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CHEN Xiaoyun Interview

Interviewer: Voices of Photography | CHEN Hanyu Translator: Xinyi Bao Apr,2013

Q:How you begin to work on photography? In the early stage, you do a lot of video, as well as painting and installation, how do you see creations in these media? Why you turned to still photography later? In what kind of creation you will choose photography?

A: At first, I shot some video stills, in the process of selection, I started to think about the relation between photography and image, then I seriously began to engage in photography creation. For me, photography, painting, installation, or other artistic media are my uniform knowledge about art. Although they all have specific questions and forms of their own, yet actually this provides me more perspectives on single one question. The temporal and spatial nature of photography is very special, and it renders the closest narrative to the starting point of an idea. When an image do not move any more, do not speak any more, do not being more of a material, do not being more of a space, in my mind, it stuck, for me, that is the exact state I am going to shoot.

Q: Is shooting stills a work need? You practiced photography after graduation? (If possible, hope you can talk about your personal experience of creation, and will you focus on photography in the future?)

A: Stills shooting is a work habit, as pixels in the early videos (720x576 pixel)are too low to intercept images for transmission and printing. But gradually, I began to intentionally shoot images different from that of a video screen, there are many strange possibilities in the shooting site. Access threshold to photography is not high, so I do not intentionally learn it, just naturally get to it. There is nothing particularly special in my personal experience of learning and creation, more or less the same with artist friends around me. Nothing especially magical, especially dramatic, or especially guide from an immortal, or especially bolt out of the blue, or especially positive consequences instead of something bad, ever happened. Photography is my choice, which I will continue.

Q: In , titles of each work are very long, is that because this is a imitation of anthologies, or else? I noticed that many of your other works also have long titles. How you see the relationship/interaction between "work title" and the work itself?

A:Indeed, imitation of anthology is one reason, I consider these titles as text fragments from that imitated anthology. Sometimes, naming is difficult when the work is done, as I suddenly feel that it does not belong to me any more, so lyrically speaking, giving the work a long title means I want to retain it, and I am afraid of losing it. Some titles are totally irrelevant to the work, as the work itself is too affirmative, such title should avoid contradiction with the work, which means, the title is a series of numbers. Yet in most cases, when a work is done, I will re-examine it, because there are chances of various feelings outside the image in the process of creation, some aiming for confirmation, some vagueness. One title is a process of either diluting or condensing. Also sometimes, I got triggered by a gimmick title with complicated semantic meaning first, and then started with the work. In this context, it is not the image in my mind stimulating me to extend the creation, it is the seemingly unrelated imagination of the image derived from the title. In this manner, the title is the mantra for the work.

Q: Works in and are related with literature (real or fictitious), and also poetic, could you talk about the connection and interaction between image and literature in your work?

A: I use a lot of words as I think the absolute abstract of words can bring me some different perspectives. The connection between narrative words and specific images is one approach for me to understand the abstract image. Sometimes, I hope I am holding a camera, or video camera, or something else to do a literature creation, a kind of readable image different from watching. Yet, the poetic feature in artwork is not merely imitating literature or poetry, the poetic feature in image is actually a kind of physical human feeling, or to be more specific, my physical reaction triggered by image, particles that stay in the retina.

Q: What kind of book Zhuiku Tablet is supposed to be? Does it have a certain form (novel, prose, or poetry), or affirmative in theme, but vague in form? To what extent, the book is completed, and annotated with image?

A: Zhuiku Tablet boasts temperament in most Chinese classical anthologies I have read: anxiety, yin wu xiang xing/depicting according to shape, expressing emotions through natural scenary and objects, tiny and trivial, macro and empty. Actually, Zhuiku Tablet serves as a template, a utility room, where anything could be put into, all scatters and fragments without a focus. This fictitious book has only one name, there is no start, surely won’t get a completion. When first adding this structure to these creations, I have imagined some possibilities, such as writing a physical book, or use and only use word to describe the image I want to shoot, which I will never ever shoot. It's possible that I would write such a book later, I hope this book will describe photos I haven’t shoot yet. I found such overlapping narration interesting. Anything happened, or nothing happened.    

Q: “Depicting according to shape, expressing emotions through natural scenary and objects” this reminds me that you learned Chinese painting back to college? Do you get influenced? Would your photos, reminds me of Shi Jing/Book of Songs and Chu Ci/Songs of Chu when it comes to ancient anthology temperament?
A: My major is Chinese figure painting, and I am fascinated by traditional culture. I am not obstructed by limitation of times or spaces, I understand and absorb all kinds of knowledge on the basis that I am a container. In my opinion, ancient, contemporary, Chinese and foreign cultures are all interlinked, emphasizing particularity of certain cultural background is actually a vulgarization of the cultural background itself. Above mentioned anthology is a general reference, of course, Shi Jing/ Book of Songs and Chu Ci/ Songs of Chu are included, but it more like anthology of one author from Tang or Song Dynasty.

Q: Image as the annotation of fictitious literature, titles again being the annotation of image, what annotation means for you? What's the difference between the final title and the initial fictitious words? or, which direction the annotation goes? Can it continue to be annotations for titles of work?

A: Such annotation process for me is like painting in a dark house. You imagine things invisible, you draw strokes invisible, you adjust unclear relations. So the difference between the final title and initial fictitious words are impossible to point, and it hardly exists. In fact, they are separate things happened a fictitious connection, this description is creation.

