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Interview with Zhang Qing

Interviewer: Gu Zhenqing 2009

Gu Zhenqing: When did you start to devote yourself into the art and what's your first artwork? Could you point out which artist or artwork has influenced you most?

Zhang Qing: I finished my first work in 2000 for the purpose of attending a Shanghai exhibition captioned "Home". It was an installation concerning some daily family questions and my doubts and query on them. Actually in prevailing with it, I was motivated by artists Zhou Xiaohu, my college tutor at Changzhou, Jiangsu province, my hometown. I embarked on assisting him by being one of those people who were imaged in his photos. With my figure showing up in other artists' works frequently, I thought it a particular way for me to produce and publish my own works. I refer to it as a concept of "parasite art". I grew independent later after attending a few other exhibitions. What's more, I got to know a party of artists at Changzhou, just name a few, Jin Feng, Dong Wensheng, etc.

Gu: Is your art marked with a regional factor?

Zhang: I don't think so. Personally, I focus more on individualism of art. I came here at Shanghai in June 2001. As an internationally open metropolis, Shanghai doesn't bear a regional factor. Shanghai artists are more dispersed in terms of their creative orientation, and even more featured by their characters.

Gu: You came here to Shanghai, an internationally large city from your hometown, Changzhou, which is relatively a small city. Was this likely to arouse your conscience of self-recognition as an artist?

Zhang: As I first came to this city, the difficulties of surviving in a different city besieged me. In order to make a living, I needed a job even irrelative to art. I thought it important to handle the relationship between life and career. Step by step, I found out that I was suitable for a job beyond art, because it is not necessary for an artist to live purely for art. As time went on, I felt my life becoming an artwork frankly. Such a lifestyle fits me. As I failed to find something sensitive and incisive at a knowledge and information level, descending in a real life was a good option. All of my questions are always changing along with real life. Shanghai provides us with better platform, more resources, and more tolerably lenient environment. The more I deal with the problems at Shanghai, the more it is conducive to the development of my art. But I am not ready to step up as a professional artist.

Gu: You had a performance video "Ji Li Ba A" which was rather impressive. When and where was the performance done? It looks like a bias toward self-abuse. What message are you trying to convey to the audience?

Zhang: This work was completed on "Parabola", the peripheral exhibition of 2001 Chengdu Biennial where most of the artists are concerned about human body, and young artists did their performances manually. While I believed, at the time, that I liked to deliberately consume my energy like other younger people. I resembled the cool and fashionable teenagers who pierced nose and ears at risk of bleeding. This is not self-abuse. Young people are seeking for pain, for bubbles in real life. Those bubbles, which are floating and disoriented like balloons, can intoxicate themselves. That's great. In fact such phenomena are terrible.

Gu: The scene was intimidating at the time when the video was recording. Are you concerned about scaring the audience? After all, there are lots of concepts in contemporary art that are unacceptable to the public, what's your opinion upon it?

Zhang: I think it's OK. My only concern goes to some audience's blood sick. In fact all the moves in my performances are realistic, considering the private moves at plastic hospital and clinics, and I just expose them on the public places. With regard to public acceptance, I suggest, we can not be confined in artworks accepted by the public.

Gu: Are you inclined to be a performance artist? Is there any relation in the consecutive performances that you have presented?

Zhang: No. I made my works with various media and expressional approaches in accordance with the specific conditions and context. Once the sparks of creative imagination are ignited, the form is decided at the same time. I experienced a great change in my works throughout 2003, for some new idea, forms, approaches and materials had emerged in my mind. So the year 2003 is a divide, between the two sides of which there exists great differentiate. That happened to the performance works, with a discontinuity of style.

Gu: The trace of your creation points to an ever changing and logical advance featured by gradual or radical mutation. Can we share your concept of changes? Is there an exhibition, an artwork, can explain such a change?

Zhang: I did nothing from September 2002 to May 2003, because I did not think the words and way I stuck to was suitable. I must change. So I displayed a video "Earthworm" which had never been showed before. I had always been using my body as the resource of artworks. However, ever since "Earthworm", less effort is cast on the usage of body.

