Video Artist Series: Chen Zhou

Chen Zhou was born in 1987 in Zhejiang. In 2009, after having decided not to study at Hangzhou Academy, he graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing with a degree in Media Art. Chen’s latest exhibition was “I am Not Not Not Chen Zhou” at Magician Space in Beijing, where he is based. He was also part of “ON|OFF” at UCCA, and appeared in the group shows “Jungle” (Platform China) and “Get It Louder” in Beijing in 2010.

My work takes a long time to make. All the judgements I make are instinctive. For “I am Not Not Not Chen Zhou” (2013, exhibited at Magician Space) it was a little different, because I tried for the first time to make it more “professional”, by which I mean more related to art work, my role in the art circle, the art scene…But I also find that when I consider the audience more, my work becomes less sharp; perhaps I end up giving up some of my opinions.

Chen Zhou at his home in Beijing, June 2013.

Raymond Carver is a great source of inspiration. I started to read his novels, then the whole collection. I began to study him. An interesting thing is that his early writings can be more difficult to understand — more rough, un-sharp — whereas his later works became more graspable for the reader, and the writing style grew calmer. I feel that’s the similarity between myself and the author, and I started to think about my early work. I was very concerned with structure and how I wanted films to be. Sometimes it was difficult to make a connection between my work and the audience. This is about accuracy. My more recent work, and some of Carver’s sentences, can very accurately describe a kind of feeling so that it can be understood. I realized too that unclear feelings can also be described accurately. There is the aim for direct effect. But I take inspiration from everywhere. Some people would think this glass on the table is very ordinary, but to others, it could appear strange.

Chen Zhou, “I’m not not not Chen Zhou”, HD digital film, color, sound, 34 mins, 2013 (courtesy the artist and Magician Space). 陈轴,《他不不不是陈轴》,HD数字电影,色彩、声音,34分钟,2013(版权:艺术家及魔金石空间)

It gets to a point where I have to make a work — when the contradictions between my passion for art and also its difficulty converge. “I am Not Not Not Chen Zhou” was uncharacteristic. Next I think I will make a more “contemporary art” work (laughs). No, I don’t want to build on this last work as a new direction. I’ll go back to what I normally do. Rather than making work for exhibitions, I prefer to make films for everybody! My ambition is to have a big screen with a big audience — this is what gets me excited. Then I can take their 90 minutes away to show them a good film. I’m also going to start writing.

Contemporary art is sometimes readable in an instant. I am not a contemporary artist, I’m just a very traditional artist (laughs). Two years ago, Li Ran said I was a painter, and I disagreed. But now, I think that maybe I am, because I don’t care about the contemporary art circle. What is contemporary art? In every industry there is a peak time, and certain people who drive it and discuss what is happening. Politics, globalization, communications — basically, it’s a political question. In a simple way, politics happens when two people communicate. I don’t want to talk about this, but I use it.

I am always saying that I am a director, not a contemporary artist — but maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t want to be a contemporary artist because the question is so difficult to answer. Maybe it isn’t an important question. I just want to be free.

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