暴雨将至我们往哪里去?

 
 

人物:Cecilia Freschini    意大利 FLASH ART 编辑

      张小涛   艺术家

时间:2008年10月24号18点

地点:北京市798艺术区伊比利亚当代艺术中心

翻译:戴伟平

整理:刘智彬

 

C F:最近你在忙些什么工作?
 
张:我正在重新剪辑动画电影《迷雾》中不满意的部分,现在感觉是局部的音乐和画面都太强烈,需要安静的地方,还要加入静音的处理,考究画面、音效和音乐的关系。
 
C F:这种无声的镜头是不是和你自己内心的情感相联系?
 
张:我希望我的艺术语言是从心灵里面生长出来的东西,这样才具有感染力,这种感染力是很东方性的,会在作品中慢慢地渗透出来。比如动画里面蚂蚁溺水的镜头,现在只有几秒,后面要加到30秒左右,把时间线索加长,空灵的感觉,这种空的感觉不亚于千军万马的表现,这段镜头是来源于我小时候的两次溺水的经历,我在需要强化突出水中漂浮的迷幻感觉,水下蓝绿的世界让我永生难忘。
 
C F:你对未来很悲观?
 
张:可能是来源于自己的成长经历和人生遭遇,悲观、怀疑和困惑,它不同于宗教的思想,比如我所经历的车祸、两次溺水、考试的挫败感。它其实成为一种梦魇,伴随着我的成长。对我精神上的折磨,心灵上的巨大压力,包括青春期的成长和家庭的悲欢离合,这个对我的人格有很大的影响。这种记忆其实是一种暗线,生命中虽然充满华丽,但是华丽的下边是黑色的底。现在看到的中国的各种变革,每一个个体生命内心都充满了悲观和焦虑。为什么我要用MIST这个片名?我20岁考大学的时候,看到重庆钢铁厂黑夜里面冲出来的火光和浓浓烟雾,我会情不自禁地掉下眼泪,觉得自己的前途一片迷茫,烟雾似乎遮挡住了自己的眼睛,当我经历了十八年的成长后,再回到钢厂,这些图像、声音、气味还是让我感动,这是为什么?这种悲观的情绪是由这个国家的剧烈的现代化进程所带来的。中国当代艺术中现在主要的问题再也不是“毛”、“天安门”、“四大发明”的传统符号图式,而是此时此刻的各种现场问题的关注和讨论,我们需要真切的聆听和表达、记录和见证这种中国今天巨变时刻的痛楚和梦想。
 
C F:这个和你的宗教情感是不一样的吧?
 
张:艺术家看世界是从个体出发,如果我们用宗教的眼睛去看,那是一种恒定的方法,我希望是用一种宗教情怀或者宗教感来看这个世界的变迁,从一滴水中见世界,把社会浓缩在这里面,我把一个细胞放大,抽离出来最本质的DNA特征,也许比空洞的“宏大叙事”更真实,更令人信服。最重要的其实是个人的角度和视点,我为什么去思考个体在社会变迁中的遭遇?中国从来就是一个具有现世宗教的民族,缺乏西方普世主义的宗教价值观,所以一旦个体面临社会的剧烈变革,心理的承受能力会非常脆弱。我作品中表症是关注中国今天现实的变迁,但也暗含了对宗教的讨论。
 
C F:在你的作品里面,主要的元素有重钢、世界之窗,那么你是怎么把这些元素串联起来的?你也敏锐的观察到了关于798的全球化艺术生产和艺术市场的这个点,2002年你到了798,很早地见证了798的发展,那么你是怎么理解这个点的?
 
