张小涛：我把这种“实验”理解为跨学科、跨媒介的尝试，既是“思想实验”也是“技术实验”。面对新学科我感觉到知识的老化，所以我阅读了大量的相关书籍和电影。我希望用“坐标”去参照自己的工作，比如和徐天进、彭锋、王守常等老师们在北京大学赛克勒考古与艺术博物馆做的主题为“古今一体，恒久当代”的《重生》展览，通过谈话、研讨会、社会调查等形式，讨论死亡、生命在不同时空中的价值呈现，我做了一个飞机廊桥的装置来链接博物馆户外中庭，试图和民国建筑、博物馆的藏品（嘎巴拉碗Kapala Bowl）对话，通过里外的人工造景，营造了一个时间通道。我和考古学家张建林老师的交流，让我了解了藏传佛教的历史渊源，尤其去年我带助手去萨迦寺（Sagya Monastery）采访他，实地拍摄北寺的废墟，让我不得不思考古典文明的“标本”在今天的意义。我还记得去年您对我提的很关键性意见，如何区别游戏和商业动画的语言模式？所以一开始我就带着这个问题去做这个片子，我在细胞、心脏、工厂之间寻找某种时空的联系，画家有处理现实和心理空间的丰富想象力，标准的动画电影对我的意义不大，我希望偏离传统电影中单一的叙事结构，处理了一些抽象性的空间来破坏电影中的完整性，构建一个多重叙事的空间。我用了大量的设计性语言，如图案化的迷宫、线状、点状的抽象视觉元素，打破动画中3D建模制造的镜像世界，抽象性的设计语言是我的心像。这次音画的同步关系还没有处理得好，主要是视听经验不够，古典音乐的庄严肃穆感和现代音乐的无调性的区别？以及音乐、音效、声音和动画语言的关系？这些新课题都是我要继续学习和思考的。
巫鸿：所以在你的观念里，“动画”和“绘画”可以是相互的延伸，而不一定是像美术院校系所分类或美术史教科书里假设的那样，是两种判然有别的视觉形式或艺术媒材。你的这个看法实际上和古代美术中的一个普遍观念很相似，就是最好的绘画或雕塑应该是有灵性的，在观者的眼中或想象中是能够动作的。这才是艺术的真谛，而“不会动”的偶像不过是土木之躯。这种想象在中国和外国都很普遍，一些学者写了大部头著作，讨论这种“活的形象”。但是因为古代没有电影、录像、全系摄影这类技术，“活”的感觉就只能在绘画或雕塑的技术和风格中去寻找，比如绘画史中记载的吴道子就以此闻名。当代艺术家的一个得力之处是确实可以把静态的形象变“活”，一些录像艺术家已经做了重新诠释古代绘画名作（如鲁本斯（Peter Paul Rubens）的《画室》）的尝试。但是你的《迷雾》又与此不同，它不是对现存绘画的诠释，甚至也不是对你自己的绘画的诠释，而是对绘画手段的扩充和延伸，用你的话说就是把“关于生命与时间的各种微观世界的图像通过某种内在逻辑关系串联起来”。在这个“串联”过程中，新的形象和想象又不断产生。因此《迷雾》中的有些形象是你的画中常常出现的，但有些又是新的，特别是速度和时空变幻的感觉特别强烈。你是否可以谈一谈在创作这个片子的过程中，哪些形象是新出现的？你对“动态”的感觉是怎样触动你的？它又是如何充满变数和未知性的？
在片子的几个重要转场的地方，我设计了用脚手架和动物的并置来制造一种图案化的空间，用眩晕的速度感来表现建筑的生长周期，通过这种超速度把过去、现在、未来的时间联系在一起。《迷雾》中画面的速度感和运动感，音乐中的节奏感都使得这个片子一口气就能看下去，我不希望影像只有无聊而空洞的语言游戏，拒绝观者的阅读。《迷雾》没有对白和剧情，是靠视听语言本身去说话的。关于变数和未知性，我与动画团队的合作本身就意味着风险，信息会损失很多。语言之间的链条最后会成为什么样的结果，这是我一直担心的。“微观叙事”这个概念引起了争议，叙事性在大家看来是很危险，微观和宏观的关系如何界定？并且强烈的视觉语言也备受指责，又用了很多的钱，还有人在网上谩骂，研讨会上的颠覆性意见，金融海啸让《迷雾》未来在欧洲巡展的计划也变得未知起来。我注意到年青人的反映普遍比较好，同龄人大多保持沉默，大多长者觉得不够简练，元素太多。对这个展览的评价是两极的，这是我没有想到的。但是，西方来的策展人和媒体大多对这个展览中讨论的生命感、宗教感、现代性、中国现场问题都非常感兴趣。尤其《FLASH ART》 编辑Cecilia Freschini和我做了访谈并发表了作品，多少让我感到有些欣慰。我也不知《迷雾》未来的命运会怎么样？我有些迷茫和伤感。不管怎样，这对我未来是很重要的心理经验。因为这是一个剧烈变动的时代，谁也说不清楚未来是什么？
