Interviewed by Angela Li at Más on September 27
A: You primarily work in black and white. Only about 1/3 of the photos in the exhibition are color. Do you tend to see Beijing in b+w as opposed to color?
R: I really don’t shoot color much. When I do I still see things in terms of contrast, lines, and shapes. It’s such a joy to shoot in color occasionally because you still look for the same juxtapositions that make strong black and white images, but have an extra element to accentuate things. The Mao wasn’t a colour photo in my mind but I like the contrast between his figure and the blue of the sky.
A: What’s the story behind this photo?
R: I stumbled across that doorway. What I like about it is that although it’s empty of players, it seems like they’ve only just left. The beads make you feel like you’re not invited, and I’ve always felt that way towards the mahjong rooms I’ve seen. They have an alien feel. They always seem off-limits, which makes them all the more attractive.
A: Is this a feeling common to photographing Beijing?
R: One of the most difficult things about taking photos in Beijing is the fact that even though people live in the public, they have very close-knit communities. Although they’re open and people are very welcoming, I often don’t want to violate their privacy. You want to let them be, let them exist. I think that’s probably how these new photos have developed: trying to capture Beijing moments without interrupting them. When I first started, I was very focused on candid people shots, but since returning from home after the summer I’ve felt increasingly uncomfortable with invading people’s space. Obviously I’d love to get pictures of people about their daily lives without any barrier, but that’s not the reality. You have the respect people’s space.
A: Is that why the girl at the pool table gave you a weird look in this photo?
A: Do you make a point to talk to your subjects?
R: I try, but I’m an idiot and I’m not good at talking to people. In some situations I’ve talked to and connected to subjects, which has led to some good photos. The reason some of my photos came into existence is that I made a connection. I’m not always good at this though so it doesn’t happen as often as I would like.
A: Do you think it’s imperative for photographers in a city like Beijing to communicate with their subject? Does it change your photos?
R: It helps. My favorite photos of people that I’ve taken are the ones whose subjects I’ve had at least a little bit of a connection with. Those photos are good. I’m not really fond any other photos I’ve taken of people in Beijing apart from those two situations, and the ones where people were a part of the landscape. It’s a combination of my Chinese being poor and just being too shy. It’s hard to know who would want to have their photo taken and who might tell you to fuck off… in Chinese. I’m just an amateur photographer, I’m not trying to undermine the importance of permission. I’m gonna take photos regardless, but I try to do it in a way so that I’m the only one who might feel uncomfortable. When I took photos of these workers, it felt right.
A: In your mind, when does photography move from representation to becoming a creative act?
R: I think it lies somewhat in anticipating candid moments before they appear. When you’re out it is easy to miss interesting moments just because you’re not ready. The creative aspect for me is almost in imagining what might pop up in a certain place. It helps you to be ready to get the composition you want. I respect people who take candid photos of people, but I find it difficult to find a happy place between the authentic moments, shoving a camera in someone’s face, or having people pose. I don’t like any of these options at the moment. You might take an interesting photo of someone doing something that doesn’t represent them.
A: Does it matter if a photo doesn’t represent the subject in their truest sense?
R: That depends on how you feel about strangers. I love candid photos of strangers who were unaware of their photo being taken.
I have feelings of being a foreigner and not wanting to be the weird guy. I could do that and get some good pictures but it’s not what I want to be as a foreigner living in China. I want to maintain the felling that this place is my home and that I’m not just visiting.
A: How much of what you do is waiting for something to come up?
R: I do more and more waiting. Sometimes I fall in love with a space and can’t leave until I’ve attempted to do it justice. Especially clear Beijing days with great shadows. This is why I’ve fallen in love with bridges in Beijing.
A: So it’s a mixture of waiting and being prepared.
R: Patience tends to be rewarding I find
A: I love the bridge photo.
R: That was my attempt to justify the awesome shadows. It’s also a very unique structure. That is my best attempt yet of capturing that bridge so far. When I’m on the bridge looking at the shadows, I think that if I just wait a little longer and tolerate the sun hitting my head, the people element integral to the composition will appear and then it’s done. Too often I lose patience and take a mediocre shot. Patience, patience, patience.
A: Where does the creative aspect of photography come in?
R: It’s not a creative thing. It’s about documenting. I think you need to think somewhat creatively to document well though. You need to anticipate and that’s a skill I’m not finished learning. I want the pictures to be interesting photographically as well.