张:798是中国当代艺术生态的缩影,2002年我来798的时候,这里是一片废墟,没有艺术市场,只有艺术家的“乌托邦理想”和几个画廊。两三年后,798由“垃圾场”变成了“梦工厂”、“文化动物园”。我工作室的窗外,是一片垃圾和破烂的卡车,我的绘画作品中画的就是自己窗外的景象,这是798最真实的生活,其实798也是中国现实和历史的缩影。我为什么把重钢和世界之窗联系起来?一个是社会主义时期的,一个是后社会主义时期的,把这两个个案进行比较研究,就是把人和动物、死亡、生命放在同一个舞台上面,营造一个动物剧场。演绎个体在一个时代中,呈现了一种什么样的生命状态?这个问题很有意义。从重钢到798再到世界之窗,其实就是“过去”、“现在”和“未来”,它们中间有个联系,一个个体生命放在这个时空中的命运会是什么?这就是中国在全球化背景下,个人的命运和时代变迁的某种对应关系,“通天塔”是我虚构的一个物质帝国的符号,思考物质社会对人的伤害,以及个体对未来灾难的无法预知和无力感,比如5.12四川汶川地震,我们的无力感和悲痛,灾难谁都无法预知和控制的,雷曼兄弟的倒闭导致了全球经济危机,人们的恐慌感像瘟疫一样在全球蔓延。其实我们也在遭遇全球性的普遍问题,今天的每个人心里都有严重的不安全感,有“要出大事”的预感。暴雨将至我们往哪里去?我去年12月在北京大学赛克勒考古与艺术博物馆做的个展《重生》,讨论的就是关于生命的话题,这是关于个体生命的微观关照和心灵的修复,动画最后的通天塔的被摧毁,其实就是在全球化的世界,人类所面临的共同问题。全球经济的飞速发展,是对个体生命的伤害和心灵的崩溃。当灾难来临时,每一个个体都有反应的症候。为什么我在动画里面会用到藏传佛教的元素?我讨论的并不是用宗教去拯救人类,其实是表明自己对待传统文明在当代社会的遭遇的无力感或者伤痛的情绪,关于传统文脉的断裂和被摧毁,现在我们所看到的传统文明其实是“回光返照”,就像看到一个老人行将离去的伤感,传统的全面死亡和物质化进程的完胜,这是一种悲哀,物质主义几乎摧毁了传统文明的价值观!
 
C F:你认为宗教能不能成为人们的一个庇护所?一个救赎?一场革命?改变现在飞速发展的物质生活,让人们远离物质?
 
张:我觉得很难。因为当代社会经济的飞速运转几乎是停不下来的,我更倾向于运用传统,历史的经验找到类似的经验或方法让我们慢下来,而不是宗教救赎的单一答案,宗教也可能会引向一种极端狭隘的民族主义立场,可能会让这个社会更极端,比如伊斯兰教文明和基督教文明的冲突,从911事件以来,全球的地区之间、国家之间冲突不断!传统是改变不了当代的,也许可以修复或者纠正当代文明系统中的盲点,毕竟这个时代的节奏太快了,超过了我们以往的知识、经验的判断。
 
C F:那么能谈谈宗教对你的艺术和内心的影响?
 
张:我把艺术当成一种个人的宗教,我觉得今天的国际当代艺术系统的解构工作已经到了尽头,把很多东西摧毁以后,剩下的碎片,到后面要做什么?这是我们所面临的最大的困惑。在今天的中国,我们解构的太多,所以我希望去建构或者重构某种价值观,在碎片中去重组、去分析、去发现某种未来的东西,这也是我们谈“微观叙事”的缘由,以小见大,从DNA数据中去揭示事物的本质,在碎片中去重新编码图像世界。先是从碎片去拼图,可能后来这些碎片会自然会形成一个程序或者一个符号谱系。现在看不清楚,十年以后它就自然有联系了,时间会让碎片之间自然形成它的逻辑,上下文的重组和变化。我们如何去看世界?可能在历史长河中蕴含着一种普遍的方法和未来的密码。“述往事,知来者”,今天的当代艺术越来越商业、肤浅、虚伪、游戏和制度化,艺术应该是从灵魂里面生长出来的,是在任何时代都不会变的,宗教情怀是来自心灵里绵延的力量,我为什么花这么大精力去做这个动画电影?它不是一个简单的Video,我们做艺术是为了什么?我希望当代艺术里面有意义、有灵魂、有心灵、有生命、有感动……可能这是我对传统、当代的一个理解。我观察了一下我参加的南京三年展的《迷雾》动画的放映厅,很多人坐了三十几分钟,看完了才走,他们看后是有感动的,好的作品会吸引观众很认真地坐下来分享。为何在一些国际双年展上的录像作品,我们只看一眼就看不下去了?这也是让我困惑的问题。
 
C F:我看过了你的动画作品后,里面结合了很多你的生活工作的经历,从重钢到世界之窗再到798的艺术变迁,未来似乎应该有个结尾,那么你会怎么来看待?你试图想传播给大家一个什么样的信息?
 
