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Uphold Image: Dialogue with Wei Guangqing on "Zeng Guang"

Interviewer: Shen Wei 2005-02-28

Place: Wei Guangqing's Studio

Shen Wei: More attention is paid to "Image" in the study of contemporary humanities. It's due to the metaphorical and symbolic functions of image and the like. Thus, today we can begin our talk with a concrete topic, for example: your oil paintings always adhered to some contemporary and personal images, and they are easily recognized. What is worth noting is that, when you continue with these images, you always make an effort to experiment. I'd like to ask you to talk about your work and your creative development.

Wei Guangqing: In the beginning of the 1990s, artists' minds tended to be personal. Especially after 92' Guangzhou Biennial, Pop Art emerged in Wuhan. We could say that Chinese Pop Art mainly began from Wuhan. The Critic, Li Xianting, contributed two ideas to the definition of Chinese Pop Art: "Political Pop" and "Roguish Pop". According to Li, my work is "Political Pop". The artist engaging in Pop Art, such as Wang Guangyi, typically belonged to "Political Pop", and Other artists in Pop Art had the status of "Extensive Pop," as the critics called it. Unconsciously, Pop Art in Hubei had progressed in a quite tidy way, in other words, it formed a climate.

I took Red Wall as main character of my paradigm. I thought after the reform, people have moral problems, which I understood as the lost of morality. So I used the teachings and stories from traditional society, such as "Zhu Zi Jia Xun" (Zhu Zi's Family Teaching) and "Zeng Guang Xian Wen". There were other writings, which had been forgotten. Although some residue should be discarded, some other things deserved to be put forth again. It also qualified the original concept of Pop Art. "Pop art" generated from Britain, advocated by Richard Hamilton, and was later developed in America, united with economics, media, and business culture. However, Chinese culture has a long history, and an intrinsic specialty, which should be emphasized. My Pop Art is different from western Pop Art in this regard. With respect to processing images, I first learned the customary definitions of oil paintings, which made it as solid, not plain, not even a narrative. I think the emergence of a new thing is to make the impossible to be possible. Furthermore, an artist has to stick to a manner for a while of every phase when doing work. This is very important, so I have pursued it for more than ten years.

During this decade, I also attempted to express my thoughts in other forms. I think an artist shouldn't stuff all of his ideas into one style, which is familiar to him. He should instead think of the most appropriate way to express his ideas. Regardless of oil painting or installation, the language most appropriate is the language that should be used. But regardless of painting, installation, or mixed materials, I will maintain a consistent style or keep "similarities" between the languages of the works. For example, my installation project, Laptop, puts together things of the past and things of the present in an easy and pleasant way by converting the printing plate to look like a laptop. It makes a connection between the original and the high technology to generate a sense of change. The strip-shape also coincides with the hardedges of my painting.

I did the installation of Twenty-Six Guan Sha, involving some eastern mysticism, such as fortunetelling. I want to find some sustenance for people through eastern mysticism, because at that time I was affected by "911", which disrupted the world structure in my mind.

Shen Wei: Did you feel that the conceptual judgments are not so absolute as before? For example, absolute in the past is "strong" and "weak", "security" and "crisis", or "order" and "destruction", and so on.

Wei Guangqing: That's true. At the time, I did Twenty-Six Guang Sha according to the Chinese tradition. Twenty-Six Guang Sha means there are twenty-six crises that man could meet in his life and after these crises he will gain peace, so the name of work is Twenty-Six Guang Sha---Peaceful Day. It is rooted in men. I made twenty-six glass buildings in modern style with twenty-six scenes from the display of my work. They took the shape of a Pentagon. Meanwhile, the twenty-six scenes were respectively built up on a boat, and they are floating. Anyway, the visual factors are synthesized. The material of the work is from Fo Shan industrial pottery. I think both the pottery and the glass are fragile and vulnerable; and they are the contradiction of rigidity and vulnerability. "911" changed the mental status of people. No matter if it is politics or powers, they all appear fragile and not as the total suppression as before, so I made the figures very small so that the viewers would overlook them. It means I want to make sense of the ordinary/small people through my work.

I think that what artists do is give the audience a particular or an angled view, even a blind spot, and the process should be interactive. For example, in 2000, ten years later, I did another Red Wall—Zeng Guang Xian Wen. Although the diagram is not so different from the early one, Zhu Zi Jia Xun, I think I suggested some changes in ideas. "Zeng Guang" means "broaden". I juxtaposed the elements frankly on the picture to tell the audience: "I am broadening, you can do it also." This aspect is interactive. Then it also let us return to the sense of "red wall," you can dismantle and rebuild it; so this is also interactive.

Last year, I did a set of "San Zi Jing". Chinese characters are originally pictographic, so I considered how to reduce the characters to form. Meanwhile, I began to consider how to integrate the narrative stories of "San Zi Jing" with "characters". Finally, the structure of the image adopted the colorful strips, and the characters are hollow. I enhanced the scene by making the characters in block form and covered it with an image, which shawled it more. It looks casual, easy, and yet mysterious. I think that eastern culture is a mystery, a crucial factor, but what is behind the mystery is like tissue, which can easily disclose and be understood by the smart guys. Moreover, the colorful strips also look like ones from the TV screen and the bar code. Both of which refer to the atmosphere of the modern age. Anyway, I continue a consistent approach and connect the past with the present.

