Sina interview Records: Fu Wenjun’s Historical Conceptual Photography
Interviewer: Wang Ying
Artist: Fu Wenjun
Curator: Hu Jiujiu
Place: Sina Reading Hall
Time: July 5, 2010
Wang Ying: would you please explain your works? There are scenes from the OldSummerPalaceand iconic buildings in the World Expo.
FuWenjun: The “A Show of Formality” is comprised of two parts: Twelve Zodiac and Gardens of Nations. The first is about theOldSummerPalacewhile the latter is about the World Expo. It practically cost me two years to finish them. With a kind of incisive sensitivity, I have taken a good deal of documentary photographs about theOldSummerPalacesince 2009. After that, I started to study this “GardenofGardens”—the once unparalleled place with peerless grace day and night. I have seen photographs of those crumbling walls and dilapidated houses; I have also watched many historical documentaries and digital movies aiming at “recovering” the original appearance of theOldSummerPalace. The motif of my series Twelve Zodiac combined theOldSummerPalacewith the absent “12 Chinese zodiac animals” together. In the process of creation, I made use of Baidu, a search engine, from where I got pictures of the 12 Chinese zodiac animals via portable computer. And then, I juxtaposed these pictures and the ruins of theOldSummerPalaceto construct a seemingly objective truth without novelty. I tried to let the 12 Chinese zodiac animals go back to where they come from; yet, there have been no returns. So far away is the distance between the illusion and the reality that we can only summarize and express it in the name of “history”. The preliminary idea of searching for a certain kind of engraftment between theOldPalaceand the Shanghai World Expo, and conducting a sort of historical thinking was conceived, simultaneously as I createdTwelve Zodiac. Various countries set up their own pavilions at theExpoGardenone after the other. I was shocked by a kind of soundless whisper when I saw the sharp contrast between the prosperous scene of construction, and the desolate ruins of theOldPalace. Therefore, Stories of World Gardens—another serial work of mine which was successive to Twelve Zodiac has been formed. I combined them together and did an exhibition—“a show of formality”.
Wang Ying: When are you beginning to pay attention on Fu Wenjun’s works?
Hu Jiujiu: He is a tree, and I am actually a fruits picker. With regard to so-called picking fruits, Mr. Fu had an idea. He put the idea into practice, and finally the idea took root and grew into fruit trees. In the process of associating with Mr. Fu, I feel that the artists who were born in the 1950s were featured by good qualities, which our contemporary artists lacked. In addition, I have a wish that we can make the exhibition inShanghaiagain.
Anna Wang: What was your first impression of Fu Wenjun’s works?
Hu Jiujiu: My first impression is the feeling of exclusion. I wonder why Mr. Fu Wenjun uses such a way to show theOldSummerPalace. His way is unfamiliar to us, given the context of our traditional knowledge, and it is also different from other artists. The audience who first see those works will find them a little stiff. But they will become familiar with his works gradually. And you will come to realize the artist’s attitude of history, as well as what the works have conveyed. So now I’m almost like a propagandist of Fu Wenjun.
Wang Ying: Which work impresses you most?
Hu Jiujiu: There are twelve works about zodiac animals and eight about the Expo, among twenty works on display. I like the British Pavilion best. First of all, it is beautiful, and it gives people aesthetic enjoyment. It has a linear, metal, and industrial design. Everything is very beautiful against the blue sky.
Wang Ying: Jiujiu is offering some way for appreciating arts.
Hu Jiujiu: This is my kind of feeling. This is the visual aesthetic enjoyment brought by Mr. Fu Wenjun. This photograph of British Pavilion cannot be copied. You could never duplicate this effect again. The purity and quietness demonstrated in Fu’s works is amazing. The reality is that the British pavilion is so noisy. It is no longer possible to get a group of pictures like this.
Wang Ying: Did you feel painful when you were shooting theOldSummerPalace?
Fu Wenjun: I certainly felt very sad when I did the shooting. I did some preparation for understanding the Old Summer palace, which was a typical oriental art, its position similar to the Parthenon in the West. In fact, the number of pictures taken at that time was more than twelve. I took thousands of pictures from different angles in different time. Then I chose these twelve pictures after careful selection.
Wang Ying: How do you feel when you shoot the Expo?
Fu Wenjun: It is relatively easier when I shoot Expo. My mentality was completely not the same as before, but more complicated. The eight countries were aggressors when they were burning and robbing theOldSummerPalace, which caused a great harm to our nation. But today they came to the World Expo for other reasons. We invited them to show the construction of their culture, and it was a sign ofChina’s prosperity.