张小涛：这里的时间、空间跨度是我现实经验和心理记忆的交织，比如原始森林、工厂、世界之窗、通天塔等宏观世界的空间变化，细胞、蚂蚁、蜥蜴、骷髅等是关于微观世界的生命在时间中的演变，晒大佛的那一场戏是冥想的心理空间和时间，微观世界与宏观世界、时间与空间似乎无法链接？我却相信它们之间是可以转换的。我想用它们来讨论现代性中蕴含的宗教感，现代化的代价和教训，个体生命的精神痕迹。微观与宏观的内在联系，在虚构和现实之间我想寻找视觉上的心理真实。安德烈·塔可夫斯基（Andrei Tarkovsky）的电影《乡愁》最后一个镜头是诗人躺在废弃的意大利教堂里，近景是俄罗斯乡村的房屋，记忆和失忆、现实和梦境、故乡和他乡的相遇……时空错置的超现实主义的手法给我如何处理空间的启示。时间是线的衍生，空间是体积的叠加，它们天然就是一个整体，我更在意它们之间的内在的普遍性问题。以前我拍龙虾、蛋糕、草莓霉变的过程就发现它们的局部很像古代的山水画，这也启发了我在绘画中的语言实验。古人有以小见大“心眼”之说，禅宗也说：一花一叶一世界。最新的物理学研究实验证明：人的皮肤表层放大数万倍以后和月球的表层质地很相似，这是很有意思的比较。去年我在西藏哲蚌寺（Zhe Beng Temple）拍晒大佛（Sunning of the Buddha）的录像，我在对面山上看黑压压的信徒，就像我们俯瞰蚂蚁的搬迁一样，这种视觉经验对我处理电影中云雾散开佛像展开的那一场戏有很大的帮助，尤其有的转场直接从钢厂的管道到从细胞、心脏、血管中的抽象世界的神奇变化，后来又回到了蜥蜴的眼睛，蜥蜴继续展开故事。这是心像和镜像的交互关系。通过图形和物象大小的不停转化，镜头的叠加。用荒诞的意识流空间来间离动画电影中时间、空间中的完整性，这既是一种破坏，也是链接。这好比长镜头和特写镜头的关系，利用时间、空间在运动中的相互转换、停顿来展开多重叙事。
张小涛： 我很喜欢徐冰、汉斯·哈克（Hans Haacke）、威廉·肯特里奇（William Kentridge）这类似的艺术家，既饱含智慧又有批判性的力度。我希望是带着问题去展开自己的语言实验。2002年底我的工作室搬到了798，这是物理、心理空间的跨度。这个舞台以“神话”般的超速度发展，工业化的背景让我有时空错置的感觉，后来就自然演变到《迷雾》。我希望作品是自然生长出来的，深度的心理体验是四川绘画的精神血脉，从程丛林、张晓刚等早期的语言实验中我们可以找到这种从个人心灵和传统文脉之间对现实的批判性叙述。早期我思考的是个人和时代的差异性，现在我想找到两者的普遍性联系，或者说是共性。我想把个体置于历史舞台背景中用“显微”的方式来观照。我们得重新去讨论历史、现场、心灵的关系，持进化论观点的人看来似乎这些很土！也许这正是我们的独特性，对今天中国来说，建设性的工作比一味解构并模仿西方当代艺术的语言样式显得更为重要，语言实验不是目的，我们还得对意义展开持续的追问。因为只有作品和上下文发生关系时，这种语言实验才是真实的、具体的精神含义的载体。哪怕这里有乡土精神？也许正是这种乡愁和后工业时代的相遇，产生了某种独特的现代性。这是我们在历史和现场的碎片中展开叙述的前提和背景。
张小涛：动画语言是非常技术化的工作，三维数字的信息化合成技术是有别于传统艺术、技术语言的处理方式，这里面的困难是如何在这些数字化的图像里转换艺术家的观念和语言？如何与动画团队进入深度的交流？怎样进行视觉转换？会有大量信息损失的问题，每一次的纠错都是通过草图的讨论再到数字化的计算来重新完成的。因为3D MAX、MAYA 的数字技术对我来说是全新的领域。我喜欢“试错法”，通过“错误”去修正、发现事物的本质。现在主要在调整音画同步中出现的问题，尤其陈皓的作曲有很典型的古典音乐叙事的特点，古典音乐单一的结构性和我在动画中碎片化、抽象性的视觉经验产生了悖论，这可能是美学上的矛盾和冲突，很难协调好？我现在都很困惑。以前我想请声音艺术家来配音乐，但是又担心缺乏结构，只是声音的碎片也不行，声音让人很难听下去。毕竟这是电影，音乐和画面是要有关系的，不是独立的作品，所以会在音效方面会加入一些工业的噪音元素，现在音乐的旋律感太强，还要留一些听觉的空白，需要静音的处理。我对动画电影后期的剪辑工作还不太满意，要让电影的结构更加简练一些。镜头语言的微妙处理是后期工作中的重点，《迷雾》开篇山水的一段和中途溺水的部分镜头都重新做了，空的感觉没有做够，9月我和助手们为此还去了黄山拍烟云和石头材质的素材，甚至有的镜头存在很细微的计算输出错误，这些都在改动，通天塔倒塌的局部镜头中，蝙蝠撞向建筑时的承接起合上还需要补镜头，需要更加微观的技术性层面的考究，这为后期至少增加了20%的工作量，不过我没有投资方要求市场回报的压力，可以不计成本的去修改，这是艺术家的方法，我相信好作品是改出来的。
