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“Not only Time” A conversation between Zhang Peili & Zhu Jia


"Not only Time" exhibition brings these two influential contemporary artists together, they all pioneers of Chinese video art. Zhang Peili is from Hangzhou, he is graduated from Zhejiang Art University, and Zhu Jia is from China Central Academy of Fine Arts. Both of them were Oil Painting major, but they work as video and photography artists since 90s in the last century. Zhang Peili is called "The father of video art" with his first video work "30X30". The difference between their education background and works they are doing right now is one of the original idea of this exhibition, and also include the discussion of video media as a way of provocation and introspection. This exhibition gives a brief introduction of their creations through their interests of time based media and the experiments they have done during the last 20 years.

Zhu Jia: The first time we met was 1992 in a diplomacy club at Zhang Peili and Geng Jianli's first solo exhibition. There were no gallery and art space in China at the moment, many artists show their works in foreign apartments or embassies. This exhibition was organized by an Italian woman Franesca Del Lago. She spent a time in China, and she knows many artists. In fact, until now, China has been through lots of changes politically and economically, also include culture and aesthetics.

Zhang Peilli: I think these changes could be traced back to 1993. There were several important exhibitions at that year, one of them was the Venice Biennale, the another was a Chinese Avant Gard exhibition at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin, and also "The late 80 and 90s Chinese New art Exhibition" in Hong Kong. These shows are all Chinese-foreign cooperative projects, but the only Chinese organizer is Li Xianting. I believe that these exhibitions greatly encouraged the new realism painting and political pop art in China. And then, some experimental art showed in Berlin, but most of them were made by the Chinese artists who live abroad, like Huang Yong and Song Donghai who make installations, and my video works. The Venice Biennale curator Achille Bonita Oliva is very supportive to the political pop art. In fact, it still has the influence to the development of Chinese art from that time until now. But today, political ridicules has became a symbol that lost it’s meaning of reminding and introspection.

Li Xianting and other Chinese art curator also played important roles in this trend, just like the foreigners in Beijing at that time. Through these people, Chinese contemporary art were introduced to the Western world. The another more deeply influential exhibition is the "Chinese contemporary art major Exhibition" in 1989, this is one of the event that make this year became a turning point on Chinese contemporary art history. After the "Tian an men Incident", experimental art were stagnated in China. Those publication medias that propagate Chinese contemporary art have disappeared. The development of Chinese contemporary art and new ideas has been stopped at that time, no more art waves, or big exhibitions like "Chinese contemporary art major Exhibition". The only few art groups have been dissolved, "Chi She"is one of them that were set up by myself and some other artists, and "Garage art exhibition" in Shanghai that I helped organized. All art related organizations and shows were gone because of this "Incident".

There are two phenomenon starts at that time, one is some artists, curators and critics went abroad. The another is that many artists went to Beijing from all over China, including Wang Guangyi. Some artists like Fang lijun, Liu Wei and Yue Minjun live in Yuanming Garden. And this place became an artists village.(because it is much cheaper to live suburb) Although lots of curators and critics immigrated to other countries, there are still many stay in China like Li Xianting. Meanwhile, many foreign organizations started to buy the artworks of Chines artists and supported some of them economically. Before the Incident in 1989, Chinese artists are interested in grand narrative, philosophy, and the meaning of life, but after this, they start to pay attention on the daily exists and individual thinking. This is a classic example of how social changes effected art.

The people who were born in 50s and 60s were deeply effected by Western classical philosophy, literature, music and films. Therefore, they were very excited with this sense of mission of fighting for democracy and liberty. This aspire were frustrated by 1989 Incident, you will find that this spirit has disappeared from the painters after this time. Because these artists all have the same background, and grew up in a same reality. They have many fantasies   and they all very similar on aestheticism and utopianism. There was another trend showed up in Shanghai and Hangzhou. Dingyi is working on abstract painting, and I was making video art. In Beijing there was "New scale"group. This trend is very important for the development of Chinese art, but is has not been paid attention.

Zhu Jia: At that period I was young, the most difference of the artists in my generation is that the experience of our art practice are mainly from school. Compare to Zhang Peili, Wang Guangyi and Huang Yong, they all have working experience before they got into art school, so they have much deeper understanding about society. During that period, I see art as an academy that needs to learn and do research. I was still a student in Central art high school, in the 80s, I believe that this is the most exciting period in the whole Chinese modern history. China starts to be young and open, new literature, philosophy and arts were brought in which create new perspectives. All of these were accepted by the young people, democracy ideas were growing. Young people became excited when discussing those ideas. I talk about Kant, Hegel and Freud with my high school class mates, and also Existentialism, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein, Italian movies and The French New Wave. At that age, I talk about Alan rob Geliy and his influence with my friends, because he is the major person of Nouveau Roman in France.  These knowledge have their limitation but also very open, all of them are closely related to my art career after. The exhibition of "The another expedition" started at 1997, gives me a chance to see my works in a wider perspective. Marianne Brouwer and Chris Driessen are the two Dutch curators. They greatly promoted the development of Chinese perspective art.  Marianne got the help from Chen Jian, Hou Hanru and Fei Dawei. But strangely, such an important show were not mentioned much in China, and not many people know about it in now days. I question myself: Is this because Marianne and Chris chose the wrong artists? Since none of those artists had a "successful" career after this show.

Zhang Peili: I know you are joking, I think that exhibition gathered many great artists, they will go further on their way. The failure of perspective artists in the market is not some thing that only happens in China, it also happens in the Western Countries.

Zhu Jia: I agree. I use to say that everyone is making fun of themselves, and this is the how artists feel about been successful. For me, I think from that exhibition, every artists participated has found their way of success on the development of their own perspectives and experimental language.
Some experimental art started to be show abroad since 1997, many Chinese curators like Hou Hanru having their influence in the Western world. It is very important for introduce Chinese contemporary art into the those countries. But there is a contradiction that with more and more my exhibitions were shown abroad, I have less chance to show my works in China. I remember when 1999 the curator of Melbourne biennale came to Beijing to see the Chinese artists, there were four of us met her. After she saw our portfolio, she said she never thought that Chinese artists were already so international. I feel the same, because this reflects that people in China did not give much acceptance to the contemporary art in their own country.

Zhang Peili: For me this video is a bridge that connects the future and the past. My new work "One Line, One Kilometer" is an example, but I'm not sure which part is the future. There are two cameras in this work and some new equipment, because these equipment can effect and change the images. I feel that there is a contradiction between my idea and the imaging technique. I know that new techniques are necessary for the idea expression, but I refuse to see it as some kind of standard for creation. I don't want techniques override my artistic language. I use some special equipment on this video project to twist and interfere those images. But these twisting is not is not some after effect from post-production, they were added randomly while recording. There are two people from 1 kilometer away, each of them holding a camera, start recording at the same time and get close to each other. When they getting more closer, the equipment that effect images they carry will send stronger signals and images become less clear. Both of them can see each other clearly in reality, but not on camera. Our naked eyes can not see these interference between people, so I'm using these equipment to make it visible. This project is about distance and relationship, and also about how I see video as a media.

Zhu Jia: The inspirations of my works are all from the traditional images that are easy to be accept by majority people. I added my own understanding of the society and reality to those images. I wish the media that I use could be combined with many different meanings, in order to change the "original" idea of the image. In my new work "Steaming", I worked with 200 junior school students. They run under the scorching weather, then stop in front of my camera, breathing and sweating. I like to catch these special moments and explore their inside energy. This progress is like playing with tangram. I combine the images of real lives with the images in my mind together and looking for a kind of relationship that is certain but also obscure.

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Not Only Time


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