The Paranoic Inquiry About Life
Time of the Interview: April 7, 2014
Site of the Interview: Studio of Zou Qionghui in Beijing
Artist: Zou Qionghui
Interviewer: Wang Dongdong
Wang: Are the Cicada Series and the Landscape Series created in the same time?
Zou: When I was a young girl, I was interest in the cicadas life, and I created works about it for these years. In the production process, I always want to express my opinion about the life and the society, and the life features of cicadas are happen to coincide with my idea, so I created some series of paintings with the theme of cicada. The Landscape series were created in the interval of the Cicada series, when I was puzzled in the Cicadas, I changed my mind and widened my method in creating this new series, and the Landscape series presented my concern of the life and the culture, they are the same with the theme of Cicadas in the rough.
Wang：When did you start to create these series?
Zou: I started to do them in 2007, in that period, the Child series and the Old Man and Tree series showed my concern about this theme. I turned to the cicada series in 2011, because the cicada accorded with my inward world as a life sign and visual word, and it can stand for a metaphor in my art life.
Wang: In my opinion, I think you are seeking for a method that agree with the nature. There are so many works unfinished outside the studio, you let them exposed to the sun and rain, and put other materials on it again and again, included many experiments about the art languages.
Everyone yearns to find himself, thats why art come into being (of course, art is just one of the creations). I think you use the cicada to find yours, and close to your ego by painting it. In the real life, everyone feel dread, or lonely, or bored out of frustration, so we have to find a way to comfort our heart. When you find the cicada, you embodied your abstract seeking and put it in practice. That is your insistence of life by symbolic meaning, and Id like to name it Paranoia about Life, which takes moving and tragic on the repeated process. So all the images of your paintings are controlled by your paranoia in mind.
Zou: Yes, you can say that. To be honest, everyone has a paranoiac nerve, the difference is someone noticed it while the others not. I dont know whether I have found it or not, whatever its paranoia or meaningless repetition, the art creation should be a process of expressing oneself. When you feel vigorous and hopeful, your paintings will show your pleasure, and when you feel sad or sorrowful, your paintings will seemed in disorder. Although the information from the painting may be unpleasant and the creation itself may be suffering, but as soon as it finished, I can feel a sense of relief. I hope my work can provide the freedom to both the creator and the audience.
Use the cicada as the themes, I created three series: Cicadas Language, Cicadas Sentiment and Cicadas State, they seemed similar and repeated but actually they are different in the art language, the materials, the topical subject and the effect. I use them to express my deep heart by digging the meanings of cicadas. Maybe I find some other images to take the place of cicadas some day, and I will give up the cicadas images, but for now, Im enjoying the theme and the creating process.
Wang: I viewed your works to be the lonely uproar and the deep romance, and I think the best exhibiting place is in the sunshine and exposed in the rain and snow. Its interesting that your first solo exhibition will be launched in the Today Museum, and your desolateness and heaviness will be exposed in a different platform, are you ready for that? How do you think the relation between the art creation and the exhibition?
Zou: I didnt prepare for the exhibition, so its hard to say whether Im ready or not. The creation has stages, between two stages there are intermissions, and this exhibition can be regarded as a intermittent development that I never expected. Exactly as you said, the creation is to find oneself, talk to oneself and find ones nature. On the other side, I realized that my independent mind and research is not good enough, and I havent build up my own mind system of art creation. But I know the hardship of art creation, I engaged in the advanced studies in the material studio of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and studied in the art history class of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, and then visited a dozen countries and more than 40 big museums. Im creating while walking, and thinking while creating, and found pleasure in it. One day, when I looked around my studio, I found that I have created so many works in these years. After the delightfulness, I felt a sense of loss, Im afraid that if the motive power fade away someday, I dont know what to do next. About the exhibition, I didnt expect it.