Wang Ying: What is the most difficult thing to you when you try to convey the artists’ artistic thoughts?
Hu Jiujiu: The first thing is the understanding of the work itself. You need to catch the spirits of the artists. Once you make it, you will truly grasp the essence of the work. It is a process from form to spirituality.
Wang Ying: The exhibition will open tomorrow.
Hu Jiujiu: Yes, it is tomorrow. As a viewer, you need to find something that is embodied in the works, rather than simply appreciating form.
Wang Ying: The artist said that his feeling was more complicated. What would you do to help him express his ideas?
Hu Jiujiu: Fu Wenjun has typical feelings as a person who was born in the 1950s, a phenomenon which is very common in my father’s generation. Their first feeling is the hatred towards enemies. The second is the concern for history. We can see that people who were born in that era carry with themselves unique historical imprints.
Wang Ying: That is a kind of perseverance.
Hu Jiujiu: People are impatient, opportunistic, and flashy nowadays. I really respect artists who were born in Fu’s age. They have a sense of responsibility. Many people tend to display individualism in their works. But artists like Fu will reflect the burden of history in their works, so as to achieve a psychological balance. I am a person born in the 1970s. How to properly understand a man who was born in the 1950s is a challenge to me. How can I, as a curator, crack the passwords in his works and speak to the audience? Finally, I name the exhibition “A Show of formality”. In my view, all history is a show of formality. Looking at Mr. Fu Wenjun’s work in this light, we get access to his subject, and the technologies that he uses are no longer mystical.
Wang Ying: Do you think the subject of “A Show of Formality” fits your idea?
Fu Wenjun: This topic is very interesting, I also feel very good when Hu Jiujiu put forward this topic at first. So we reach a consensus soon.
Wang Ying: When I hear the name, I think history is not just a transition. It always leaves with us some deep memories. Will the name give us an impression of hurriedness?
Fu Wenjun: This is precisely the mystery of those works, and it also shows Mr. Hu Jiujiu’s wisdom. When he told me the name, I immediately understood that history was not just a show of formality. In fact, I think history has always left a different kind of real existence. TheOldSummerPalaceis real, and what you see in the computer, namely the 12 zodiac animals, is also real. I keep on thinking about how to reconstruct the originalOldSummerPalace. This kind of thinking is related to dialectical relationship between the memory and the time. Will we remember the past or forget it? Will we become indifferent to what has happened? When today becomes history, too, what attitude will we have? I am thinking of all those issues.
Wang Ying: In your works, we see a laptop in the front with Chinese zodiac statues and relics behind it. Why do you combine the two together?
Fu Wenjun: The ruins of the OldSummerPalaceare real. They are there to tell the world its flourishing period. But now it has turned into relics. How to combine the ruins with that period of history is the focus of my consideration. Then Christie’s auction of the Chinese zodiac statues caught my attention. So far,Chinahas a total of five statues of animal heads with three of which brought from Poly Group and two donated. We are not sure where the rest ones are. What I would like to express is how we can show the statues. Through rethinking history, I tried to exhibit those statues. Computer is a kind of high-tech invention in the 20th century. Therefore, I think the combination of theOldSummerPalaceand computer will convey a sense of historical span. With the help of computer, I made the statues appear. Through current information retrieval systems, I reproduced the 12 Chinese zodiacs. And then I set the computer in front of the ruins. In fact, the statues are only digital images, but they can express a sense of reality, and address to the questions more specifically. It is of not much historical significance if we really find the 12 Chinese zodiac statues, and put them back to theOldSummerPalace. The key point is how we remember that period of history, how to feel it, and how to judge it. In this case, I made use of the relationship between virtual and reality, the contrast between the computer and the ruins to emphasize what I want to express.
Wang Ying: Is it your originality to integrate the past, the modern, the real and the virtual?
Fu Wenjun: This is called conceptual photography, and what you mentioned at first is called historical conceptual photography. Different from traditional photography, conceptual photography presents the opinions of artists as well as their subjective thoughts; that is to say, the arts will focus on how to present personal thinking. My way is different from the traditional methods. For instance, a photographer can photograph our environment now, but a conceptual photographer will create something different. He will raise a question for us to think, and invite the audience to consider why he will do this or that. In other words, conceptual photography presents the thinking to us.
Wang Ying: In that case, conceptual photography poses more challenges for photographers.
