Passing Time with Xu Zhen

By Simone Schiefke and Starfruit Liu

Before the opening, City Weekend talked to one of the Chinese artists about the exhibition and his art.

Xu Zhen, born in Shanghai in 1977, the youngest artist taking part in this show, studied graphic design at the Shanghai School of Arts and Crafts. He lives and works in Shanghai. This up-and-coming talent has already had several exhibitions abroad. Xu Zhen was also a curator and participant in Shanghai's now practically legendary "Art for Sale" in 1999. So far he is the only Chinese artist invited to the 49th Venice Biennale taking place this year.

CW: What do you think about the different concepts of the French and of the Chinese artists taking part in "Developing Time"? XZThe two groups come from different orientations. China has just been open a few years-it's not so open-minded. French artists have a long history of art developed in the western tradition. When they exhibit in a developing country, they bring new concepts. Viewers can tell the difference between the French and the Chinese artwork even without the descriptions. The French artists touch on many fields and focus more on environment and society. Chinese artists tend to stress personal life experience. Our work is a deeply personal expression. The French artists use building materials in new ways. They work more with the possibilities of the exhibition space. Lighting and space become part of their art. Chinese art seldom uses lights and space as art.

CW: In one of your works you showed male bodies with real menstrual blood running down their legs. What was your intention? XZ: I'm very attracted by women. I like femininity. Women are complex. But I'm a man, I cannot be a woman and I cannot treat woman kindly enough. I want this picture to express my feelings of love and regret. I wanted to show physical female characteristics happening on a male body.

CW: In one performance with the title "Throwing a Cat" you killed a cat. Could you explain the performance? XZ: I didn't kill the cat, it was already dead. In a small room I bashed the cat against the ground for 45 minutes.

CW: Why did you choose a cat? XZ: I think cats are sexy.

CW: If you think the cat is sexy, why did you torture it then? XZ: At that time I wanted something sexy, but I couldn't find anything to fulfil my desire and I got frustrated. In order to release my frustration without violence towards the public, the cat was a substitute. The cat was already dead, but to me it was still sexy.

CW: If a woman were sexy, would you do the same thing to her? XZ: No, I won't do that to a human being. A cat is an animal-totally different. I personally dislike cats. The reason for choosing the cat was that it gave me the very sense I wanted. Other animals weren't suitable. A dog cannot express my artistic feeling. The cat is hot. I actually had the idea in 1997, but no chance to actually do it. Finally I did it, but only once, and I'm now past that stage.

CW: What kind of feelings induced you to do that? XZ: Every person has different feelings at different times. I just followed a flash in my mind.

CW: You also did a series called "From Inside of the Body." XZ: That is a video. I installed three cameras in a room. The left one recorded the actions of a man, the right recorded a woman, and the middle, both. The man came in first and became aware of an indefinable smell. To find where the smell was coming from, he took off his clothes and started smelling himself. Then a woman entered and did the same. Finally, they began sniffing each other's naked bodies.

CW: Nearly all your works deal with bodies, skin and nudity. Why? XZ: I like it. It's in my nature. I started to work this way more then four years ago, when I was 18 or 19 years old.

CW: Does your art have any political meaning? XZ: No, most of the Shanghai artists don't pay attention to politics, but maybe some Beijing artists do.

CW: What do you want your audience to get from your art? XZ: I have no right to demand a response form the audiences. Everybody has his or her own perception of my work. But I want to steer public attention towards contemporary art. Hopefully more people will accept it.


Courtesy of "City Edition"