by Ran Dian 燃点
translated by Daniel Szehin Ho 何思衍
Known for his constructed environments and his use of a variety of different props—suitcases, shards of mirror and, most strikingly, taxidermied animals—Chen Wei is unlike some earlier contemporary photographers in the Chinese art scene who focus more on the documentation of performances and installations. His cinematic photos “reveal dreamscapes that capture impossible movement in everyday life and residues of histories.” The artist has exhibited around the world—including recently at Chi K11 Art Museum, Shanghai, and group shows at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami and at UCCA. Recently, Chen had a solo exhibition at Leo Xu Projects, “The Last Man”. Randian caught up with the artist for a chat.
Ran Dian 燃点: How did you become an artist? And why did you choose photography in particular as your medium, as opposed to painting or video?
Chen Wei: My major in university was photography and video. After university, I kept working on sound and performance, and started to take part in some exhibitions as a sound artist; I also tried out photography, video, and installation. After that, photography became the most important part of my everyday creation. This has something to do with my university studies—as well as the artistic vibe in Hangzhou at the time, with most artists doing photographic work.
Ran Dian 燃点: I find your work very poetic, in its themes but also how it is constructed. On the other hand, your photographs are also very theatrical. How would you describe the relationship between poetry and scenography in your work?
CW: Actually I’m not willing to let my works remain on the level of the poetic. The poetic for me can easily make you get too absorbed—like [the analogy] of a veil covering your eyes…I’d rather take the veil off and see what things are really like. Yet this often makes me linger. The things that attract my attention must have something poetic about them—including a certain theatricality. This is not what I create; all I do is to let a certain part of section of these things to be presented on a flat surface through various means.
Ran Dian 燃点: A number of your works present a fake reality, is if developed from movie-set models. What is your intention in doing this? Is Thomas Demand an influence?
CW: Of course, I frequently make works through the means of sets. An actual environment is very complex; many aspects get muddled in the mishmash. I can accurately grasp them through snapshots, then I deal with them in a relatively quiet and gradual way. And I will also clip, appropriate, or even edit [ie. change] them. Yet for me, this is really more like yet another rehearsal of actual things based on reality. Through these rehearsals, I hope that the physicality and the order can be presented.
This method could be influenced by film production techniques; other influences include the models of the theatre and the photo studio—and also the novel.
The first time I saw Thomas Demand’s work was in a catalogue at a friend’s place. I didn’t at that time know how he did it—the way the photographs have this cold distorted nature, and yet still be so alluring. But he didn’t influence me. In the beginning it was really about Hangzhou, helping artist friends around me shooting video or photographic works—it was a great experience which allowed me to learn so many things. Also, artists like John Cage, Mario Merz, Thomas Ruff, Cindy Sherman, and Jeff Wall broadened my perspective in the beginning.