A: Let’s talk about film, the medium you use. What role does it play in what you do?
R: I like the limitations that film imposes upon you. I like hunting for things with my eyes not just with the camera. Photography for me is part of the enjoyment of exploring Beijing. I like to connect with the city and photography has really helped me to do that to some degree.
A: Do you think there are things that digital photographers have which you miss out on? Like being able to immediately assess and reshoot?
R: I can’t imagine not using film but I don’t think it’s truly superior to digital photography. That’s not why I use it anyway. Some people think film is inherently superior in quality or whatever, but I use it because I like the process, and I’m addicted to the feeling you get after waiting to see the results. I like having friends who are different kinds of photographers, because every one of them can do something I can’t. It’s not a competition. And at the end of the day who really cares about photos? [laughs] What’s the point? Let it all burn. It’s a pointless endeavor in a pointless age. That’s why I do photography, because it’s better to do something with no real purpose than to do nothing. There’s no point in doing anything so let’s do something.
Email interview with Deva Eveland translated by Jacques Qu
DE: I'd like to start with Fountain, which was probably the most provocative piece on display in the whole museum. I saw a look of shock cross the face of more than one viewer. Do you see yourself as a provocateur? Have you faced any resistance or backlash in displaying this kind of work?
CY: Although I wouldn’t call myself radical, I don’t like clinging to conventional ways, either. I got a notice during the preparation for the graduation exhibition in China Central Academy of Fine Arts that I had to withdraw my work, no room to negotiate. The reason was that my work was too obscene. I explained my work to my advisor, the dean of my department and my school, fighting for an opportunity, while at the same time thinking of the worst case scenario: if I still had to withdraw, I would bring a flat panel TV into the exhibition room to play the video. In the pre-meeting between the professors, most of them thought my work was not about obscenity, but about body, so it was given the green light. The reception was enthusiastic and my work got a lot of attention and recognition from many professors, curators and gallery owners.
DE: The piece shares a title with another famous (or infamous) provocative work of art, Fountain by Marcel Duchamp. Is this intentional?
CY: Although Duchamp’s Fountain is the most famous one, “Fountain” has richer meaning in the art history, like Ingres’ The Fountain and like Bruce Nauman’s Self-Portrait as a Fountain. My The Fountain is more like my conversation with Bruce Nauman. I used my body at the time of breast-feeding to build a fountain monument with male characteristics.
DE: Okay, now that you say it, those two Fountains are probably better reference points. They both seem like quite gendered works. I see Ingres' The Fountain as the traditional alluring & demure feminine nude. In contrast, the body language of Nauman's Self-Portrait as a Fountain is cocky and self-confident (stereotypically male traits). Your body-as-fountain piece seems to be aiming for something more androgynous.
CY: Your point is correct, and also very interesting. Nauman’s fountain shows distinctive male traits with clear symbols, while mine displays masculinity through a female body. The milk ejected upward makes me feel a masculine, explosive power, so it’s a wonderful state of androgyny.
DE: It also struck me that this piece might understood quite differently depending on who was looking at it. To a conservative it might be perceived as an affront to public morals. To an infant it might be a video about food. To someone with a lactation fetish it might be erotic. To other people it might be icky and gross. To a breastfeeding advocate it might be a political statement. How do you see it?
CY: Personally, the work Fountain depicts the time when I just had my son and changes happened in my body, which started to produce milk incessantly. Fountain appears beautiful and explosive, but to me it’s about pain. The frequent pain from mastitis forced me to release the milk trapped in my body. At that moment I felt how amazing my body is, and I wanted to create a fountain by using my body as a vessel. The white milk ejected upward made me feel a sense of masculinity and greatness.
However, I’m also happy that Fountain can evoke completely different feelings in viewers and make them think. I’m very pleased. It would be boring and flat if everyone walked out with the same feeling.
DE: Because of the odd positioning of the female body (horizontal, faceless) it almost took on a landscape-like quality for me, conjuring up associations with fertility or natural eruptions. Was this your intention?
CY: Before the shooting, I already thought that the main character should be the breast (the vessel to create milk), not the face of the actress. Plus, if the face of the actress enters the picture, it would distract the viewer and interrupt the key point of the work. Of course, if what’s taped is porn, the face must be in it.
If the ejected milk is seen as a fountain, the body is the vessel to create life and the fountain. There is something in common with the natural eruption of volcanoes, and I think the scenes in the video are classical, beautiful. Therefore you would associate it with a landscape of natural eruption. I think it’s a very interesting image.