Shen Wei: At this point, I want to say that most of your artwork entered international exhibitions and awarded acclaims. For example, one of your works was selected for the cover of Time magazine. But in these years, the circumstance of domestic exhibition has changed a lot, various kinds of "Biennial" and "Triennial" rapidly emerging in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Shanghai, and Beijing. The means of planning and election are close to the international norms. More importantly, what is different is, ten years ago, contemporary Chinese art followed the international trend, these works of today face the audience directly. I mean, the objectives of artwork are different. The issues discussed before about legitimacy, localization, and publicity immediately seem concrete.

That's to say, the issues in your work you always try to express, now have more opportunities go before audiences. It is the true meaning of pop art. In other words, the function of pop art is rooted here. Then, how do you handle the relationship between the personal work and the domestic audience?

Wei Guangqing: I graduated from an academic college, but over these years I have abandoned my major consciously or unconsciously. Abandon means the state of anti-academy. For example, Wang Shuo's novels received respect at that time. What did it rely on? It relied on the linguistic style of Beijing guys, which is public, but not on the literary language itself. Thus, I think what I do should be something frank and sober, presenting a non-professional language easy to understand and easy to break through. For example, I use some traditional Chinese "lines" and some bright colors to enhance the spirit of image, and the colors are quite common in the folk. It is a familiar visual to the public. Bright colors are very beautiful, sunny, and abstracted. Otherwise, the narrative in my painting, the way of telling stories also resonates among the audience.

The relationship between contemporary art and the audience should be equal and interactive, but sometimes I also feel contradictions: Why does the audience feel so estranged from the contemporary art? I am looking for the reason. Actually, modern art looks down on its audience and takes itself profound. People have seen it so many years and even then they cannot understand. But the "incomprehension" of contemporary art, I think, involves an issue of the sub-comprehension of audience: first they look up art and lose their balanced positions. Otherwise, I think, if an artist dares to make his IQ close to zero, then his work would be quite marvelous.

Shen Wei: How do you explain it?

Wei Guangqing: For example, when all of the guys think the work should be done in "such a way," but you break it. Then even professionals dare not casually express their ideas. It's very impressive this way.

Shen Wei: That is to say, going to so-called "zero" will break some sort of psychological expectation, no matter if one is a professional or an ordinary audience member; it will destroy this expectation.

Wei Guangqing: The reason of deconstruction depends on artist's identity. We cannot talk about art without identity. My insistence on doing some independent art from "the 85 (new wave of art movement)" till now is mostly dependent on my mind. I always tend to adopt a low-key posture to develop my work. I think what is key to a successful artist is to maintain the working status, constantly thinking about questions, but not just keeping working the same way for success.

In addition, insistence is also an important factor in contemporary Chinese art. Many unknown artists now do well because of their insistence. Meanwhile, there are a lot of chances for exhibition and it is a really good time now.

Shen Wei: We just talked about the artist's identity, which is a good topic, especial to you. According to the working status, particularly given your status of ten years, you are an artist, who entered the field of contemporary art in the quite personal posture. But looking at your career, you are a teacher, engaged professional teaching. There should be contradiction between experimental art and the norms of teaching, and it should bring some influences on your work. How do you recognize and adjust it? Is it inevitable for you to bring some subjective ideas into your teaching, and consciously lead the students to pay attention to the conceptual issues?

Wei Guangqing: I accept the academic training, and work as a teacher in a college. When teaching students, I emphasize on techniques. Some of the techniques come from my teachers, and the others come from my accumulated experience throughout my research on art. I teach these techniques to my students from the late 1980s to the early 1990s. I also take my students to see exhibitions, through which unconsciously influence them. I think it's a responsibility a teacher should take. I neither want all of my students to be like me, nor hope myself to be a model. Such a teacher is failing. My basic attitude to students is: first they should learn how to think as a thinker, second they should be like a scientist doing experiments. They should be capable of these two qualities.

I love my career as a teacher. It's not for self-praise. I do not often deny students' ideas, and I always encourage their good qualities, because at this age, you cannot clearly tell their futures. A professional study doesn't mean a lifelong choice. The success of a student depends on his persistence and patience. Conversely speaking, students combined their own experiences, even thinking of pure experiences, which could be profitable to me. It will activate my feeling and it is exhilarating.

Shen Wei: It should be said that the feeling and status do a crucial function of adjusting your work, at least it allows you to continue with your work smoothly. Otherwise, what is related to such a status is, although lots of people judge your work in terms of "Cultural Pop", but the series of Red Wall, I think, mainly refers to politics and ideology. Actually, the series, Made in China or Jin Ping Mei of that period enhance the cultural implication of the "Pop" you addressed, and they are more "Pop-lized" from the perspective of the audiences.