张: 由于中国经济的高速增长,资本和市场带来了艺术市场的繁荣。当代艺术在中国的合法化不是制度化和历史的自然形成,而是通过艺术市场来进行的颠覆和革命,从而把当代艺术从地下转变成为主流的地位。但是资本化的运作也带来更大的问题,钱几乎成为了衡量当代艺术的唯一标准,钱越来越多,但是艺术本体语言很越来越弱化。我们看不见艺术家和作品,只有市场和拍卖!那么今天的中国当代艺术家有了钱以后怎么办呢?怎么做作品?这是我展开工作的基本前提和现实语境,我想用思想、精力、金钱、技术的复杂组合做出震撼心灵的作品,做一点最基础的工作,来表达我对这个时代的怀疑、悲观和困惑。艺术市场是依赖于中国的经济增长,全球的藏家来买中国的艺术品,其实是在赌中国的未来,期待中国在未来的国际舞台上将扮演更重要的角色,但我看到当代艺术的惰性和艺术市场对艺术本体的摧毁,价值观的混乱,事实上今天的拍卖会成为了艺术市场主流的标准,这对很多年轻人的是灾难性的影响。
 
C F:问个很私人的问题,你是否是个佛教徒?
 
张:我不是佛教徒。但是我从小就有一种宗教感或者宗教的情怀,我对佛教美术特别的痴迷,从小就临摹那些线描,敦煌石窟、大足石窟、安岳石窟、永乐宫壁画、藏传佛教的雕塑和绘画,对我的影响非常大。每次我去欧洲的一些著名的教堂,看到天顶画、玻璃镶嵌画,听到管风琴的声音,会让我内心涌生无限的敬畏感、喜悦和感动。宗教感是蕴含在艺术家的作品之中的,艺术不是宗教的修行,是个人宗教,需要大量的精神意义的行为去铸造自己的语言世界。就好比古代的炼丹,把混乱的矿物质“转译”成“心中的黄金”,这种从物质到精神的转译过程是相似的。
 
C F:宗教能够提升人的情感,你在现实生活中产生了这种悲观的情绪,那你是否想通过这种宗教情感来表达你的悲观的情感?
 
张:宗教里面蕴涵着一种看世界的方法和智慧,但是我们不能用过去的宗教价值观来指导今天的事情,用宗教的一些观点去拯救今天的社会,很难!传统与现代、个人与社会的碰撞和遭遇是一个悖论,它一面被摧毁,但同时又在修复和绵延,传统很难拯救今天,这几乎是一个美好的愿望。我曾经冬夜里开车迷路,公路上是望不到尽头的浓雾,只能看到一两米左右的距离,恐惧和迷惘,但这时最需要的是心灵里面镇定……我们在历史和现实里也有这种非常相似的处境,看不清前方,什么都是有可能的。今天的中国当代艺术价值标准几乎被市场全面颠覆了,这也是做艺术最困难的时期,这是我为什么花这么大精力和时间去做这个作品的前提。在展览的新闻发布会上,我掉下了眼泪,我参加过那么多展览开幕式,从来没有这样动情,就是因为从头至尾地做这个作品的辛酸和中国今年发生的那么多的事情,深有感触,花了那么多的精力,人到那一刻是无法控制住的!展览开幕以后,我在网上看到了很多观众关于看了我的展览后写的博客,至少有五十个,我真的很感动,他们看到后都是很有感触的,我的投入能被人理解,艺术是需要真诚和感动的,也许未来我会把他们的评论用在我的画册里。
 
C F:在798里面,你的展览确实是独一无二的,我看别的展览都是看完就走了,在心里没有留下任何感应,你的展览留下了深刻的感受。
 
张:我希望我的作品有来自心灵的力量,能让人安静的分享,这对艺术家是一种考验,意味将比别人付出更多的心血和智力!当我们面对社会剧烈变革、自然灾难或者金融危机时,艺术家能做点什么呢?我想艺术在今天还有意义的话,我们依然要讨论关于艺术是社会的良知表达,艺术是一种救赎的力量和温暖的关怀!
 