DE: Is the female in the video you or an actress? Is the distinction important?
CY: It’s myself. During the period of breast-feeding my body intrigued me and amazed me. I had a strong desire to transform this feeling and express it. My body could best illustrate the feeling I wanted to express.
So the actress for this work could only be me, not anyone else.
曹雨: 没错，作品《维纳斯》是一尊造型极简的女人体，我送给她一个女神的名字——维纳斯。《Mother 》的材料就是绷在木框上的空白画布，但我没有在上面绘制图像，而是在上面缝制了一个通道，它立即从平面的画面变成一个有着立体空间的雕塑。很明显它与女性身体的特征以及局部有关。
DE: The canvas and pedestal pieces were also interesting. I read them as being about the female form also. Is that accurate?
CY: Correct. The work Venus is a woman’s body in the minimalist style and I gave her a goddess’ name, Venus. The material of Mother is the blank canvas on the wooden frame, but I didn’t draw anything on it. I only sewed a passage on it, turning it from a flat surface into a three-dimensional sculpture. It is related in appearance to traits of women’s body or body parts.
DE: With these pieces, it was like something was being purposefully hidden from the viewer. A plain white pedestal isn't that interesting, but a crevice in it seems to indicate there's something else hidden inside. What? A "no touching" sign kept me at bay. Likewise with the canvases, I wonder what's going on inside those stitched sock things. They're about the width of an arm, as though someone could reach right into the canvas. Any comment?
CY: For me, Venus and Mother are both about women’s bodies. In terms of the features of the figure, they both have holes, which attract people’s curiosity and imagination. The desire to peep or touch also reflects the fact that a woman’s body is considered something to be appreciated or peeped.
Venus doesn’t have the slim, beautiful body of classical women, nor smooth, fine skins, but rather a stark cubic box. The black hole on its top can only be noticed when you get close, so it’s easily neglected. After I drilled a hole on top of the pedestal, its inner space is connected to the outside, and the rim of the hole was polished, exposing the original wooden texture. The hole and the surrounding white paint form the look of the body feature of a woman, which further indicates a woman’s body. The pedestal used to display sculptures is now the sculpture itself, in fact a woman’s body in a minimalist form. The details in Mother No.1 symbolize the scars on the body and the passage for life creation. In my eyes, it’s not just a canvas, but a great mother.
DE: The other two pieces really baffled me. I read Chinese at about a kindergarten level, so I could only guess at the materials and your process. Could you elaborate a little bit?
CY: The work Made in Artist is made from dried milk from 18 litres of liquid collected in my breast-feeding period. When it condensed into balm, I held it in my hand. I felt a warm power, fine, soft, but with power. Holding it outside of my body, I sensed the very substance that was once trapped in my body and caused my pain. It left me with pain while delivering nutrition and power of life to my child. When holding it in hand, the feeling was opposite to the cold feeling from holding a lump of sculpture clay - I felt the weight of motherly love. It’s motherly love, and also pain. But to me, it’s no longer any material, but an excretion rich in emotion, a substance created by the artist’s body and through a round of kneading. Putting all these together, I called it Made in Artist.
In the work Every Grain Costs A Drop of Sweat, I took grains from my daily leftover rice and kneaded them, trying to feel the substance and sense the world through my touch. Day after day, the form kept evolving and resulted in a shape of a hill, which accumulated a lot of my efforts. It made feel that every grain costs a sweat. If I say that Fountain is the energy released from my body, Every Grains Costs A Drop of Sweat is the source of daily energy for our bodies. It happens in our daily lives but we don’t carefully observe it.
DE: When I approached them, I thought they could be made from some kind of wax or modeling clay. But maybe not, because they've got this very grubby and biological presence. The thought of what they might be filled me with curiosity and a bit of revulsion at the same time. I think there's a contrast between your process (tender, thoughtful, reverent) and the physicality of the work, which makes viewers squeamish.
CY: Ha, Ha. Your description of your experience is brilliant. Indeed, I remember someone’s first reaction to Every Grain Costs A Drop of Sweat was that those were a pile of boogers. Actually, Every Grain Costs A Drop of Sweat is not intended to impress people with the singularity of the material, or to draw any forceful contrast. To me, they’re still rice, still grains, and they still cost drops of sweat. The material of Made in Artist generates many questions in the viewers’ mind. The most memorable moment was that a female viewer smelt the milky smell when gazing at the work – she said her eyes immediately became wet. She told me, she was moved, she wanted to cry.
