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I'm a Lazy Person

Interview with Tang Maohong Interviewer: Biljana Ciric 2006

Biljana Ciric: When and how did you first start creating animation? What was your intention?

Tang Maohong: Before animation, I tried doing many other art forms. After experimenting with various mediums and genres, I realized that animation expressed my ideas the best and, furthermore, I was most confident in this medium. Animation can satisfy my desire to manipulate an image; when the figures appear in animation they reflect my feelings precisely. The figures themselves are temporary, like you and me, the same as art. Everything happens in a moment, and at the end nothing stays, nothing is permanent.

Biljana Ciric: Orchid Finger is your first animation piece. Can it be understood as an experiment and a turning point for you?

Tang Maohong: It was almost like a return to myself. For me it is more suitable to work on a piece in a more isolated way, making it only for myself.

Biljana Ciric: How would you define the works that you have done before?

Tang Maohong: Trying to find my own way. . . . Sometimes my work is close to myself, sometimes it's not at all like myself.

Biljana Ciric: How do you know when it's close to yourself?

Tang Maohong: When I'm not probing the audience or curators, when I'm probing myself. That's how I know. Competing with oneself is very interesting.

Biljana Ciric: Does there exist a relationship between your earlier work and the animation?

Tang Maohong: Of course there is, but I haven't tried to analyze it.

Biljana Ciric: You mentioned that animation can satisfy your desire for painting.

Tang Maohong: Yes.

Biljana Ciric: Why the Orchid Finger title? Why not another feminine  theatrical gesture?

Tang Maohong: Actually, it does not have to be seen necessarily as a feminine gesture. It is a habitual movement, unconventional, involuntary, and affective.

Biljana Ciric: Why do you use the Orchid Finger in your work?

Tang Maohong: Because it's similar to images in animation.

Biljana Ciric: How would you define the temperament of your images?

Tang Maohong: A little bit affected, a bit illusional. Everything is fake, but not ugly fake.

Biljana Ciric: Why do you say that it is fake?

Tang Maohong: Everything is fiction, made up.

Biljana Ciric: After you showed the animation at the exhibition, what was the reaction of the audience?

Tang Maohong: Most of them said it was pretty funny. This reaction of “pretty funny” could be interpreted as very bad, but still people were able to look at it. Another interpretation of “pretty funny” could be that the work is actually good.

Biljana Ciric: How did you understand the comments?

Tang Maohong: I don't care about them.

Biljana Ciric: What do you care about?

Tang Maohong: I care about the facial expressions of the audience in front of my work. Are they having a conversation with my work or not? I can see those things through their facial expressions. But if they tried to use words to explain their reactions or feelings, I wouldn't understand them.

Biljana Ciric: Did you think about the relationship between the audience and your animation?

Tang Maohong: I don't think about it. I don't think I can imagine that. It's not something that I can control.

Biljana Ciric: Can the transition from your earlier work to the present animation be defined as a change in your understanding of an artist's role? Yourself as that artist?

Tang Maohong: In my earlier work I tried to tell something to others. Now I'm trying to tell things to myself—just to ask myself to listen.

Biljana Ciric: Did your understanding of the artist's role change?

Tang Maohong: We all search for happiness. This way makes me happy.

Biljana Ciric: What about the artist's role in society?

Tang Maohong: On the whole it is still passive.

Biljana Ciric: Do you think that in Chinese society artists do not have actual roles?

Tang Maohong: The artists that have their own initiative and want to change something are the ones with values.

Biljana Ciric: Do you enjoy the process of making animation?

Tang Maohong: Yes, a little bit, but as soon as I finish it I don't want to look at it anymore. It has already passed.

Biljana Ciric: Why are there so many images of the lotus and plum blossom in your animation?

Tang Maohong: I think these figures are beautiful, and they do not necessarily represent or symbolize anything. I desire to paint them. These painted shapes are beautiful, and at the same time they make me happy.

Biljana Ciric: Could you tell me something about the new animation that you are preparing?

Tang Maohong: I am not the type of person who plans ahead. That's why I choose to make animation without a story. It is all composed out of fragments. I accumulate them slowly, and when the time comes, it gets done. So with the animation that I'm working on currently, I can never predict how it will turn out in the end.

Biljana Ciric: How long did it take you to accumulate the images for the first animation piece?

Tang Maohong: Around two months.

Biljana Ciric: People appear in the animation in a very passive state, like in the scenes of artificial respiration and massage. Why?

Tang Maohong: This is not very important. The important part is that there are only a few images where the characters are passively and voluntarily molested. They are in an unusual state, they are all “stage property,” meaning they are passive subjects, like props.

Biljana Ciric: Who are the people in uniforms?

Tang Maohong: They are all me. Actually aren't we all wearing uniforms in certain occasions? I am actually talking about those who are dressed in a uniform and sometimes wish to dress in another uniform. A uniform emphasizes and establishes relations between people. Here there is always a passive side. I'm interested in making these relations chaotic. The key is to make it chaotic. The goal is disorder.

Biljana Ciric: Do you think that in your animation one can see icons typical of Chinese society?

Tang Maohong: I think trying to figure out the meaning of the work is uninteresting. There is no reason why it exists. It all happens by coincidence. When I'm working I don't think about why I draw like this. Actually, the reason I enjoy the process is that I don't need to tell any truth to myself or to the audience. I don't need to give any explanations.

Biljana Ciric: Why did you choose three round screen projections to show this animation?

Tang Maohong: It is to emphasize the feeling of fragmentation. If it's on a single screen, the first ten seconds and the following ten seconds should appear to have a connection. As my animation is fragmented, it doesn't need this type of relationship. It doesn't need any connecting threads. It just flashes across the screen.

