Animation Now #3: Chen Shaoxiong

by Chris Moore 墨虎恺
translated by Daniel Szehin Ho 何思衍

Chen Shaoxiong (b.1962, Guangdong) studied printmaking at Guangzhou Fine Art Academy. He is a founding member of the (in)famous Big Tail Elephant Collective. His work often employs traditional media, such as ink brushwork that is then transformed through new media, such as video. The style is wry and absurd and frequently focused on the urban plight of ordinary people. His “Anti-terror Variety” video of 2002 showed Chinese skyscrapers using martial arts movements, such as Tai Chi, to avoid impact by a terrorist plane — what it was criticizing remains ambiguously raw, or vice versa.

Chris Moore: What are you currently doing?

Chen Shaoxiong: My work right now has several aspects: my own work is continuing on with the ink videos. As long as I’m in Beijing, I go to my studio practically every day to work on this. The newest ink watercolor animation is related to protests and marches around the world, about collective resistance in social movements. This piece, I predict, will be finished by fall this year. Another aspect is the intermittent trans-Asian cooperative project I’m involved in; whenever we have the chance, whenever we get the support and get invited to an invitation, we the Xijing Men — Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Gim Hongsok and I — will devote ourselves to this collaborative production. The most recent time was in January at the Spencer Museum of Art (at the University of Kansas), where we did a project entitled “I Love Xijing — Xijing School.” And before that was in September in Korea at the Gwangju Biennale, where we did “Welcome to Xijing — Xijing Immigration Services.” We’ve kept this for a while, keeping our collaborations and personal work apart. The third aspect is the cooperation between Chinese artist Liu Ding and me; together we have discussed many issues about the art system and the [role of the] artist in China’s social environment. We have a collaborative project called “A Project without Space,” which we have done six times. The last time was at Pekin Fine Arts, “A Project Without Space #6”. In this exhibition, we looked into the way to understand the creations of others.

CM: What led you to become involved with animation?

CSX: I have never thought that my works would become animation. At first I only thought of linking up continual images of memory. In 2005, I got a bit tired of video; I felt that the video maker or cinematographer always either consciously or unconsciously cut out a partial reality and leave out even more of reality. I felt that video creation could no longer continue in parallel with what we see in life and what we feel in existence, and so I thought of using an even more apt way to express these feelings from life. I connected together all the images of memory from everyday life — that which is unremarked on — or the reactions in my everyday experience. On the other hand, more and more I felt more attracted to the working method of traditional ink painting, and I liked the conditions of creation in the studio. My many years of disdain for tradition seem to have, after all this, found its revenge! The enjoyment I get in the process of creation is something that cannot be compared to any other work I do. And so there was nothing in particular to inspire me to get into animation; it’s just that I got tired of the previous ways of working and just found a new way. As for “animation,” for me its definition is perhaps different. I am not even willing to call these works of mine “animation”; sometimes when I put in notes for the medium of these works, I prefer to call them “video.”

CM: How do you describe the role of narrative in your animation films?

CSX: My “animation films” are anti-narrative; these videos do not attempt to tell the viewers any story, and I don’t want to link up these shots in order to express any content. My videos are conceptual art. But they are formed by many frames, and so we can equally view them as a series of drawings. I think narrative production makes things more literary and I’m not too interested in literariness. The aim of being anti-narrative is to let the viewer return to the direct viewing of the image. When thinking about these questions and issues about the arrangement of visual communication and the ideology of the image, the audience preserves their own selves here — it is a dialogue between the work and the audience — while narrative cinema is frequently about submerging the ego of the audience. This is the basic concept of all my series. I’m against using some pleasing aesthetics to rob viewers of their time. That’s also why my videos don’t really attract people! [Laughs]

CM: Where did you grow up and were you introduced to art?

CSX: I was born in the south of China, in a coastal city in Guangdong province called Shantou. I grew up there until I went to the Guangzhou Art Academy at the age of eighteen. I remember the first time I came into contact with drawing was because my brother and some of his friends often dragged me to become their life model — maybe they couldn’t find anyone else to help them out. In their drawing rooms, I saw some books on painting; back then, they were mainly about Soviet art. After I got interested in these pictures, I basically followed them around everyday to see them sketch from life. Slowly, I started sketching myself. Learning how to draw was my greatest joy when I was young; it killed a lot of my dead time. But as for really seriously getting into art, that happened after I got into the Guangzhou Academy of Art. At that time, art education was still rather conservative, but several good friends of mine and I discovered treasures within the library. Everyday we bathed in the images we found there. There were lots of painting albums, Chinese and foreign, along with many art magazines from the Soviet Union and from America. We started to teach ourselves; my later artistic practice has this knowledge as the base.

CM: Who were your first influences?

CSX: I’ve already forgotten who influenced me first. When I was growing up, we didn’t have the resources to be exposed to too much outside information, while our education in art history was also fragmentary. The things I loved were not something consciously chosen, but rather depended on the time I had with those images. I remember first liking Camille Carot and Jean-François Millet of the Barbizon School, and later liking Käthe Kollwitz and Munch. And then later from Cézanne and Pollock, to Miró and Dalí, and finally to Duchamp and Pop Art. By the early 1990s, we started looking into Fluxus. I really don’t know whose tradition my teachers took in. I thought I only learned how to act against a tradition. And then I started to work. Now I feel that way of thinking was too simplistic and immature. If I want to know who influenced me the most, I would have to — like you all — go back to my previous works to discover this slowly.

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