Wei Guangqing: To myself, I am also satisfied with these new sets of work, among which I maintain some basic icon symbols. On the other hand, I tried to change the composition of image, for example, hiding the Chinese characters in the images, hiding English words and overlapping them in multiple levels, the conversion of bar code, and the porcelain modeling of pots and bowls. As another example, I shaped the three characters of Jin Ping Mei in the form of a tower. The English word "China" is in response to Chinese "china" (porcelain). In short, I paid attention to every detail, doing all that is possible to bring the relevant contrasting elements onto the canvas.

Shen Wei: I'd like to compare these sets of work with your work before. Either Red Wall of the 1990s or Zeng Guang Xian Wen takes the pureness and simplicity of image and color as the main characters, with the sense of minimalism, which means you exerted all your powers on managing "Pop". But the new set of work means there are lots of elements in your work that bring a "flowery" feel. Just because of this "flowery" feel, there are more elements of contrasts, collisions, even stimulations in your current works, which is different from your works before. It brings a more casual feeling, and broadens the angle of reading.

Wei Guangqing: I think the solution of this issue ultimately depends on the attitude of doing art. The set of works is more exciting and more garish than before, but they still require adjustments. Otherwise, I think the "flowery" feel is the exact appearance of the psychological sub-consciousness of people, related to our common instant visual experience, and coherent with our instant visual background. It is a "Pop" way to appreciate the work.

Here I want to talk about the production of these paintings. There are lots of "hard-edge" works in "Pop Art". It will seem conceptual and too rigid, so I intentionally adopted a traditional means of transplanting drawings on pot symbols to bring the figure and lines with a real feel of rice paper. Someone mistook it for copies, but it is actually handmade. After several layers of drawings, the valuable things in the painting are those signs. They bring a strong affinity with people, and it is created naturally.

In fact, I focus on the management of the picture. Cézanne largely influenced my understanding of composition, but you cannot catch it at all through the symbols I used now. The influence is deeply rooted in my understanding of composition. I am always thinking of that, a good-looking thing should always be treated with intention as the casual, and to find the manageable among the casual. I always think a good-looking of painting is crucial. To my work, I hope others do not see it as delicate. I hope they would talk about "accuracy". What seems simple is just enough, so when somebody mistook my work as a print, I felt exhilarated. But I am also puzzled and felt contradicted on whether or not it debases my work.

The works look casual are actually after the rational adjustment, such as something with a "coarse edge". I will take away the parts that affect the image negatively, and enhance the weak parts. This process is mending something, and the sense of mending is a concept of revision. To the language of painting, however, it is professional and necessary. I just deconstruct all of the stuff I learned before from a technical level.

Shen Wei: From the popular aspect of the art, you use a lot of stuffs from Chinese folk in this set of work. For example, you processed the three characters of Jin Ping Mei in the form of an erect tower. In point of the folk, there is the wisdom of possessing a metaphor in the graphic of the Chinese characters, (like what we are familiar with--- "Zhao Cai Jin Bao" ). On the other hand, it also includes the graphic metaphor of the phallic. Moreover, these things are like teapots with frank meanings. They reflect the Chinese wisdoms and ideas of life.

Wei Guangqing: That's right. My Pop tries to use and borrows the plentiful traditional resources, and make them to be graphic symbols of contemporary culture. I find that my road could be broadened more and more, and I can expand more sequences like that: Chinese symbols, Chinese concepts, Chinese angles, Chinese brands, Chinese whatever, etc.

Shen Wei: There's another issue I should pointed out. "Pop art" is an art style of the public gestated in the modern society, so it should be an art "from the below to the upper". It should realize the social communication of art on function, completing the contemporary conversion of art on linguistics, and it should reconstruct the spiritual associations among life, art, and the public, to build its cultural values, especially in China. No matter how fashionably, contemporarily, or publicly "pop art" is used in reality, as a means for art, it is regarded as the cultural elite or culture of the elite. This is also the character of Chinese contemporary art.

Entering the contemporary society in the manner of art or maintaining the consciousness of language refers to the "public" people frequently. In this view, we spontaneously require contemporary art to pay more attention to the social-political issues, such as the social memory, the criticism of historic ethics, and the construction of social system, besides the experience of art. It might be the public criticism emphasized by Habermas. Although the theme is quite grand, actually, it's the vivid development of the individual style when realized in art.

Wei Guangqing: The problem is that some mundane things corrode the persons having art potential. The mundane profits will drive them to do the meaningless things, so I always think that "struggling with oneself is full of pleasure". Why? If a person can conquer himself, then his level would be raised to a quiet status finally. Actually, my art synthesizes a lot of experiences among my growing process, which makes me sensitive to about certain things. The ways other people look at the world are quite different with mine. For instance, I had many traditional art training during my time in college, but I am brave enough conquer myself and abandon lots of things, which I think are meaningless to my expression of contemporary connotations of art.

Shen Wei: In the process of multiplying art images, we still require more spiritual tempers, to make the contemporary creation in response to the concreted judgments and ideological changes. In short, to the topic today, we deeply discussed the personal status of an artist, which is very enlightening Your frank personal statement makes it worthy for us to further investigate, put our attention to, and experience the process of understanding contemporary art.

Selected From "The Field of Art", 1st volume, 2005.
Edited by Lin Sophia Ma, September 2007

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