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Art and Theater

A Conversation with ZHANG Enli, QIAO Zhibing and Azure WU Wei Interviewer: Azure WU Wei Translator: ZHANG Jinglu; Proofreading: Tina JIANG, WU Meng 2014

Azure WU Wei (After referred to as "W") : “Hair” is your first paper works exhibition, How do you come up with such an idea and how do you choose works?

ZHANG Enli (After referred to as "Z") : I painted on paper from long ago, but never did a specific exhibition for them. This is the first time I gathered my early and recent paper works. I put them together so that you can see how they have evolved.

W: Some artists only use paper for maquette or sketches, but why did you start painting on large-size paper from very early?

Z: Because of its impressive scale. For me, paper is the same as canvas. I draw on them both.

W: Why is your exhibition in Shanghai Night Club?

Z: QIAO and I, we are friends. He’s a very good collector who happens to have an available exhibition space. I don't think it has to be an art museum or gallery that houses an exhibition. Only if it is appropriate, a restaurant is fine. There is no rule in choosing the space when different ones may inspire differently. In this exhibition, life exerts its own power in the plainest language as to conern the nature of man instead of to entertain.

QIAO Zhibing (After referred to as "Q") : Artists usually think ahead, which I think is important. These years, ZHANG Enli keeps making different attempts, and I always have the will of supporting and attending.
W: How do you know each other?

Q: In 2007, I collected ZHANG Enli’s painting in Art Basel and have paid attention to his work since then. Later we met, and talked a lot only to find we share many things. So we became friends and I think we grow together.
W: You always showcase your collection in Shanghai Night Club, which allows more people to appreciate the art. What do the customers think about these works?

Q: They didn’t view them as artworks at first, but they surely felt some beauty at the first sight. Now more and more people get to know art, they are influenced in this place, then start to collect art works. They don’t feel distant from art any more, and begin to buy themselves artworks. The show this time is out of the ordinary. “Art Theater” is a commercial entertainment place, but it will be changed into an exhibition hall. By then, the theater goers could also enter, but to enjoy a totally different view, that will be a new experience.

Z: But it doubles the risk for managing.

Q: Yes, but also doubles the interest. I've been considering about taking full advantage of my space to support art. I wonder what I can do besides collection. I haven’t decided yet for my art theater and art restaurant, I just want to do something novel.

Z: That will provide a different experience to artists as well as to audience. I once visited a space of a collector in New York. It’s just a 4-floor warehouse which opened during art fairs. This approach keeps its independence. They hold parties  there to promote communication in the art circle. I hope the business of the theater here goes as usual, because if they got zero revenue during the exhibition, it would be a failure.  

W: These years you’ve worked on many exhibitions and projects about space, such as “Space Painting” in Kochi-Muziris Biennale, ICA London and K11 Hong Kong, very impressive. I notice that in your former paintings, like “The Container”, “Sky” and “Tube”, your description contains a strong sense of space, it seems you pay more attention to the space relation.

Z: Just spaces in daily life, those projects are the explorations about the influence of space on art and artworks. Yet the space and the structure can change the way of seeing and the view effect. Especially for the paintings, they are not hanging in the air but attached to the wall. Following the wall means following the structure, yet the way of seeing and the way of showing are both traditional. I have to think about the integration between my works and the structure of the space. For this time, there will be a large scale painting tiled on the stage of the theater. The audiences can view it from the balcony on the third floor, and there it will be a surprise. If you stand in the theater, you can’t see the entire work because of the stage, and even if you step on it, you can only catch a sight of one part.

W: You also put some of your “globes” in front of the spectatory. Is that for structural purpose?

Z: Without those globes, the painting on the stage is kind of isolated. People can sit down aside them and touch them, so as to change them into a touchable embellishment.  

W: It’s more than an embellishment on site. These installations add some dynamic to the exhibition; more vitally,  audiences can get involved. In addition to the paper works, the exhibition shows a new series, “Hair”, featuring assemblage, free in the style. It seems to be your first series of collage work. Can you explain it for us?

Z: “Hair” is about the most intimate things with people. I don’t want to draw a bunch of hair, so I collected some images of hair and assembled them together, which can just be seen in a closer look. The reason I choose ready images of hair is the convenience of identification. If I draw the hair directly, they would be just some abstract lines. It is more important to take advantage of what you adopt than to be obsessed with one method.

Q: His exhibition inspired me a lot, perhaps I’ll continue to hold exhibitions, because this theater is always available in the daytime. Most of the art museums are non-profit, they are running under a big pressure, and I think the way of engaging in art is varied.  

W: To find the balance between the operation and public service is the common concern, and what’s your advantage?
Q: I’ll definitely find a way to release the operating pressure. So far as the artwork itself, the general experiences of seeing are in the gallery or in the museum, but in “Art Theater”, it will be more fresh and alive.

W: I understand. ZHANG Enli’s painting is generally considered as tranquil and restraining, with a strong force in between the lines. But in “Hair”, although the works are all on paper, the visual perception is pretty provocative. For one reason is that they are all in large scale, rich colored and dynamic. For another, the dramatic exhibition space enhances the feeling,  a sharp conflict.

Z: The result is unknown for me, but I don’t worry. Most artists think an exhibition should be held in a certain place like a museum or a gallery. That’s a barrier. Trying a uncommon idea is not bad.

Q: It takes risks to collect contemporary art, since its future is unpredictable. But I say this is the charm of art. As for me, it’s interesting that I turned from an outsider into a VIP, visiting art studios, attending private dinners, and these are all valuable experiences. But for sure, as a collector, my duty is to find and preserve good artworks while the key issue is how much you love art.

W: In your opinion, what is a “good artwork”?

Q: Collection is very personalized. If an artwork can emotionally impress you or inspire you, it’s a good one. You need to observe and evaluate, even need a little bit of luck. I focus on contemporary artists, because I’m experiencing this era along with them, and that’s the meaning of collection.  

Z: The value can’t always be predicted. It may be worthless in the future. So just do whatever you want, don’t be tied up. Especially in art, it’s unwise to stick to a style or language. Everyone should follow his or her heart. You will find it’s consistent and unified after decades. On the contrary, if you stick to one point, your work will be weak, because art reflects your experience in the world around you.

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