DE: Regarding Made in Artist, why are some light and some dark?
CY: These pieces are distilled from 18 litres of human milk, which were made in two batches. The differences in timing and temperature resulted in difference colors.
DE: Do you have any general thoughts about depictions of the female body, either in high art or popular culture?
CY: I don’t have a preference for any particular topic or material. The reason I use the woman’s body is just because it is the symbol of my life experience and body experience at that time.
Being a woman doesn’t necessarily mean you have to use women’s bodies to create your works. My life experiences and feelings are the direct source of my creation, so anything I feel in my life, anything that inspires me or evoke my thoughts, can nurture me as an artist and can possibly find ways into my art.
CaoYu was born in 1988，Liaoning Province，China. She got her Bachelor's Degree and Master's Degree from the Sculpture Department of the Central Academy of fine arts. Now she lives and works in Beijing.
Cao Yu's works include sculptures, installations, and images. Recently, Cao Yu's works at the Postgraduate Graduation Exhibition in China Central Academy of Fine Arts attracted great attention and interest of the audiences. In her works, we can not see any context and grand narrative traces, but she was obviously in a new way of questioning issued on art and significance.Involving body and self, expansion of media and the role of language, rational judgment and the phenomena of consciousness, artistic experience and the viewer experience, and so on.
"Cao Yu's use her body as a tool to reveal the relationship between the media and art, art and language, language and experience. She uses and transforms her body as a medium / material. Not only creates a physical sense of pleasure, but also constructs a kind of body’s emotional communication."
- Huang Du
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
Email interview with Deva Eveland translated by Jacques Qu
DE: Can you describe your process in making the work? Did you film your friends? Set up a video camera in the subway? How did you manipulate the footage?
XZ: When I’m at work, I always pay attention to human itself and the relationship between human and space. First I was intrigued by the action of walking – I observed how the posture and tempo of people’s walking differ from one to another, which is very interesting, and I sensed in it rich information to be mined. Later I started to carry video-camera to tape people’s walking postures. The selection of location is random, for example, at school gate, in commercial areas, in the subway tunnel, in community, in various parts of the city, etc. I don’t want to set a rule - like you can only tape certain kind of people in certain locations; instead, I believe all subjects are equal and I go with the flow. All the subjects are the strangers who were walking past me; two of them happened to be my acquaintances, and although it was only a moment that we faced each other I taped them well, a quite romantic episode. What I did next was that I took out the video clips of each person’s walking and turned them into 2-D animation using Photoshop, drawing the picture frame by frame and eventually combining into a loop video of walking. This process is actually the symbolization of the action of walking.
DE: I'm interested in the marginal spaces you chose to display this work. The underside of a staircase, a support column, high up on a corridor wall, vents...they're visually unused spaces of the museum. Can you talk about how you chose to locate your work there?
XZ: I always take a special interest in space; I am always pleased to sense difference space environments. However, this exhibit at first only gave each participant a 3m x 3m square space, which made me feel limited. Then I tried various ways to break such limitations. I brought in a portable projector to project images of pedestrians onto various spaces in the gallery, for example the restroom, staircase, cement pillars, walls high up, garbage cans, etc. I was very excited at that time, and I sensed that these places are not conventional spaces for exhibition and no one has displayed their work under the stairs or on a gallery’s vent, but they’re parts of our living space and a great match to the concept of walking. So I decided to utilize these ignored space in the building. I spent a lot of time in the gallery, hoping to feel this space using my own senses and to explore how to best combine my visual art with the space of exhibition. During this period, the topic I thought of most was the relationship between the visual art, space and visitor (people), which is the core topic I want to touch through my work. In the eventual visual display, an endless array of walkers try to adapt and to break through various structure of space and to establish a linkage to the surrounding space - in reality it projects your feeling on it and creates a metaphor for the relationship between people and space in daily life. Moreover, this work has very strong flexibility and would yield different effect in a different space.
DE: Would you be interested in displaying this work outside of a museum/gallery context? If so, what would be your ideal location?
XZ: I showed my work in Beijing Chaoyang Joy City in July this year. This is a large commercial space with huge traffic. My work is displayed with the public space. I’m interested to have my work enter the public space or people’s living space, but I also hope to try some more quiet, sacred, slow-tempo spaces, like spaces in nature or classrooms. I think that would generate some new feelings. If I want to display in the outdoor part of a museum or a gallery, I may have to wait till the sunset.