Hu Jiujiu: Yes. Conceptual photography goes beyond the boundaries of photography, expanding this purely technical means to an infinite number of possibilities, especially the possibility of cross-border. I can make use of innovative ideas, Photoshop, and so on, which all are extensions of photography.
Fu Wenjun: Conceptual photography must have a concept in it. Artists cannot realize their concepts by only relying on the traditional photographic methods, such as photojournalism or photographic records. Therefore, a PS post-production might be needed to combine things together to show the photographer’s concerns. Of course, besides the thoughts, technology is also important to conceptual photography. There are two tendencies in contemporary photographic art: one is to be faithful to the traditional photographic methods, and the other is to be very conceptual. The artists who were born in the 1980s and the 1990s are more willing to accept the latter.
Wang Ying: It seems that Mr. Fu is an artist who is interested in contemporary means.
Fu Wenjun: I am sensitive to new-born things.
Hu Jiujiu: This piece of work shows his pure heart. When Mr. Fu was taking about his works, I thought of a kid who wanted candy but did not have one, and then he just drew a candy. The same goes to the statues. We don’t have a real one now in theOldSummerPalace, and then Fu draws one for us. This is an extension of his childhood imagination, which presents the inner part of Chinese people.
Wang Ying: I see you mentioned a terminology—“man-made image” in your comments. Are those works an expression form of man-made image?
Hu Jiujiu: Yes, he used this technique. He is not satisfied with the world, and he just wants to create something new, which might either be an angel or a devil, it depending on the artist. Artists will always be willing to get close to the Creator. In fact, this new thing is a combination of real and virtual. Man-made images are as such.
Fu Wenjun: I didn’t realize it when I was creating my works. I just followed my thoughts. After I finished, many things just came out naturally.
Wang Ying: Those are conscious and subconscious.
Fu Wenjun: Yes. I am using man-made images to explore the world. I have a friend, who helps people to better use their eyes. His purpose is to make people’s eyes healthier and see things more clearly. He calls that vision technology. Having seen my works, he said they should be called Visual Arts. I think it will be better for us to combine our ideas together. People should not just look at everything on the surface; they should look at things from a higher level. My visual art in fact reveals a lot of spiritual things, things from my inner hearts. If I do not say it, people probably will not know. So, I had a try between man-made images and photography. I’m still exploring more possibilities.
Hu Jiujiu: Man-made image is a natural extension of photography. Once photography cannot satisfy you, man-made images will come into your mind. Just like being a host, you probably need to learn singing and dancing to attract attentions.
Wang Ying: Various skills are needed. Jiujiu just interpreted your works and saw your innocence from his own life experience. I believe many people who have seen your exhibitions will see your different sides under the help of their different experiences. I noticed a viewer commented that your works were clearer to him than your earlier works.
Fu Wenjun: I had several series of works, which were purely vague photography. You wouldn’t regard them as photography at the first sight.
Wang Ying: So that used to be your creating style?
Fu Wenjun: Several sets of works I created before fall into this kind, including the series I made last year. Now for this group of works, I changed my style. In this series, I only emphasized what I need to say. Photographing pays special attention to light shades, color tone and layers. According to the international evaluation photographic theory (from 1-11), most people’s films vary from level 3 to 9, while missing level 1, 2, 10 and 11. But the technique I used this time totally broke the rules. It not only strengthened what I want to express, but also abandoned what I didn’t need, which created a new form of visual impact.
Fu Wenjun: In fact, Mr. Fu creates works in the same strain, since he used man-made images before.
Wang Ying: What are your ideas, concepts or inspirations that you want to share with the viewers most?
Fu Wenjun: Nowadays, more than several hundred million Chinese are engaged in photography. Almost every household has a camera. The popularity of digital cameras makes it more convenient to record our daily life. But I want to explain a problem through my works that photography should have its ideological contents, rather than simply being a picture-taking process. Through implanting concepts to photography, we can do better in arts. We can regard a camera as a tool, a tool to record our artistic thoughts. The camera itself is a blind tool, but the implantation of thoughts makes it bright.
Wang Ying: What do you think, Jiujiu?
Hu Jiujiu: I thought of a sentence of Wang Shuo: human beings are not important. The theme of this exhibition has the same meaning. Any period of history will pass away in the end. At one moment, you think you are the protagonist, but in the process of history, you are of no significance. The ruins of theOldSummerPalacehas become history, and the beautiful British pavilion will also be removed in half a year. You are humble and insignificant, while your daily life is the most important.
Wang Ying: We wish Mr. Fu’s exhibition a great success.