In my opinion now, the exhibition of art works is an indispensable part of art creation. Creating art is not only for amuse oneself, and artists should be the messenger of art, they have to pass the art to the successors, and this is a kind of value extending. In the course, the exhibition is necessary, on one side, it provide good works to the audience, lead the interaction and the resonance, and on the other side, the artists and critics could exchange the ideas between each other, and find out the creation direction next.
Wang: The name of the exhibition is Cicadas Language and Zen State, just like my opinion. You used a concrete image to symbolize the thinking of the life experience, then went through the cicadas life to corresponding our understanding of Zen, whatever its about the religion or the Padipata, it emphasized the non-verbal course, everyone knows it. Although you dont need to explain it, you can exhibit it Of course, the exhibition itself is a kind of explanation, but its a intersectional condition.
Zou: For many years, the cicada theme didnt change, but my creation is changed all the time, and the highlight is the content. To be honest, Im seeking for my unique language. Before 2012, my works made in the Central Academy of Fine Arts are aimed to explore the new technique and the new language. In the Cicadas Sentiment series, I used many methods to express my heart, for example, to collage, to imprint, to polish and to burn, and my pursue in the color is pure and stable.
The Cicadas Sentiment series made in 2013 combined the technique of the watercolor and the ink, I paid more attention on the effect made by accident in order to pursue a condition of unconsciousness. Around the spring festival of 2014, some of my works showed the mottled effect of the color, which suggested the past time. The images of cicadas are no longer integrated, I broken their aestheticism and integrity by the chemical methods and machining works.
The last series named Zen State, although the Zen and the cicada sound the same in Chinese, they are different. I thought about a mental direction point to the Zen, the philosophy, the faith and the relation between human and god. I tried to explain the modern character by the ancient images, so I thought about the portrait brick, which agree with my jade cicada image taken from the Han Dynasty. I used the composition of the portrait brick for reference, and changed the human images into cicadas, and changed the carriage into the modern cars. At the same time, I used the new techniques like polishing and preinstallation again and again, and what I want ultimately is the traces of time, maybe its the ineffability condition in my mind.
Wang: You mentioned the uniqueness of the art language, and I think your works is not about unique or not, its about the original or a kind of nature, its a kind of distinctive uniqueness. When others are seeking for something different, Im seeking for something natural, then the natural things are not about new or old, its about nature.
Zou: I think its about my character, I dont like to be same with others.
Wang: I heard that you are going to collaborate with the scientists, and Im curious about this topic.
Zou: I had conversations with the biologists, the litterateurs and the chemists before. For instance, I put some chemical things on my paintings, and the chemical reaction happened on my paintings. I like the effect that made by nature, which is unconscious and can not be controlled. That is a gift that provided by god, and Im so excited by that.
Wang: So the motivation behind your creation is the aspiration to control it, although its hard to do it. But you made it in the end regardless the difficulties.
Zou: Yes. To be honest, when an artist said that the painting is finished, he means that he had brought it to success reasoningly, but the creating course is unconsciously.
Wang: I noticed a great contrast that your character is optimistic, even with a bit of high-key, but your paintings are seemed to be heavy, something unspeakable. Why? Further more, I think you are too young to create such heavy subject matters, because in most cases, this kind of theme need a complicated life experience.
Zou: My paintings are relevant with my experience, because people who born in the 1970s are somehow different with the 1980s and the 1990s, their lives seemed to be smooth but actually maybe not
Wang: As a matter of fact, art is a method that one can strengthen himself by creating it. Artist can enrich their mind by seeking for themselves. For example, your following exhibition is a process you confirming yourself, and the art works will be more meaningful in the social interflowing process. So I can say that our conversation today is also meaningful, because it broken through the enclosing condition you used to be working in, and brought you to a interflowing environment, then the meaning of your art is turned to be much abundant. It is valuable for your art, and it has a great life force which accorded to your creation, included your paranoia about life.
Zou: I prefer to express the bitter emotion. I dont know why, and sometimes I shed tears while listening to a song.