C F:你觉得西方的评论家和中国的评论家有什么区别?
 
张:西方批评家更注重大的社会背景和艺术的上下文关系,对语言、图像的解读更深,科学和理性的分析方法更精微,视觉解读的能力强。中国的评论家更注重讨论意义,谈论的问题比较大,不具体,大多数视觉感受力差。现在中国有不少年轻的批评家,受西方现代艺术史、哲学和美学的影响,也有视觉解码的能力,关注现场问题,产生一些新的变化。中国评论家文本经验多,视觉经验少。以前西方的评论界看中国艺术总是从文革政治、庸俗社会学的角度来观看,这是个很大的问题,没有具体了解今天的中国现场。西方评论家看西方的艺术史中的艺术家和作品倾向艺术本体论。现在我们需要进入到了一种更加微观的解读的方法。今天的中国是全球化、本土化、现代化复杂问题的相遇,物质化社会的瞬间到来,心灵的裂痕越来越大,甚至无法修复。我们如何去重建?在历史的现场中去展开点滴工作,我希望能穿越欲望都市和心灵废墟的迷雾,用视觉语言去“考古”今天的中国现场究竟发生了什么?

Where do we turn when the storm comes?

Participants: Cecilia Freschini, Flash Art, Italy;

Zhang Xiaotao, Artist

Time: 6:00pm, October 24, 2008

Location: Iberia Center for Contemporary Art, 798 Art District, Beijing

Interpreter: Dai Weiping

Editing: Liu Zhibin

 