DE: There's something very playful about the work, especially the way the people disappear in and out of vents. It's like watching columns of ants. I've noticed that small children (my daughter included) liked interacting with it. Did you expect this participatory aspect?
XZ: When I designed the space, I did think about the best observation spot for the visitors, and their walking route, or how my work should match visitor’s walking route. Then I let my visual images fit into the spaces in the gallery, like at the vent or under the stairs, so as to generate new meanings and imagination. But I wasn’t expecting that much interaction or that many kids at the exhibition. I witnessed many visitors interacting with the images, which made me happy.
DE: I also wonder if there's something darker? Rows of marching people might imply drudgery. Part of what makes them ant-like is that they're fairly featureless. It's like we're watching items pass through an x-ray machine, making me think about the way we're always under surveillance, whether or not we realize it. Were you thinking along these lines?
XZ: The inspiration and elements of this work came from the social environment that I live in. Here the rhythm of life is very fast, and people are like small parts in the social machine operating day after day in an endless loop, as if our human nature is getting lost. There is also the element of the loop in my work - every person walks in loops, and I want to use this walking in endless loops as a metaphor for the current status of life. An array of walking people enter the vent and disappear in the unknown space, as the practice of asceticism. I don’t think this is a pessimistic perspective, but rather an effort to face the truth, in order to see the most primitive and the truest nature of human.
When I drew pictures of people walking, I tried to capture the unique posture of each person, the rhythm, pace, to keep the vividness of their movement and to show their unique identity and the stories behind them. In fact, the traits of each person are pretty clear, but due to the strong lighting on the wall of the vent I must put 3 layers of images to make them sharp, creating a silhouette effect. Despite each person’s uniqueness, when the images were shown, I chose to make the walkers smaller to create an endless human line, showing the walk as the common action of people. But when you observe carefully, you would find that individual life would show a slight but vivid personality in the common group action. Such relationship is what attracts me most.
徐正月: 是的，我有了解一些曾经运用行走概念创作的艺术家，比如以色列的艺术家Michal Rovner，所以我也有意的去挖掘自己要表达的想法和探索自己作品的艺术语言。
DE: What other artists did you have in the back of your head when you were making this work?
XZ: Yes, I know several artists who applied the concept of walking in their work, like Michal Rovner from Israel. Therefore I purposefully tried to find my own ideas and to explore my own art language.
DE: Are you working on any new projects?
XZ: I’m currently working on two collaborative projects. One is with a German artist. We work with our own elements respectively and then try to merge them to reach new ideas and meanings. The other is a collaboration with an internet App. This App is a platform which collects from the public all sorts of interesting drawings, so I work with them on the concept of walking. Of course all the walking characters in this work are created by the public, and then I will make the video and design the space for display. This kind of collaboration is a lot of fun.
Beyond that, I have some rough ideas, like using the technology of real-time image capturing. Then the people in the images would be the very people who are viewing the exhibition in the gallery. That would bring more sense of participation, but would need a lot of experimentation first.
DE: When and how did you decide to become an artist? Has your idea of art changed along the way?
XZ: I started to learn painting as a kid. When I was 11, I went to an art school to learn Chinese painting and drawing. I accepted very traditional art education all the way to college. In college I got in touch with images and animation, which gave me more options for expressing myself. At that time, I particular wanted to learn about modern art. In 2013 I was admitted into China Central Academy of Fine Arts and learned more artistic expression techniques, with a deepened understanding of art. What made me want to be an artist is the joy, happiness and the process of self-discovery when I am at work. There are also moments of pain, for sure, but I’m willing to experience all these feelings. At those moments, I thought, yes, I want to be an artist.
In fact, the most attractive aspect of art is its infinite possibilities. The freshness is everywhere. From my early interest as a kid to my job and life now, over such a long period, my view of art has changed significantly. I want art to enter my life and to get inspiration to express my ideas and my thinking, to create a linkage between my work and people and the society I live in, and to discover myself and enjoy myself along the way. This is my feeling toward art or the things I do. I’m sure I’ll have new feelings in the future. This is a very interesting thing, but not an easy one.
DE: Is there anything else you'd like to add?
XZ: I really like your questions. Thanks for having this discussion with me.