巫鸿：作为一个当代艺术策展人，我很关心作品、展场、观众三者之间的关系，以及不同媒介的作品如何在一个共同展场中相互配合。在我看来，虽然现在的国际双年展、文献展中的影像作品很多，但是实际上展览效果好的很少。常见的情况或是一间间小黑屋子，观众钻来钻去；或是一个录像的放映时间太长，很少有人能够完整的看完。结果往往是策展人的一厢情愿，对艺术家、观众都不够负责。我注意到你的这个片子很能抓住人，观众进了放映室常常会看完（在北京和迈阿密都是这样），这是值得祝贺的。但是我还是想知道，作为艺术家，你觉得这个片子最理想的展示环境和条件是什么？是单独作为一个“电影”来欣赏呢？还是作为一个影像作品纳入一个更大的多媒体展示环境？前者不言自明地假设了一个独立的、与外界隔绝的虚幻空间（这是电影理论中常常谈到的），后者则是把这个空间打开，在不同媒介作品的互动中找到意义。马修•巴尼（Matthew Barney）在古根汉姆美术馆（Guggenheim Museum）的大展采用了后一种方式，把电影作品完全敞开，其结果确实是融入了展览空间，但是作为“电影”的视觉和音响效果都必须人为地削弱。你在伊比利亚中心的展览中同时兼顾了“电影”和“展览”这两个模式，既保留了电影放映室又在内容和图像元素上建立影片、绘画和装置之间的联系和互动。但另一方面，“展览空间”和“电影空间”之间的固有矛盾仍然存在，甚至由于电影的强势而被更深的感觉到。如果把这个展览也当作一个“实验”的话，通过这个展览你对将来有关《迷雾》的展示方法有什么想法？
未来这个展览的展出我想用“分解”的方法来呈现，比如下次只展绘画和动画，或者只展动画和装置，三者在一起需要更丰富的展示空间，整体在一起的展示容易相互消解。观者在未进展厅之前先看装置或者绘画，有些感性认识，再看动画，当他们看完片子出来以后，面对这些装置或者绘画，会有另外的思考和解读。我想下次在录像空间之外，展示一些草图、文字、传真、邮件、QQ聊天记录等，这些都是很有意思的！让观者看到展览背后的“原材料”，这种展示可能更具有“继续实验”的特点。我用动画、装置、绘画三者的结合，有别于马修·巴尼的电影衍生产品的展示，我既强调这三者之间它们彼此的内在关系，更重视它们各自的完整性、独立性。我希望这种尝试是关于“电影空间”与“展览空间”之外的独立经验，最近我在 798看了西丽·娜沙特（Shirin Neshat）《没有男人的女人们》的个展，也有这种感觉，她的作品既不是电影也不是录像，片子分为五个部分，每个部分既独立又相互成为一个整体。总体感觉比电影语言更简练，又比录像的语言实验多了叙事上的特征，这也是两者之间的实验。她的语言华丽而病态，有强烈的魔幻现实主义风格，很吸引人。看来视觉上“好看”并不是什么坏事？
Carry on: A Conversation between Wu Hong and Zhang Xiaotao
Wu Hung: Let’s begin our conversation with one question. We can review your exhibition from two perspectives: one from your animated films and the other from this exhibition, which is made up of film, installation, painting etc. Could you talk about the conception and creation process of this work The Mist? Particularly, as you were originally a painter, why would you turn to making films and even throw yourself into it?