CF: What have you been working on recently?
ZXT: I have recently been re-editing the parts of the animated film Mist that I wasn’t happy with. I think that some of the music and scenes are too strong; it needs quiet parts. I need some muted sections, and to work on the relationship between visuals, sound effects and music.
CF: Are these silent scenes connected to your own emotions?
ZXT: I hope that my artistic language can be an outgrowth of my spirit. Only then will it be infectious. This infectiousness is a very Eastern thing, something that slowly seeps out of the work. For example, the scene of the ants drowning is only a few seconds long. I’m extending that to thirty seconds, stretching out the timeline, giving it a lyrical feel. The lyrical feel of that scene is no less than that of the thousands of soldiers on the march. This scene comes from two drowning experiences I had as a child. I want to emphasize the illusory feel of floating in the water. I’ll never forget that blue-green world under the water.
CF: Are you pessimistic about the future?
ZXT: Perhaps it’s rooted in my experiences of growing up, the pessimism, skepticism and perplexity, because of things like car accidents, nearly drowning twice, and my failure at exams. It all grew into this kind of sleep paralysis that has been with me as I was growing up. My spiritual adversity, the massive pressure on my mind, family troubles during adolescence, all of this had a deep impact on me. These kinds of memories are like a hidden thread; though life is full of splendor, there is darkness below it. In light of the massive changes now taking place in China, every individual life is full of pessimism and anxiety. Why did I choose the name Mist? After I tested into university at the age of 20, I couldn’t help but cry every time I saw the glow of fire and the dense smoke belching out of the Chongqing Steel Factory. I felt that my future was lost, my eyes clouded over by the smoke. After another eighteen years of growing up, I returned to Chongqing Steel, and these images, sounds and smells still moved me. Why? This pessimistic sentiment was brought on by China’s drastic modernization process. The main issues facing Chinese contemporary art these days aren’t the systematic schema of “Mao”, “Tiananmen” or the “Four Great Inventions of China**************”, but the continuous attention and discussion of all kinds of problems on the scene. We have to listen, express, document and witness the anguish and dreams of China’s moment of massive change.
CF: This is different from your religious feelings?
ZXT: Artists look at the world from their individual perspective. If we look from the perspective of religion, that is a fixed constant. I want to use religious sentiments or a religious sense to view the changes in this world, seeing the world in a drop of water, concentrating the world into this one point. I magnify a single cell, and extract the most basic genetic elements. Perhaps this is more real and believable than the empty “grand narrative”. The most important thing is the individual viewpoint and perspective. Why do I consider the lot of the individual in the midst of social change? China’s religions have always had a limited scope, lacking the Universalist values of Western religions, so when the individual is faced with drastic social changes, he has a very limited capability to accept them. On the surface, my works focus on changes in the Chinese reality, but they also imply a discussion on religion.
CF: Chongqing Steel and “Windows to the World” are the main elements in your work. How do you connect them? You’ve also keenly observed the issues of globalized art production and the art market at 798. You arrived at 798 in 2002 and were an early witness to its development. What is your understanding about that aspect?
ZXT: 798 is a microcosm of the state of Chinese contemporary art. When I arrived in 2002, this was a stretch of rubble. There was no art market, only the “utopian ideals” of the artists and a few galleries. Within two or three years, the “rubbish pile” had become a “dream factory” and a “cultural zoo”. Outside my studio window all you could see was garbage and some junked trucks, and that’s what I painted. That was the real life of 798. 798 is a microcosm of Chinese reality and history. Why did I link Chongqing Steel with “Windows to the World”? One is of the socialist period, and the other, postsocialist. I am engaging in a comparative study of the two cases, placing animals, death and life on the same stage, creating an animal theatre. What I want to deduce is what kind of living condition will present itself from the individual in a certain era. This is a very meaningful question. The shift from Chongqing Steel to 798 to “Windows to the World” is actually the shift between “past”, “present” and “future”. There is a connection between them. What is the fate of these individuals placed within this time-space? This is the corresponding relationship between individual fates and the changing of the times against the backdrop of globalization in China. Tower of Babel is an icon of the empire of materialism. It considers the destruction wrought upon man by material society and the feeling of powerlessness brought on by the inability to predict future disasters, such as the feelings of powerlessness and suffering caused by the May 12 Sichuan Earthquake. No one has the power to predict or control disasters. The collapse of Lehman Brothers led to the global financial crisis. The feeling of terror is sweeping the globe like a plague. We are actually being hit by global, universal problems. Everyone has a serious sense of unease, a premonition that something big is going to happen. Where do we turn when the storm comes? Last December I held a solo exhibition, Rebirth, at the Sackler Museum at Peking University************. It discussed issues of life, a microscopic view and restoration of individual life. The destruction of the Tower of Babel at the end of the animated film is actually a shared problem mankind faces in a globalizing world. The rapid development of the world economy means harm to individual life and the collapse of the spirit. When disaster comes, every individual has the marks of a reaction. Why do I use Tibetan Buddhist elements in the animated film? I’m not talking about using religion to save mankind; I’m expressing my feeling of powerlessness and pain at the sight of traditional civilization’s lot in contemporary society. When it comes to the fracture and destruction of traditional cultural roots, the traditional civilizations we see now are in their final throes. Just like the sadness an old man feels when on the verge of death, the total death of tradition and the victory of materialism is a great tragedy. Materialism has virtually destroyed the values of traditional civilization!
CF: Do you think that religion can serve as a sanctuary, a respite, a revolution? Can it change the rapidly developing material life, and get people to move away from the material?
ZXT: I think that would be difficult, because the rapid cycles of the contemporary social economy are almost unstoppable. I lean more towards using tradition and the experience of history to find similar experiences or methods we can use to slow down, rather than the single answer of finding salvation through religion. Religion can elicit a kind of extremely narrow ethnic standpoint, and it might make this society more extreme. Take for example the conflicts between Islamic and Christian civilizations. Ever since 9/11, the conflicts between regions and countries have been ceaseless! Tradition cannot change the contemporary. It might be able to repair or correct the blind spots in the contemporary civilization system, but the pace of this era is just too rapid, and it has outstripped the judgment of our past knowledge and experience.

 

CF: Can you talk a bit about the influence that religion has had on your art and your mentality?

