang Peili, Qian Weikang, Li Yongbin, Geng Jianyi etc. A fundamental factor is that it is relatively simple at that time, there is no concept of art market. In such circumstances, we rely on our instinct to do something, like we are comrades, who find a common interest, at most, it can not be categorized as faith.
In addition, "Another Long March: Chinese Conceptual Art in the 1990s" in 1997 in Breda, Netherlands also impressed me a lot. This exhibition was discussed a lot then, even now, more than a decade has passed, we are still talking about it. This exhibition covers works from Zhou Tiehai, Zhang Peili, Geng Jianyi, Gu Dexin, and Big Tale Elephant Group from Guangzhou etc. We are in a situation similar to a real long march. Unfamiliar with the exotic language and food, we came abroad, we, collectively, lived together, ate and drank together, helped each other out in exhibition setup, a feeling of Yan’An. Even looking back at it today, this is a group show of highest quality, it is serious, and stirs much discussion.
2. What is the first piece of art work that serves as your debut in Chinese contemporary art field? How and where the work is realized?
I think specific question needs specific answer. It could be the video work “Forever”. This piece is first exhibited in Canada, “Uncertain Pleasure—Special Topic Exhibition”, organized by Hou Hanru. And then showed in Hangzhou “Image/Phenomena” in 1996, then “Another Long March” in 1997 is also this piece.
3. What’s your major in the Central Academy of Fine Arts? In the early nineties, why you chose camera as your main creation medium?
I studied oil painting in Central Academy of Fine Arts, in fact, it’s really very accidental (to choose camera). Because at that time I was very young, and yearned for freshness. During my stay in college, I have already been using camera. Information was of limited access, the only available one would be two Taiwanese magazines "The Lion Art Monthly" and "Artist", which I dabbled in. Then I took the camera to try something, which seemed interesting. It’s very accidental how I started. It was in my friend’s wedding ceremony, I was assigned a camera to shoot their wedding video. The machine is installed inside a kind of videotape, very fashionable at the time. It went well for a while in the beginning, yet I forgot to turn it off as I was so busy, that is, the camera is on when it should be off. I only realized my fault when I came back, but I found that some images are quite interesting, it seems to be associated with some of my consciousness, but now in any case it cannot be expressed clearly, exactly how to be aware of such association.
Q 4 Your first video works such as “Forever”(1994) and “Do They Have Has Sex? ”(1995), mainly explore what kind of perspective through the lens, and what do you want to reveal to the viewers?
These are not my first works. The first work is called “Wardrobe”. As well as another that called “Conversation”. Both are done in 1992. In addition, “Forever” is different from “Do They Have Has Sex?”, one is video, the other is a photograph. The two differ in form, and express two levels of meaning.
“Forever” is the result of my wrong understanding of a movie jargon, “subjective shot”. My understanding is: “it is not seeing per se, but how to see.” In other words, you can preset a model, but you have no way to predict all the results.
In “Do They Have Has Sex?”, I found that lens is not the lens itself, it’s your mind; it’s not your view, a subjective imagination in your mind. However, I think the lens itself is strong and aggressive. It comes with the kind of non-negotiable usurpations. Therefore, I would like to express the other side of the camera language. Here you will feel one kind of unstable factor, which may bring out of social political issues. There are a lot of things, you have no way to discuss them openly at that time, I would describe this feeling as “a soft knife.”
My works never involve plot, I used to display the language of the image in my own logic, in fact, they just provide you another way of viewing.
5. As one of the first group of Chinese contemporary video art, do you still remember Chinese contemporary art in its infancy stage and the following development? As a major participant, how your works are influenced, and how they influence others?
I guess a lot of people's fantasy was that it has become the artist’s attitude by using non-traditional media at that time, like doing videos and making photos. It is plausible that I was doing the video, not the same with whoever doing painting, I am more advanced, more avant-garde. This is wrong, I dare not judge others, but for me: the use of other media caters for my need of expression, because such expression gives me a sense of inclusiveness. I clearly realized that this expression of non-objectivity is incisively and vividly consistent with my sub-consciousness. As for influences, for me, I have always read two books, one is Le Cobusier's “Towards A New Architecture” I bought in the 80s during my middle school period, and the other is Zhao Yuanren’s “Linguistics Problems” that my friend sent to me. I think both books help me quite a lot in temperament and thinking methodology.
6. What is the first international exhibition that you participated? In your artistic career, which is the most iconic, transformational, or the most interesting exhibition? When and where this exhibition took place?
It’s another big problem, I do not think there is particularly strong transformational exhibition. For me, “Another Long March” in 1997 probably is relatively more important. You may ask all other participating artists, they might well think this is the best. Such as the curators, the foundation, including the organization of the exhibition, including participants, and no other exhibition excels.
7. In addition to these video works, do you also use other media to make art?
There are photos, paintings, installations, many others.
8. What’s the aesthetics that runs through your works, from the videos to “The Face of Facebook”?
I need some time, at least five more years to answer this question. Every artist is in pursuit of this thing, constantly reviewing oneself, but it’s too difficult. I was thinking this issue a few days ago, and figured out that I need five more years to think about it. In fact, the essence of any artist is hardly alterable, an artist’s whole life is like personally digging a ditch, which certainly connected from its start to its end.
9. From a viewer's perspective, we can tell that “The Face of Facebook” indicates multiple points. How did you conceive such vision? In your opinion, what are the interesting connections between Facebook and art?
I think there is something cannot be articulated by language, or at best not say, because the work itself is the irreplaceable language. At the same time, this also involves the issue of context. In addition, there are connections between the works, as well as reading contexts. Sometimes, external ways of expressions may change, but issues concerned are consistent with its internal conceptual logic.
10 Many people would jokingly ask a question: in the end, who is the creator of this work? Do you also hope that viewers will think about the relationship between works and artists through completion of such unique piece? Or how the artist could interpret and create work? What’s your opinion on these two questions?
I'm sure I am the creator. This is a matter of common sense of art history, and “contemporary art” is an open concept. I think our concept of arts or art news has been at a relatively obscure state. I think the so-called "contemporary" here is not just a concept of time, the more significance is that it implies critical and subversive views. In addition, from a form perspective, it is more open, here, open does not mean inclusive, but more targeted and accurate. While domestic theoretical writing has just evaded the content in these levels, this may be our habit brought by our traditional mode of thinking.
11 Is there any special significance of having this exhibition in Singapore?
(Laughing) This question should answered by Lorenz Helbling.