Zhang Xiaotao: The visual experience and the origin of mental space of this animation come from my memory of Chongqing Iron and Steel Factory during the time when I was studying in Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts in early1990s. In Huang Jueping, Chongqing City, I felt a sense of homesickness and was impressed by the industrialized place. 9 years ago I returned to the Factory to seek inspiration, yet I worried about falling into clichés of so-called grand narrative. Having moved my studio to 798 art district in 2006, I was impressed by the massive change of the place, and naturally, it recalled my days in the Chongqing Factory. In 2006, I managed to finish my first animated work The Night, which brought me great excitement as well as many difficulties. At the same time, I started to conceive another work The Mist. Within two years, my assistants and I went to CISF, Tibet, Shenzhen, etc. where we had done plentiful data reports of field investigation. Animation requires teamwork; this experience of collaboration gave me much inspiration in thinking how to present my unique language through teamwork. At the finishing stage of the making process, I began working with musician Chen Hao, who assisted me in synchronizing my animation and music. Film making is a complicated system, and I count the breakthrough on the language of animation. Knowing and communicating with Sichuan artist Li Yifan brought much influence on the language of my film. I prefer my work to be the product of a slow, natural evolvement instead of a flash “enlightenment” or “project”. A piece of art is like the practice of alchemy which involves massive thinking, workmanship, endeavor, and finance. This is what I had in mind when I came to you and Mr Feng Boyi for the exhibition project last year. Since then, the project work and all the collaboration with different organizations have proved to be complicated. Painting is a basic medium of my art language, and I want to apply the methodology I found in painting into animated films. In late 1990s most artists turned to the practice of new media while the few others stuck to painting; my persistence had come from my love for painting since childhood. Today, as a result of the hot art market, painting has become the “mainstream”, and money seems to have become the only criterion of its success. Well, that makes it so boring! I want to stay away from this mainstream, and do some independent experiments and thinking. I keep the hope that painting would produce an “antibody” under the influence of other media. What should artists do when they have money, keep on working or just go around buying new stuff? Plus, the key questions is, what should artists spend money for? Indian artist Sheeba Chhachhi once said: “You can make works out of your dreams once you have money.” This is exactly what I want to say. For me, animation is a brand-new field; the attempt of new media language brings unknown expectation. Through new experiments, I can find some new visual experience to express my concept and can make up the relative oneness of painting language, and vice versa.
Wu Hung: Very interesting. So making animated films seems much more fascinating to you, and it brings you back the feeling of “experiment”. Can you please talk into details of the contents of your “experiment”? In what aspects do you think animation language is more expansive than painting language? And what’s the role does your previously-established painting language play in this animation?
Zhang Xiaotao: I consider this “experiment” as a cross-disciplinary and cross-media attempt; it is a both mental and technical. Feeling the aging of my knowledge in the face of new disciplines, I read lots of new books and watch many films. I wish to review my work by applying “coordinates”, for instance, the Rebirth exhibition at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum of Art and Archaeology at Peking University. The exhibition focused on the subject of “Unity of the pass and the present, and eternality of the contemporary era”, and presented a discussion on the value of life and death in different times and spaces through interviews, discuss groups and social investigations. For this exhibition I made an installation of an airplane cabin connecting the courtyard of the museum, trying to form a conversation with architectures of the Republican period and the museum collection (the Kapala Bowl) through this constructed “time tunnel”. Archaeologist Zhang Jianlin introduced me to the history and origin of Tibetan Buddhism. After visiting him in Sagya Monastery and filming the relic of a local monastery, I began to think about the significance of these specimens of ancient civilization in the present time. Your advice last year of distinguishing the languages of art with those of games and commercial animations has been exceptionally crucial. Bearing this question in mind, I began working on this piece of work with a search for the connection between cell, heart and factory. Artists are usually equipped with rich imagination when they work with real and virtual spaces. Aiming to cast away the standardized pattern of animated films and shake off the tradition of singular narrative, I attempt to demolish the comprehensiveness of the film with abstract spaces, and to build a space of multiple narratives. Using plentiful design languages such as pictorial maze, linear and spotted elements, I was able to deconstruct the 3D-modled, mirror-image world in animation. These abstract, design languages reflected my heart. The synchronizing of image and audio in this animation is not ideal, mainly due to the lack of experience. In the future I will carry on studying subjects in the differences of the solemnity of classical music and the atonality of modern music, and in the relationship between music, sound effect and animation language.
It’s hard to describe the specific aspects. Perhaps they’re implicit and will become explicit in the future. Most new paintings today still stay put in such aspects as semiotics, pictorial property and image rhetoric, etc. and fail to make breakthrough in essence. Without the influence of new disciplinary knowledge, it’s hard to obtain new dimensions for painting. For example, the Leipzig (a German city) paintings combine subjects like design, print-making and architecture, and preserve the narrative tradition of socialist fine arts institutes, thus leading to a new visual experience. Some case analyses have brought me a lot of essential thoughts, such as the relationship between the history of art and artists, the relationship between a piece of work and the reality, picture analysis and interpretation. These deep thoughts enable me to understand the complex semantics behind paintings. In the past, paintings are static and full of thinking and wisdom. But what do they look like today? We’re living in a world awash with visual garbage. Painting is a new means of observation; it is a stop, a blank, a meditation and an unknown, visual text. My paintings relate to all kinds of images in the micro world of life and time, rather than semiotics. The fragments of these images are connected through certain internal, logical relationship into a complete work. Nevertheless, a good piece of art can not only give its viewers a sense of visual delight, but can also touch their hearts and spark new thinking. Keeping this simple thought in mind, I started to make animated films.
