Visual Installation Artists
Interview on July 10 at Steam Hostel, Chengdu. Transcription and translation from Chinese by Angela Li.
KL: Please introduce yourselves. What do you do, what have you done prior to the collective, and what brought you here.
Greg: I’m Greg, I go by the VJ name of PLGRM. I’ve been in and out of Chengdu since 2012. I originally came here for audio engineering work, which was my major in school. I wasn’t really attracted to the music recording scene here, so that’s when I realized that I could use my technical knowledge to start VJing. It’s all just signal distribution. Once I proved myself as a capable VJ and started getting gigs, I realized I could do a lot more with my computer, like interactive installations, which attracted me way more than staying out at a club until 4am and coming home smelling like stale beer and cigarettes. I was definitely more attracted to the art side of things. Mintown, an art space in Chengdu, has been integral in my development as a digital installation artist.
K: I used to be a photographer, shooting extreme sports, gigs and doing studio work. Later on I moved towards filming short videos. I’m also working on promoting vintage motorcycle culture. I’m responsible for filming clips and documenting events in the collective.
Mian: I usually do VJ work and stage design. Right now I’m leaning towards filming.
KL: You’re a collective, so tell us how that started, how long you’ve been going, what sort of ideologies do you have for it.
Greg: So… our collective is called Puzaosi and how long have we been going…? Not very long. Relatively recently. We all come from party/art installation backgrounds. We recognized each other’s talents and decided that the best way to land bigger gigs was to get together and collaborate and be able to divide the burden. As for ideology… that’s a good one. I myself like to focus on interactivity and multimedia. We like to push for subliminal technology, like very technical pieces that have an artistic exterior. The guts of the pieces are a bunch of wires and stuff but on the outside it’s very smooth and natural aesthetic.
KL: How does each individual role work within the group? Do you collaborate oneverything completely or do you each have different strengths that you tend to focus on and bring to the body.
Mian: We’re divided into several sections right now: live visuals, photography, installation, and production. We are currently experimenting with different methods of fusing these sections to see what we can create. How about we each talk about we do on our own?
K: I’m focused on doing photography and video production. We’ve done videography for parties and music festivals, and the more underground stuff, like bands and extreme sports.
Mian: As for live visuals, we’ve done festivals and various things, like filming music videos. We want to get together and do something that reflects our creative and design ideas, something meaningful. Like a series. When we’re in charge of different aspects of the series the work can be delegated more meticulously.
Greg: We have our own roles for everything. So when we’re together, it’s like an assembly line.
KL: How does that process actually form? Obviously, you guys realized that you’d be getting bigger gigs if you collaborated. Is that process simple? Does it just happened or is it something that needs to be negotiated frequently?
Mian: Our idea for this was actually quite complex. Chengdu is a very accommodating place, so we get along very well when we’re collaborating. The most important part is taking the time to adapt to each other’s creative process. We get along pretty well.
Greg: I mean, we’re still relatively new. Our combined history is pretty extensive, but we’re still figuring out how to work with each other. It’s been relatively easy, I’d say. Of course, the negotiations don’t come between us as much as it does between us and what we’re being asked to do by corporate sponsors.
KL: Is that ever a compromise? Doing corporate gigs?
Greg: Yeah, when you work for a corporate gig, you do have to make sacrifices. Mostly, it’s about fitting the image, so there’s a whole round of “Is this appropriate?” “Cut this out, cut that out.” We are looking forward to doing something completely under our control though. Right now we’re pretty busy with work because there are so many festivals going on. Towards the end of the year, we want to concentrate on our own work and create something that we might present to someone and say, “Do you want to fund our project?” But yeah, if you’re doing a corporate thing you have to match an image. I remember I had a gig for an American DJ in Chengdu. So this DJ came in with a whole set of video clips and was like, “Only play these clips.” So I said, “Ok I can do that.” Halfway through the gig I started adding my own effects, like some delay distortions and color alterations, just because it was getting dull switching between a limited supply of clips. His manager then came up to me and said, “That is not his brand, can you please just stick to the clips?”
Mian: Of course. That kind of work is providing a service. If you do work for someone else, you have to negotiate with the other party regularly to understand their needs, after which you try to stuff your ideas into the work bit by bit. It’s a lot of back and forth. A lot of it depends on how you negotiate. In the end only 30-40% of your ideas will make it. This is why we want to get together and do something we’re into and have a say over.
KL: You talked about looking forward to putting together something that you really want to do and getting funding for it. What does that project look like? How will you exercise that freedom?
Mian: We haven’t been spending a lot of time communicating and being together lately. However, I have an idea. We all really like Noise Temple, an experimental noise act. The background videos, the installation, the lights, and filming it – it’s a complete and unique project. This is my vision.
Greg: Mian has worked with Noise Temple a lot (she’s the designated VJ for him). His music is very mechanical, I guess. I think a cinematic package where the visuals mimic his music, but also some of our home-brewed visuals can inspire the music he makes, forming this symbiosis. I can’t recall ever seeing a complete experience in Chengdu similar to going to see a movie, getting a ticket, sitting down for ten minutes, and being enveloped in a room of sound and visuals. That’s kind of what we want to go for.
KL: Chengdu seems like an environment that’s very conducive to collaboration. Do collaborative opportunities present themselves frequently?
Greg: I love drawing inspiration from different people through collaborations. It helps keep projects fresh. I’ve worked with Martin a lot. I recently did an led installation in his new space, Berlin Haus, that kind of helps instill a chill mood + atmosphere. It’s relatively simple when you see it, but there was lengthy discussion beforehand about how it should function. Here, you not only have the people, but the spaces and venues for installations. There are plenty of small scenes scattered throughout Chengdu. When I go to a venue I always think about ways of transforming it. They’re all unique. Mintown converted an older section of the city into a small campus of a music venue, art exhibition and marketplace, and a coffee/collaboration space. The Poly Center is this very strange, corporate-looking apartment building, which someone decided to convert into a building full of night clubs on the upper floors.