ZXT: I view art as a kind of personal religion. I think that the deconstruction work being carried out by the international art system has already reached its limit. Now that many things have been smashed, what to do with the leftover pieces? This is the biggest conundrum we now face. In today’s China, we’re doing too much deconstruction, so I hope to construct or reconstruct some type of values system, to take the shattered pieces and rearrange, analyze and discover something for the future. This is also the origin of this “microscopic narrative” we’re talking about, seeing the big in the little, uncovering the essence of things from their DNA, re-encoding the image world through the shattered pieces. It begins with piecing images together from the broken pieces. Perhaps after that the shattered pieces will naturally form into a program or a system of signs. It’s unclear right now, but in ten years it will have its own natural connections. Time will make the shattered pieces form their own shared logic, a rearranging and changing of the context. How do we see the world? Perhaps the river of history contains universal methods and a code to the future. “Tell the past, know the future”; today’s contemporary art is becoming increasingly commercial, shallow, fake, playful and systematized. Art should be something that grows out of the soul, something that does not change with any era. I feel that religion is a force and a crux for my spirit and soul. Why did I expend so much effort on this animated film? It isn’t just a simple video. Why do we make art? I hope for contemporary art to have meaning, to have a spirit, a soul, to have life and to be moving…perhaps that’s my understanding of the traditional and contemporary. When Mist showed at the Nanjing Triennial I watched people in the theatre. Many of them sat through thirty minutes, only leaving after the end of the film. They were moved by it. Good artworks will attract the viewers to sit down and thoroughly enjoy them. How come for a lot of the film works at the international biennials, we can only watch for a moment before we can’t watch anymore? This is also something I find perplexing.

 

 

CF: I saw your animated film. It incorporates a lot of your life and work experience, from Chongqing Steel to “Windows to the World” and the artistic changes at 798. It seems that the future should have an end. What do you think? What kind of information are you trying to convey?

ZXT: I’m trying to use a “microscopic narrative” method to sample, magnify and visually analyze these two seemingly unrelated cases of Chongqing Steel and “Windows to the World”. The polluting smoke from the factory is in my eyes the smoke of the legend of modernized industry, or the fog of history and reality…. This artificial smoky landscape shields the origins of China’s pre-socialist collective idealist pursuit of modernization, the painful price exacted and the hard lessons learned. This massive steel facility is the stage for collective sleep paralysis and the transformation of historical memory. In the endless flow of crowds that descend upon “Windows to the World”, we cannot hide the drastic changes being wrought on the souls and faces of today’s Chinese people by the crazed material pursuits of the post-socialist era. I want to document and witness the process of anxiety, patience, hopelessness and collapse that the individual is going through. As a “director”, I use images of the life, death, joys and sorrows of ants, lizards, skeletons and small animals to create a fantastical theatre of the animal world. I am attempting to use the eyes of animals to visually analyze the spatiotemporal spiritual connection and continuance between Chongqing Steel and “Windows to the World”. In the passing of a moment we have experienced drastic and rapid changes in society: collectivist material pursuits, the collapse of traditional cultural roots, the universal loss of spirit in contemporary man and the mix of globalization and post-socialist political and economic transformations have all brought massive spiritual upheaval to every Chinese person, presenting as the spectacle of desolate ruins intermixed with flourishing construction sites. What is their universal connection? Through the arduous process of rebirth from devastation, let the future generations decode our jumbled information through our images and sounds…. Between empire and post-socialist politics, against the backdrop of the neoliberal order and global war, we have to wonder, what of our socialist heritage still exists? What has already died out? What kind of structural change has the transition period brought us? In the process of globalization, how do we attain recognition and translation of our identity? How do we move from the disorder of the transition period into a true pluralist construction of the economy, politics and culture of a “harmonious society”? I am using Mist to create a form of visual logic to decode or encode the process of the individual spirit moving through time and space from hope to destruction to rebirth in this contemporary scene where the modernization process of the Mao era is intricately entwined with the global free market era and the post-socialist political society.

 

With the rapid growth of the Chinese economy, the market and capital have brought prosperity to the art market. The legitimization of contemporary art in China was not a process of systemization or a natural occurrence; it was a revolution that was carried out in the market which brought contemporary art from the underground to the mainstream. Capitalized operations, however, have brought even greater problems. Money has virtually become the only standard for measuring contemporary art. Though the money is constantly increasing, the ontological language of art is growing ever weaker. We don’t see artists or their works, only markets and auctions! So what will today’s artists do once they have money? How will they make their art? This is the fundamental antecedent and context on which I base my work. I want to combine ideas, effort, money and technology in complex ways to make works that shock the soul, and do the most fundamental work of expressing my suspicions, pessimism and perplexity about this era. The art market depends on the growth of the Chinese economy. When collectors come from around the world to buy Chinese art, they are actually placing bets on China’s future, hoping that in the future China will play a greater role on the world stage, but I see the inertia in contemporary art, the destruction of art by the art market and the confusion of values. Today, the auctions have become the mainstream standard for the art market, and this is a destructive influence for many young people.