Wu Hung: So in your mind, “animation” and “painting” are mutually extended, and they are not necessarily two obviously-distinguishable visual forms or art materials—as classified by fine arts instituted or as defined by art history textbooks. In fact, your idea is very similar with a universal belief of the ancient art that the best painting or sculpture is supposed to be alive with spirit in the eyes or imagination of its viewers. This is the essence of art. This belief was actually acknowledged universally both in China and other countries in ancient times. Some scholars even wrote big books to discuss this kind of “living image”. However, as there’s no film, video or photography at that time, the feeling of “living” could only be found in the techniques and styles of painting s and sculptures. A case in point is Wu Daozi (an ancient Chinese painter according to the Chinese history of painting), who became famous for this reason. One excellent quality of modern artists is that they are indeed able to make static images “living” (“dynamic”). Some video artists have made attempts to re-interpret some painting masterpieces, such as Rubens’ Studio. But your work The Mist is different to theirs. It is not meant to interpret the existing paintings, not even your own paintings; but rather, it is meant to expand and extend the painting methods, or in your words, “to connect various microcosmic images about life and time through certain internal logic relationship”. In the process of “connecting images”, new images and imagination will keep emerging. Therefore, In The Mist, some images you employ used to appear in your paintings, but some are newly-created, especially the extremely strong sense of speed and changing space-time.
Zhang Xiaotao: In my work I applied new elements such as skeleton, scaffold, Steel Factory and “Window of the World” theme park. Many people have the misunderstanding that a metaphor refers to using animal or plantation as the subject; however, this is merely a conceptual interpretation of the term. For me any existence is a life with soul. I was very fond of The Sou Shan Picture of the Yuan dynasty when I went to middle school. The picture reveals a world of extended time and expanded space, in which the roles of gods and evils are swop, so mysterious and incredible! Every time I look down the massive Chongqing city standing on the top of the hill at the Iron Factory, I feel curious about how ancient Chinese artists managed to present the world they saw in scrolls. Pieter Bruegel’s grand piece The Triumph of Death gives us an example of using the linear perspective to picture the dramatic scene of a battlefield in the Middle Age. From this we can begin to analyze and compare the cavalier perspective and the linear perspective when applied to represent a battle scene in a limited, 2D space. The world in The Mist is constructed using both of the perspectives. I read about the experiment you did with your student, in which you eliminated the seals and inscriptions on an ancient painting in the way of a slideshow, leaving a rather strange painting. This experiment gave me some inspiration about space and about implementing visual games to develop the visual logic of an ancient painting in traces of time and layers of space. Loading with information, those seals and inscriptions have naturally grown into the artwork, and have been endured with some sort of abstract, spiritual connotation. At this point the “true” has become the “false”. Last June I texted Feng Boyi at the Window of the World theme park: I had learned the “false sutra” when I was in real Europe and America; today, quite the opposite, I learn the “true sutra” in the artificial Europe and America! How absurd is that! Therefore in my work I made the skeleton as clear as crystal, for the clearness creates a sense of “falseness”; “falseness” is “emptiness”, and “emptiness” is “truth”.
At certain turning points, I created a pictorial space with scaffolds and animals, trying to represent the growth of architecture by the dazzling tempo which connects the past, the present and the future. The tempo and motion of images and the rhythm of music in The Mist make it an appealing piece that people could watch straight to the end. I don’t want my animation to be an empty, boring, linguistic game which repels audiences. The Mist has no script or drama, and is depending solely on the visual language itself. Working with an animation team is a risk in itself as information may be loss in the process. The outcome of communication has been what I worried about. The concept of “micro narrative” brought some controversy as narrative seemed to be a dangerous term to many people, not to mention the subtle distinction between micro and macro. The overwhelming visual language has drawn criticism as well, so as the budget. People abused on internet, and subvert criticism came about on the conference. In addition, the financial downturn overshadowed the possibility of the tour exhibition in Europe. I notice that the younger generation shows rather positive feedback, while most people of my age simply keep silent about the work; the seniors, on the other hand, consider it too complicated. Such extreme comments have not been what I expected. At the meantime, Western curators and media groups showed great interest in the sense of life, religion, modernity and the problem of scenes in China discussed in the exhibition. Cecilia Freschini, editor of Flash Art, interviewed me and published an article, which comforted me more or less. I do feel a bit lost and sad, not knowing the future of The Mist, but this will be an important experience for my future what-so-ever. In this fast-changing era, who can foresee the future, really?
Wu Hung: In my opinion, one cannot judge a piece of art simply by personal preference or established standards, because the basic function of contemporary art is to bring out new questions instead of perfecting artistic styles and techniques. I have already pointed this out in the preface I wrote for this exhibition. In the face of a serious piece of art, the first thing one has to do is to analyze into details of the content, concept, language and method of the work. I can see the lack of scientific analysis in Chinese contemporary art criticism which usually lies in two aspects: the intention of the artist and the chaste reaction of the viewer. However, art criticism must excel these two aspects; it should be derived from the artwork itself, not on personal reaction. This is also a destination of this interview. Now, let’s go back to The Mist. When I saw the work for the first time I was most impressed by the magnificent scale of time and space. Could you talk about the layers of time and space and how these layers link together?