Q: I am curious about your shooting process, works in Zhuiku Tablet Annotation has many props/objects, such as branch, chair, cake etc., people and objects are all very dramatic, how they interact? (Is that you construct a static image, and adjust during the shooting? Or this is a live performance, during which are your improvised interaction with them?) And also, do you make decisions on their clothing details?

A: In most cases, I have a vague picture in my mind, then I go on to meet it, during this process I might encounter many other new options, it's even possible that the initial vague picture disappears completely. The process sometimes is very frustrating, as I saw fishes in the water, I tried to catch with the net, but I got nothing. About props and objects, I don’t have a strong demand, of course I can do that, strictly requiring each detail, but that will diminish the fun of shooting. I do not make stringent requirements on certain photo, certain prop, certain scene, I choose props and objects at hand. And it's better not to deliberately determine an object, a scene, relations among each object is complicated, as well as emotional. They either have a dialogue in a personified situation, or being organic in a non-human state.

Q: You use object/symbol a lot in your work, especially in . These objects come from daily life, yet seem estranged and unfamiliar. Why would you want to use objects in your creation, and how it starts?

A: Sometimes, I think an object do not have a symbol, the symbol is enforced, and is associated with user habits. I rarely shoot more than two people, for me, two static people in the camera will make me embarrassed. People is a frequently used object, you can barely see any more. So basically, I use people as prop, use prop as object. I am also not hoping that object and prop could talk by arranging relations between them. It's hypocritical. I think they just stand there, saying nothing, it's moral.

Q: In , there are many combination and dialogue among objects, how you organize and choose these object, why you choose dried branch as a main line? Have you ever tried other combinations?

A: I have thought about logically organizing and combining these objects, but only found that, in order to be not too beautiful, not too symbolic, not too meaningful, I should have a dominant attitude, I should be as rude as possible, think as less as possible. Grab a branch, and insert it into the cake, that is the shape it deserves. Branches are easy to get, there are a lot of trees in my studio yard, many would fall in the winter. I think I need to shoot the branches, I find a reason as below: no single piece of branch in the world is ugly, no single piece of branch is completely the same, fallen branch is as beautiful as living tree in the sense of life, each branch has a high degree of integrity, no matter it is in the tree, or on the ground. The branches have cultural symbol, social symbol, physical symbol, I am able to talk many if you want. Therefore, every choice contains necessity, and no comparability among necessities.

Q: Very interesting answer. I am always curious about what's the key for artist to start creation? When you brought the branches to studio, you did not give yourself a "complete" reason, does this mean the branches themselves attract you when you saw them? In addition to dried branches, anything else you bring back to shoot?

A: Every artist has his/her own pace. For me, certain last time point is the key to start. Usually, small tricks, feelings, ideas will hover in my mind, sometimes, I make it the moment it happens, while more often, I start when it has to. Above line of answering seems it is occasional, but actually not, it's all some form of preparation, creating a single work is easier to handle, when it comes to a series, it always follows some underlying logic. Such as above mentioned branch, it does not have to be branch, but when it occasionally be the branch, I follow the logic accordingly. The creation process could be adjusted, there is no has to be, or has not to be. Perhaps, I shoot the branches, and find it dead end, I will shoot something else. Most of the shooting would be failure, effective, meaningless. I can not make sure that these photos I shot are necessary to exist, once you think that millions of photos by millions of people are shot every hour in the world, are photos you or I shot really interesting? It's also the reason why I find shooting interesting, from a professional perspective, you are competing the possession of images with billions of people.

Q: In these objects, people is a part the objects, how do you see the roles of people and object in the image?

A: When people exist in my photo, I try to strip them. This is not for being erotic or being more physical, it is no matter what they wear, I feel not right, all too figurative. A body wearing many symbols make my shooting out of control. For me, people with clothes are specific people. People without are abstract, are people without cultural background, ideology, or any interests. I am not interested in shooting a person with specific meaning, it's not brave. Under such premise, anything happened between a person and an object is particularly sincere.

Q: You don't want to shoot specific people, and you treat people as prop, this is exactly the feeling I have when looking at your photos. It's amazing. You shoot specific objects, yet your presentation is abstract, this outcome seems attractive to you, could you share more about this part?

A: So far in most situations, I handle people in my photo in this kind of inertia way. Though, there are also situations I exetremalize facial expressions. While the basic are the same, I can hardly consider people as a delicate moment, the appearance, the outline, the temperament, the body language, the clothes, background, facial expressions etc. features of certain person is easy to percept. That is to say, people appreciate people, people are sensitive to people, for instance, we say someone has big eyes, while the big eyes might just one centimeter bigger than that we say small, yet everyone apparently feels this difference, and who can tell this one centimeter difference in natural world? So the habit of perception between people are what I try to avoid. I do not want the audience understand people in my photo with reference to a specific person. My understanding is people are abstract in my photos. In my following practice, I might shoot more about specific features of human emotions, expressions, gestures etc. An alternative approach of my understanding. And "certain person" and "certain group of people" will bear another understanding.

Related Artists:
CHEN XIAOYUN 陈晓云
Related Exhibitions:
"Zhuiku Tablet" Annotation

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