 

 

CF: This is a more personal question: are you a Buddhist?

ZXT: I am not a Buddhist, but from a young age I have always had a religious sense or a religious sentiment. I am highly infatuated with Buddhist art, and I’ve been studying those lines since I was a child, the grottoes of Dunhuang, Dazu and Anyue, the frescoes of Yongle Gong, the sculptures and paintings of Tibetan Buddhism, all of this had a powerful influence over me. Every time I go to famous cathedrals in Europe, see the paintings on the ceilings, the stained glass, hear the pipe organs, I am overcome by a fathomless sense of reverence, joy and emotion. The religious sense is contained in artists’ works. Art is not a religious practice; it is an individual religion which requires a great amount of spiritually significant behavior to craft into a personal language of the world. This is even better then the alchemy of old, transforming minerals into a “gold of the mind”; this process of transforming the material into the spiritual is similar.

 

 

CF: Religion can heighten one’s emotions. You have pessimistic views about reality; are you trying to use these religions feelings to express your pessimism?

ZXT: Religion contains a method and wisdom for viewing the world, but we cannot use the religious values of the past to guide today’s affairs. It would be very difficult to use certain religious views to save the world! The clashes between tradition and modernity, the individual and society are paradoxical. On the one hand they are being destroyed, but on the other they are being restored and continued. Tradition cannot save today, that’s just a beautiful dream. I once got lost on the road while driving on a winter’s night. You couldn’t see through all the fog, only about one or two meters ahead. It can be confusing and terrifying, but what you need at that moment is spiritual composure…. In history and reality we are in very similar circumstances. We can’t see clearly ahead, and everything is possible. Today the values standards of Chinese contemporary art have been totally upended by the market. This is the most daunting time for art, and this is why I’ve spent so much time and effort on my artwork. I cried at the press conference. I’ve been to so many exhibition openings, but I’ve never felt this way. After all this effort, when that moment came I just couldn’t control myself! After the opening I saw a lot of blog entries by people who had seen the show, at least fifty of them. It was really moving. They all had strong feelings after seeing the exhibition. My effort was understood by others. Art requires sincerity and impact. Perhaps one day I will put their comments in my catalogue.

 

 

CF: Here at 798 your exhibition is truly unique. At a lot of other exhibitions I just looked around and left, and they didn’t affect me. Your exhibition affected me deeply.

ZXT: I hope that my works have a kind of power that comes from the soul, one that can make people stop and enjoy them. This is a test for every artist, and it implies that you put more effort and thought into it than anyone else! When we face drastic changes in society, natural disasters or financial crises, what can artists do? I think that if art is still significant these days, we must talk about art as the expression of the social conscience, as a redemptive force and a warm sentiment!

 

 

CF: What do you think the difference is between Western and Chinese critics?

ZXT: Western artists are more concerned with the greater social background and the relationships of artistic context. They delve deeper into language and images, have more delicate methods of scientific and rational analysis, and are very strong in their decoding of images. Chinese critics are more concerned with discussing meaning. The issues they talk about are broader and less specific. Most of them have weak powers of visual perception. Now in China there are a lot of young critics who have been influenced by Western modern art history, philosophy and aesthetics. They can visually decode, and they focus on present problems, bringing about new changes. Chinese critics have more textual than visual experience. In the past, Western critics always viewed Chinese art through the lens of Cultural Revolution politics and vulgar sociology. This is a big problem. They haven’t set out to gain a specific understanding of the current Chinese scene. When Western critics look at artists and works in Western history, they lean towards artistic ontology. Now we need to move into a more microscopic reading method. Today’s China is a complex convergence of globalization, localization and modernization. This and the instant arrival of materialistic society have caused a growing crack in the spirit, one that may be irreparable. How do we go about reconstruction? I will work, bit by bit, through history and reality, in hopes of penetrating the dense fog of the metropolis of desire and the wasteland of the spirit, using visual language to “excavate” today’s China and find out what really happened.