Zhang Xiaotao: The scale of time and space reveals the interaction of my real experience and psychological memory. For example, the jungle, the factory, the theme park and the Babel tower represent the changing of space in the macro world, while cells, ants, the lizard and the skeleton are about the changing in time of lives of the micro world. The Sunning of the Buddha is about mental space and time in the world of meditation. It seems that the micro world and the macro world are isolated from each other, so are time and space. I rather believe that they can be transferred. I aim to apply these concepts in the discussion of the sense of religion in modernity, the price and lesson of modernity, and spiritual marks of individuals. I seek a visual, psychological truth between the virtual and the reality, and through the internal connection of the micro and the macro. The last footage of Andrei Tarkovsky’s movie Nostalghia pictures the poet lying in the wreckage of a church in Italy with Russian countryside landscapes in the foreground; the mismatched, surrealistic scene of memory and loss of memory, reality and dream, hometown and encounter gives me inspiration in dealing with space. Time and space are naturally integrated, and the universal problems within this integration always draw my attention. In my previous works of filming the molding process of lobsters, cakes strawberries, I found parts of the picture somehow very similar to classic landscape paintings. This reminds me of the ancient saying of “eye of the heart”, meaning seeing a grand picture within minimal phenomenon, and the Zen motto “to see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower”. Experiments in physics also reveal a fun fact that the surface of human skin under microscope resembles the surface of the moon. Last year I filmed Sunning of the Buddha at the Zhe Beng Temple in Tibet. When I looked at the crowd of believers on the mountain opposite, it felt like looking down upon moving ants. This incredible experience came into very inspiring when I processed the scene when the Buddha emerges from clouds in my film, especially at transition points where the picture transforms from factory pipes to the abstract world of cells and veins, and back to the eyes of a lizard from which the story continues. The transitions of images and superposition of footages represent the interaction of the mind and the camera. The fancy space both destroys and establishes the integrity of time and space in my animated film. This is like using long shot and close-up shot in opening up multiple narratives by the transition of time and space.
Wu Hung: Now let’s look at the role of the film in the whole exhibition. You mentioned that the film is a development and extension of your previous experiments in painting; on the other hand, it stimulated your imagination in painting and installation. Could you please talk about your thoughts on this exhibition, especially on the relationship between the film, the paintings, and the installations?
Zhang Xiaotao: I am very fond of artists like Xu Bing, Hans Haacke and William Kentridge whose works contains wisdom and power. Therefore I prefer to begin my experiment with some questions in mind. Moving my studio to 798 art district in 2002 was a span of physical and psychological space. The industrialized environment of the place which had been developed at a unrealistic pace confused me in its setting of time and space. This confusion was the origin of The Mist. I’d like my work to be a natural development from comprehensive, psychological experience, just like the spiritual tradition of Sichuan painting which can be found in the works of artists like Cheng Conglin and Zhang Xiaogang. In my early experiments I focused on the discrepancy of individuals and the time, while in my current practice I looked at the universal connection, or rather say, the mutual characteristic of the two. I want to review this relationship by looking at individuals in a historical background under a “microscope”. We have to re-discover the relationship between history, scenes and the human mind, although it seems rather old-fashioned for one who believes in evolution. Or maybe this is exactly where our uniqueness lies in. For today’s China it is much more important to establish new language than to simply deconstruct or copy the pattern of Western contemporary art. The ultimate purpose is not the experiment of language itself, but the underlying meaning of the language. Only when the artwork is connected to a context can this language experiment load with real and specific meaning. Maybe it is the encounter of nostalgia and the post-industrialization that creates this unique modernity. This is the background and foundation of the narrative of this exhibition.
This exhibition is formed by an installation, paintings and an animated film. To me they are both individual and integrated languages of art instead of simple variety of materials and dimensions. They are transitions and corrections of vision, or to be more specific, three different perspectives of one subject. The massive 3D modeling work in the making of the animation provoked a lot of thinking in the concept of my painting. The project plan of the installation kept changing, from the preliminary design of reconstructing the iron factory, building an abstract image with a fighter, to the final idea of reconstructing a film setting with scaffolds, trucks and skeletons. I hesitated quite a while for whether to minify or magnify the original setting. Only the production of skeletons took four months, not to mention the difficulty in bargaining the price, trying out different techniques and materials, and the wrapping and transportation of the works which had proved to be a big problem during the Olympic Games. I felt extremely exhausted when I worked on the truck and skeleton painting in July, lost and broken down. This is probably the only utmost crisis in my life in painting so far. Plus, I had not anticipated the significant differences between the sketched plan and the real scene nor the huge amount of workload: it took 10 days of restless hard work of 7 assistants and 40 workmen to put together and position 1,500 skeletons. Driving 4 15-ton trucks into the exhibition hall also proved to be extremely difficult and dangerous as the size of the trucks are too big for the doors. The display of the paintings has not been a complete success because the space for the installation is much too big! It would have been so much better if there were an individual space for the paintings. The final stage includes the documentation of literatures on and images of the exhibition, for example, critiques, interviews, conferences, blogs and media cover.