Biljana Ciric: Why it is round?

Tang Maohong: A circle seems like a detail.

Biljana Ciric: You said about your animation that although it consists of fragments, the ones that you are interested in still have threads of thought.

Tang Maohong: That's probably the result of editing while I was working on it. I wasn't aware of it, and I didn't make any preparation for this piece.

Biljana Ciric: There is an image that often appears—the back of the person, with someone's hand pushing him.

Tang Maohong: This is from medical illustrations. I remember the original illustration in talks about growth problems in teenagers, with deformation of the spinal column. They use this method as a treatment.

Biljana Ciric: How do you prepare for making the animation or collecting images?

Tang Maohong: Before making my first animation I just liked some images—that's all. But now, while I'm collecting images, I'm thinking at the same time about how to use them in the next animation.

Biljana Ciric: What images do you like?

Tang Maohong: It's different every day. Sometimes I like buildings, sometimes computer game images.

Biljana Ciric: Does the Web have big influence on your work?

Tang Maohong: Collecting resources and wasting time has a great influence on me.

Biljana Ciric: Is there animation that has influenced you?

Tang Maohong: If I have a chance, I would like to re-do Nezha Conquers the Dragon Kings.[1] It tells the story of a kid hero.

Biljana Ciric: Could you tell me something about your role before your participation in curating exhibitions like Dial 62761232? [2]

Tang Maohong: Just to have fun—that's it. But I'm not really full of initiative.

Biljana Ciric: What was your role in the Dial 62761232 exhibition?

Tang Maohong: I didn't have any role in the curatorial team. I think they had my name written on it because I happened to be there by chance.

Biljana Ciric: For that exhibition you presented Key, perhaps one of the rare pieces that will be remembered.

Tang Maohong: That was also a coincidence. That piece was meant for another exhibition. I planned to put keys to my home in the gallery so that people could take them away. This piece seemed well presented in Dial 62761232 and in this kind of exhibition there is no one piece that can have the primary role. The overall form of the exhibition was so strong that there is no work that could surpass it.

Biljana Ciric: So the exhibition itself is actually the main work?

Tang Maohong: Yes, it can be understood that way. There are many kinds of exhibitions. Sometimes the form surpasses the works. Dial 62761232 was this kind of the exhibition.

Biljana Ciric: At that time, did any of the audience take the key to your house and go in?

Tang Maohong: Yes. But after forty-five days I changed the lock.

Biljana Ciric: But the audience could enter your private space during the forty-five days?

Tang Maohong: For Key, I sent out keys so that anyone who wished to come and open my door could. I guaranteed that every key would open the door of my apartment. This work is actually a reaction to my life at that time.

Biljana Ciric: In what kind of state was your life at that time?

Tang Maohong: Very busy, and every night I would come home very late. As soon as I returned home I looked to see if there were any changes in the apartment. If I found nothing changed I was very disappointed. But if there were any changes, I would also be very nervous—it is very contradictory. People are sometimes like this. You do something and you get one result even if you think about getting a different result. If you get a different one, you will think about a new one.

Biljana Ciric: When did you move to Shanghai?

Tang Maohong: In 2001, after graduating from China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, I didn't have a job, and that year I participated in an exhibition at BizArt.

Biljana Ciric: What exhibition?

Tang Maohong: It was an exhibition of half Chinese and half French artists. At this exhibition I met some Shanghainese artists, Jin Feng and Hu Jieming, and they asked me to move to Shanghai to find a teaching position in a school.

Biljana Ciric: Besides the job, was there any other reason for choosing Shanghai?

Tang Maohong: I'm familiar with Shanghai. I went to secondary school there for four years and I did get a job here. In Hangzhou , after one year, I felt too inactive, so I decided to come to Shanghai and try to do something.

Biljana Ciric: Why did you do most of your exhibitions at BizArt?

Tang Maohong: I didn't have any other exhibition opportunities. Artists from BizArt are very young, and we have known each other for quite a long time. It's like a group of friends doing things together. And you don't have to a pay venue rental in order to make a show. The most important thing is that everybody knows each other well and that they do things together. But I don't have any feelings towards this city even though I have already spent ten years here.

Biljana Ciric: Isn't that very difficult?

Tang Maohong: It doesn't matter. This city is only my studio.

Biljana Ciric: Your animation gives the feeling of familiarity and strangeness at the same time.

Tang Maohong: These possess many of my ordinary emotions.

Biljana Ciric: And your relation with the environment?

Tang Maohong: All my surroundings are my sources, and all images can be used.

Biljana Ciric: You were represented by one gallery in Shanghai in the last year. Is the art market interfering with your creative ideas?

Tang Maohong: I try to do my best to avoid this.

Biljana Ciric: But does interference exist?

Tang Maohong: If it exists, then I try to turn it into a useful element.

Biljana Ciric: What was your very first piece?

Tang Maohong: I was standing on a mountain. A friend of mine used light rays hitting my body to create lines. I did this piece in Hangzhou in 2000.

Biljana Ciric: That was a performance piece?

Tang Maohong: At that time I was still a student and I wanted to try some things that were outside of the education system. It was an attempt.

Biljana Ciric: What is your opinion of contemporary Chinese art?

Tang Maohong: I don't think about big issues. I'm a lazy person.


[1] The story of Nezha has been made into several animated films. One of the most well known is a 1979 production translated into English as Nezha Conquers the Dragon Kings, which claimed a an international award in the USSR.

[2] Dial 62761232 was one of the satellite shows at the 2004 Shanghai Biennale and was curated by group of young artists from Shanghai. A courier service would deliver the exhibition to you at any location in Shanghai. All you needed to do was dial the number, and the exhibition would arrive in a suitcase.

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