Mian: It’s a very magical city. The policies here are not as strict and everyone can come here to find their footing and have a good time. You can meet all different kinds of people. The party vibe here is strong. The easiest thing to do, therefore, is collaboration; even just hanging out together could lead to the creation of something cool. I think that’s magical.
KL: Do you think people here embrace newcomers quickly or is there a ‘proof yourself’ process?
Greg: You can definitely find gigs everywhere. People are thirsty for them.
What I’m about to say definitely has two sides to it: the bar to ‘get in’ here is a little low, which is great because it makes it easy for anyone to get started and also terrible because you have to sift through a lot of crap. But if you produce good work, people will recognize it. So I think Chengdu is very inclusive. Speaking of VJing specifically, sometimes two of the bars from Poly Center would ask me to work on the same night, which to me means there aren’t enough creators. It’s definitely easy to enter.
KL: Is Chengdu important to what you do? Is it a place you’re passionate about and see yourself based in? Or would you like to move away and experiment?
Mian: After traveling and living in a bunch of cities, my favorite is still Chengdu. Although cities like Beijing and Shanghai have a lot on offer, that lifestyle seems kinda tiring and the people there seem to keep to themselves, unlike the atmosphere we have here.
Greg: Chengdu’s our home base, for sure. The neighborhood i live in, Yulin, is such a great community. Most buildings there have 7 floors, there aren’t as many high-rises. There’s definitely a tight sense of community. It still has a glimmer of authenticity. Entry into other cities is more difficult, but personally I’d like to consider branching out. Actually I’m pretty sure we all would. You can derive inspiration a change of environment. You can get stagnant staying in one place to long. That being said, Chengdu is definitely headquarters.
KL: The Chinese art scene is not internationally known for mediums like VJ. Do you think when you do consider branching out, Chengdu would be a great selling point? For one, you’re not from one of the major cities. Second, you’re a mix of Chinese and foreigners. Do you think that’s marketable?
Greg: I think people are definitely attracted to what’s coming out of China and often, they can be disappointed. I worked for an art company back in 2012 that was trying to bring Chinese art to Venice. The inter-politics of that company was what ruined it all. We were representing million-dollar artists, but it was just such a huge failure. Part of it was having a very old-style, stale Chinese exhibition. I see cool shit all the time on Facebook or other western sites from creators in like Taiwan. People have no idea what’s going on in China because it isolates itself through various means. Most things that breach the borders are government cleansed. I definitely want to help represent the more independent / freelance / up-and-coming China scene because it’s got shit going on. I guess Chengdu is a selling point, but it’s becoming rapidly more recognizable. And I think that any cross-cultural mixing and collaboration is more marketable, but that’s not really my field of expertise.
KL: Are there limitations for you, Greg? Do people want to see the laowai? Is there an appeal for laowai internationally?
Greg: I don’t feel limited and I hope that people don’t just want to see the laowai. I’ve been part of events before just because i’m foreign and it breaks your soul. At least for me that is, I know other people have no objection because the money is usually decent. Our various backgrounds and diversity allows us to be more critical when forming our ideas and creating a project, which leads to a stronger product and end result.
KL: Since so much technology is involved in this, do you ever have technical problems? When everything goes “BRAAGGGGH”, what’s next?!
Mian: Very often. Usually when the old issue gets solved, a new one pops up. My onlyproblem now is lugging around a large, heavy set of gear. I gotta carry my computer around, which makes me feel 3cm shorter every time.
K: Filming wise it’s usually fine. We always check our equipment beforehand.
Greg: If you do a festival, sometimes there will be an installation crew who knows how everything up exactly as they were told, but lacks deeper knowledge of the equipment. As a VJ, if you request them to try something different, they’ll go, “But we do it this way.” So there’s that struggle. For me it goes deeper than that. I’ve literally plugged in an HDMI cable into my computer that caused my computer to be electrified. I even got minor shocks from touching it. I’m always worried. This LED installation that I’m doing requires a LOT of power, voltages, amps, but some of it requires faith in the people whooriginally wired the facility. My faith gets tested a lot and sometimes a electric shock is enough to rattle that faith.
KL: Are your visuals all computer-generated? Or do you search and find bits of visuals? If so, where do you look?
Mian: Earlier in my career I used a bunch of videos that I’d found. Now I’m trying to move towards using my own visuals, because using other people’s videos brings about some copyright issues. Sometimes, if there’s a commercial event, I have to resort to finding videos because there isn’t enough time for me to make my own. Now there are plenty of platforms and venues that desire and promote independent creativity. We canwork closely with every client and create a customized product.
Greg: I’ve done a tropical themed gig for which I cut material from Planet Earth videos. I recently did a show at Mintown involving a solo piano and the music gave me a nostalgic feel, so I searched Youtube and downloaded a bunch of lo-fi videos of 1950’s suburban life. That type of footage is hard to sync with the music. It’s easier to use software to create premade animations measured by bars so every video clip can be synced to the beat. My favorite method though is to use programming software, either MaxMSP or Touch Designer, which allow me to generate realtime visuals that have some parameters controlled by the music. There are a couple of different ways. It all depends on the event.
K: I usually do live filming and documenting, so most of my stuff is my own. I barely ever use pre-made stuff.
PuZaoSi are: 刘威，Mian，邓宇健，Greg，卞卡，刀，春崎