Wu Hung: You continued modifying The Mist after the exhibition. What did you change about the work and why did you change it?
Zhang Xiaotao: Animation is a technical work. The process of digital information is rather different from the way we work with traditional art. The difficulty lies in how to transfer the artist’s concept and language with digitalized images, how to make comprehensive communication with the animation team, and how to realize visual transformation. In order to avoid information loss, every correction is made upon discussion of the draft and digital calculation. Digital technologies such as 3D Max and MAYA had been a brand new world to me. I find my working method very useful in discovering the nature and essence of things by making and correcting “mistakes”. At the present we have been modifying problems with the synchronization of the audio sound and the images. Chen Hao’s work bears the characteristics of classical music whose singular structure rather violates the shatter, abstract, visual experience in my animation. This may be a paradox or conflict in aesthetics? I am still confused at the moment. I had once considered employing sound artist to make the audio for the animation, but it concerned me the structure of the sound might not appeal to audiences. After all, this is a film, and its music should go with the pictures. The current sound effect of the work is too musical, therefore some industrial noise will be added in as well as some auditory blanks. I am also concerned about the finishing editing of the film; the structure could be simpler. The subtle processing of camera language is the core of the editing work at this stage. Several footages of the opening of The Mist have been redone as I wanted to enhance the sense of emptiness. For this I went to the Yellow Mountain to shoot clouds and rocks. We are also working on errors in some footage such as the shot of the collapse of the Babel tower. This requires meticulous, technical works which added at least 20% of workload to our final editing. Without the pressure of market return, I can make adjustment as much as I want. This is how artists work and I believe good art comes out from modification.
Wu Hung: As a curator in contemporary art, I am concerned about the relationship of the artwork, the exhibition scene and the audiences, and about how different mediums interact and integrate with each other at the same exhibition scene. In spite of the growing popularity of video art in international exhibitions, very few of them made a nice display. A common situation is the audiences burrowing around several small, dark rooms, or a video being too long that few people could actually finish watching it. These exhibits are only wishful thinking of the curator. I notice that your film, on the contrary, really catches people. Whoever sees the film always stay till the end (both in Beijing and Miami), which is a big success. Other than that, what do you think is the deal exhibition environment and condition for the film? Would you prefer it to be an independent “movie”, or a video to be integrated in a bigger multi-media exhibition? The former evidently establishes a virtual space that is isolated from the outside world (which is often mentioned in theories); the latter, on the other hand, opens this space and endued meaning to the interaction of different works and mediums. Matthew Barney’s exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum adopted the latter method, opening the film into the exhibition space. Meanwhile, the visual and sound impact of the film was inevitably impaired. Your exhibition at Iberia Centre implemented both “film” and “exhibition” methods, keeping the film screening room while setting up interaction between the film, paintings and the installation in terms of contents and pictorial elements. However, the conflict between the screening space and the exhibition space still existed, and even enhanced because of the overwhelming effect of the film. Taking this exhibition as an experiment, what are your thoughts on the future display of The Mist?
Zhang Xiaotao: I visited the Matthew Barney exhibition at Ludwig Museum on the way to the Kassel dOCUMENTA in 2002. Both exhibitions were impressive! I almost ran all the way through viewing the video works on the documenta. There are just so many of them that I didn’t have time to look at even some of the nice ones. Matthew Barney’s exhibition took up three floors of the museum, showcasing lots of props and photographs taken from the film. This exhibition could be seen as a presentation of the relationship between contemporary art and film-making. Its glamorous visual impact and mythical narrative are not within easy interpretation for the Chinese. At that time I thought to myself that the artist represented his country, no wonder he had such powerful, comprehensive display of visual experience. I have been thinking about the critical point between narrative and the language experiment of contemporary video art: too much narration makes the work dull; on the other hand, only picture alone is not enough. Human eyes tend to be drawn to motion pictures rather than still ones. Therefore I need to work on aspects like time, space, movement, speed and the change of rhythm so that audiences can “read by sight”. I will set some “visual traps” or to say “visual obstacles” which will leave audiences some questions in mind. I have this experience in viewing paintings: if I didn’t understand the work by the first sight, there would be very little chance that I stop to look for the second time. People are not as patient as before in this era of vision inundation. Without the “path” of narration, the “maze” is closed. This is how I recall my tiring experience of viewing most video works on international exhibitions. The curator of Miami New Media section asked me the same question yesterday on how I would trigger profound thinking in the audience while maintaining a level of popularity. I was astonished by the amount of people gathered in the screening halls in exhibitions from Beijing to the Nanjing Triennial. I read about audience’s blogs on The Mist on internet, which is very interesting interaction. My ideal is to combine the screening space and the exhibition space, which is highly demanding in terms of technical preparation and exhibition experience. Solo exhibition is relatively easier to achieve, but not for group exhibition. I am not very satisfied with the way the animation was displayed this time; in fact, compromise has been made almost everywhere the animation was shown; some places didn’t even have basic screening facilitate.