Gu: I remember you attended "Second Hand Reality" at Today Art Gallery in Beijing, 2003. As a director, you hired a group of peasants to carry out the performance "Moving". What's your intention about it?

Zhang: "Moving" bears some relation with the "Earthworm" work. I produced a video of how I knotted earthworms and how they unknotted themselves. While naturally, they would never knot themselves. I played the video reversely and it seemed that the earthworms were knotting themselves. I showcased through this work my interest in behaviors against natural principles. The surrealism exerted on the audience's psycho reaction will anguish them like a twitch of knotted heart, bitterly but beautifully. Performed by a number of people, "Moving" revived and amplified the details of my past video. Thanks to Today Art Gallery's immense place like a warehouse, I was able to reconsider my work in accordance with the space. Space became a precondition, and enabled me to hire peasants in order to put it into reality, and to try to amplify conceptual experimentation existing in my past videos. Larger space bequeaths artists with more liberty and challenges. Some artworks which are easily devoured by space should adopt an alternative way for exhibition. When bird viewed from the third floor, "Moving" resembled "Earthworm" a lot. However as nearly all the audience observed it from a close distance, "Moving" was bestowed with an extraordinary visual meaning, rather like a conceptual work which liberated myself in devoting myself to my works. I was enlightened that all condition of the exterior can be interpreted as expression media, and the key question is how to carry them out. Hence I obtain totally freedom physically and mentally as an artist.

Gu: How many people were there in helping you with the performance? Was it tough? Had it met with your expectation?

Zhang: 18 persons, who were tucked in a 30-meter cloth sac, needed to crawl inside a narrow and dark space. Such moves involved coordination. I was both director and coordinator. The toughest thing was how to manage the coordination, but I could say finally I pass the exam.

Gu: As far as I know, the performance was once done at Nanjing. By comparison with this one at Beijing, are they different?

Zhang: The Nanjing performance was just a rehearsal. I expected that I could fail at Nanjing. The urgent time, the lack of resource gave me an excuse for this experimental art. However, the failure in Nanjing taught me a lesson that there are great gap to cover between conception and reality. Overcoming such difficulties is an experience that tests artist's quality and capability. So the unfruitful rehearsal granted me a trophy. Before I embark on a performance, I begin to forecast every possible detail and problem during the process, instead of putting my fate to the hands of God. It was because of abundant Beijing resource that the work could be carried out smoothly.

Gu: You performed "Taxi Samba" using 10 taxis at Trojan Horse exhibition, Nanjing in 2003. That could claim to be another bold experiment using social resource to live out concepts. Your work was sensible and seemed to induce unreal factor of gaming into people's system of daily thought. Then the nature of finished products was changed. In the context of the performance, a taxi was no longer a taxi, but a samba dancer featured with character. Each moving forth and back has lost its common sense of motivation and destination.

Zhang: I would like to express a strange feeling on familiar objects in already changed surroundings. In "Taxi Samba", I just temporarily altered the original social function of the taxi, and made them to be an expressional tool and carrier for concept and forms. Labeled with interesting sense, the performance was prevailed without any problems.

Gu: What's your favorite among the works that you have done these years?

Zhang: I have no idea. I think it must be the next one.

Gu: What's your viewpoint on native value of contemporary art in China? Could you comment on the foreign country's impact on you?

Zhang: Chinese native society has great impact on artists who live on this land. The inborn and full dimensional influence is exerted on artists' bodies and minds. Such a cultural attitude is bound to shape the concept and taste of native artists. It is the case with me. China has opened up for over 20 years, so influence from outside is inevitable. The surroundings and native cultural platform that I am facing teach me how to react and feedback, while influence from outside is an after birth nurture. During the process of learning, emulation and imitation are not a problem. But during my works, I am confronted with a particular environment of the native society. The motivation of creation and demand is aiming at particular problem on this land. Thus any borrow and emulation of exterior forms and methods without considering the reality are ineffective. After all, the current problems we meet are too special, totally unperceivable for foreigners outside the native society. I suggest that Chinese contemporary art has owned its specific treasure of accumulation, quite varied from that of Europe, America, and other places. It is contributable to the whole world. This is the native value for contemporary art, which originated from and has final effect on our society.

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