Wang: This era we live in is terrible. A terrible era is a suffering period, thats why we saw the people who born in 1980s pretend to be optimistic in their art works.
Zou: I always feel suffering, depressing and entangled.
Wang: You know the truth, thats why your paintings looked suffering, because the truth of life is terrible.
Zou: If you want me to paint bright-colored, I can do it gorgeous with two or three colors. But I dont want to do that, because its not the real me, its pretence.
Wang: I think pretence is a game, you will find it interesting when you pretend to do something, but pretend too much is not allowed. If you do everything truly, you will find that the life is so depressing, and no one can live in that depressing environment. Life is just like that, although we all like the sincerity.
Zou: I really dont know that, sometimes I feel sorrow, and sometimes I feel happy.
Wang: Lets tell each other the truth. I told you what I feel from your paintings, and I hope I can learn of your opinion about the paintings.
Zou: Thats right, I can feel easy and stress-free then.
Wang: I think the experienced person will have emotional resonance with your paintings.
Zou: I didnt think about it.
Wang: They will think about it.
Zou: Many years ago, someone told me that it will be better if I reduce the images in my painting, but I dont want to do that in my state of mind. I enjoyed the sight of Badashanren and other ancient great masters, they painted simplified. I dont think that I have to learn their methods, because the simplified paintings cant express my heart. Every cicada stands for a man, and I like the dense effect.
Wang: Your paintings looked conflictive and entangled, and theres something ambitious in your heart, but you wanted to go back to the modesty, so your heart should be ambivalent.
Zou: Actually, Im on the edge of the problem, I have to find a language that I liked. I want to find the emotional resonance with my audience. For example, I like the works of Kaethe Kollwitz, because the emotion she expressed have resonance with me. I also like the immense effect and the sense of history in Anselm Kiefers works, and the beautiful color in some of Antoni Tpiess works moves me so much.
Wang: The Like or Dislike is just a result you take by accident, its just a temporary excitement, or maybe a hobby in some stages.
Zou: Its just like my food preference, I will order the Shredded Pork with Vegetables in the restaurant every time.
Wang: You can regard the paranoia as a game.
Zou: I think I like it.
Wang: Thats the innovation of art language you pursued, and the innovation itself is a game.
Zou: I did self-examinations that whether Im pushy or not, and the answer is that I really enjoy it. Why did I use the cicadas in my works? When I was engaged in advanced studies in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, I need something to do my experimental creation, and I determined to do something about life and rebirth, then it came to the jade cicada craft in the Eastern Han Dynasty. When I was young, I lived in the countryside, and I was interested by the insects just like cicadas and fireworms. When the summer comes, I felt comfortable with the cicadas songs, and that gave me a deep impression. Now you can see the scenery outside my studio, when summer comes, there will be many cicadas singing on the willows, and in their songs I create paintings and enjoy the feeling that the nature and my works are getting together. In that moment, I hope you can understand what I mean.
Wang: In fact, your thinking pattern is somewhat lyric besides
Zou: I brought something into my works unconsciously. For instance, I have studied lacquer painting, watercolor, oil painting and traditional Chinese painting, because the attached middle school of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute set many courses, thats why you can see the element of Chinese ink painting in my works. I learned to make the animated cartoon in my regular college courses, so you can feel the comprehensive ability in my works.
Wang: So your creating process needs you to be free and easy, and when you did that, the effect will come forth by it self, so what you need to do is to break it out, and the new effect will get out and you did the innovation by the breaking.
Zou: Yes, every painting need more than 40 layers, and some of them have even more than one hundred layers, so I have to polish them and break them over and over again.
Wang: That sounds great! Then whats your plan next?
Zou: Im invited to be a one-year visiting scholar in the U.S.A by the School of Art Design in the University of Michigan in this August, and I hope I can make a new breakthrough in the meantime.