For future shows, I want to present the split up the exhibition, for instance, only showing the paintings and the animation, or the animation and the installation, for putting the three together requires a richer space; besides, the three parts lessen each other when shown together. Before audiences enter the exhibition hall to look at the animation, they grasp some sensible understanding by viewing the installation or the paintings; when they are faced with the installation or the paintings again after they see the film, they should have different thinking and interpretation. I think it would be really fun to showcase some sketches, notes, faxes, emails or even QQ chat history next time! Allowing the audiences to take a glimpse of the “raw materials” behind the exhibition could be a “further experiment”. My work as a complex combination of animation, installation and painting is rather different from Matthew Barney’s display of movie derivative products. My work emphasizes the integrity and individuality of the three as well as the internal relationship between them. I hope this attempt could be an individual experience on “film space” and “exhibition space”, which is the feeling I had at Shirin Neshat’s exhibition Women Without Men in 798. Divided into five separate but integrated sections, her work is neither film nor video. Her language is magnificent yet ill, delivering strong Magic Realistic style. It seems that being visually “pretty” is no bad thing?
Wu Hung: The questioning toward s vision in contemporary art is due to the rise and popularity of conceptual art. In theory, “conception” and “sense” do not oppose, meaning the emphasis on visual effect doesn’t necessarily demolish text. Replacing art with conception and narration is in fact a simplified, transitional method. This practice could be significant or even necessary at a certain stage in the development of contemporary art for it brings out the question of conception which enables artists to think of art at an analytical level. Nonetheless this thinking must return to art itself; it must go beyond text and be transcribed into visual representation in time and space. You mentioned that you will soon begin working on another film. Could you please talk about your ideas? Is this new work in any way related to The Mist?
Zhang Xiaotao: Before starting the new project, I will make a 10-minute animation Scar regarding the Wenchuan earthquake. This short film applies the superposition of physical and spiritual scars to demonstrate psychological damages to individuals when catastrophe calls upon. Art is the voice of virtue and salvation; this is the responsibility of those who live.
In the next three years I am going to make a film about the Sagya Monastery and the prophase work has begun. My team and I will visit the Monastery again in May next year to experience life. I planned to invite Historian Chen Shiying and Tibetologist Xiong Wenbin to join our discussion and work at the scene. I am very interested in the relationship between the ruins of the Northern Sagya Monastery and the Southern Monastery. Because of the complexity of Tibet’s geopolitics, religion and customs, it would be extremely difficult to handle such a big topic. I will need plenty of specialized assistants who can help me to unfold the history of the Sagya Monastery. Fascinated by the wall paintings at the Monastery, I am thinking about whether I can begin the project with a comparison of modern Tangka artists and the Yuan dynasty wall paintings at the Monastery. By reconstructing fragments of history and studying arts of Tibetan Buddhism we would be able to locate the influence which this religion has made upon the people. Under this theme I am planning to use animation as the principle medium, plus a documentary on Zhang Jianlin’s archaeological work and daily life at the Northern Sagya Monastery. The outcome of my work could be two short films, one showing the classical part of the Monastery, while the other showing the relation between the archaeologist and the relics of the Monastery. At present we are still writing the scripts. The Sagya Monastery and The Mist both look at the connection between life and time, and raise one question: how do we develop visual archaeology, especially within the setting of historical ruins? In the search for fragments and traces of ancient civilization, The Mist studies the “life” transformation of the Iron Factory, while The Sagya Monastery studies the relation between archaeologists and historical relics. I am trying to discover their spiritual connection to contemporary life. This attempt may be risky, but that is also an opportunity for me.
Wu Hung: Your ideas sound fascinating, especially the one about interacting and communicating the past and the present in different aspects: modern Tangka artist and Yuan dynasty wall paintings at the Monastery, archaeologist and history of the Monastery, relics and the existing Monastery, documentary and animation etc. This is both connected to and distinguished from The Mist. I am looking forward to seeing the works. This interview brings about plenty of questions, and enables me a better understanding of your work The Mist. Thank you.
Zhang Xiaotao: I really have no idea of how I could thank you! From the loss of recording material of our last interview in Shanghai to this profound conversation, I discover a brand new way of interpreting art in terms of conception, form and language, visual effect, time, space and pictorial analysis etc., which is very useful in my future work and in helping me to sort out my thoughts on the making of The Mist. I will always be grateful for your appreciation.