An Interview with Fu Wenjun
Interviewer: Cao Dalin
Place: Independent Images
Time: July, 2010
Cao Dalin: From Mere Formality to Fading Memory toGardens of Nations series, your works have a certain bound both in artistic subjects and the technique of expression. Is there any intrinsic link among these works?
Fu Wenjun: Take the Mere Formality series for example, I borrowed visual effects from the old pictures. I took pictures of abandoned locomotives with rust marks, factory, and other images. I took these artistic and historical industrial landscapes as memorial materials to write modern industrial civilization, which is part of the history of this city. As we all know, due toChina’s rapid economic development, urban demolition and factory waste has become a universal phenomenon. Of course, my focus is not on the fact that these locomotives and factories were replaced by more advanced equipment after they had experienced long time of use, but on the expression of my strong demand to retain historical memory. Mere Formality series itself becomes a kind of memory model, thus against the compromise to forgetting. This artistic practice, redrawing the scene of history, is also the main line of Plot, From Where, Go Where, National Plan and People’s Livelihood, Autumn’s Watch, Fading Memory, Saphenous, Legacy and other works. I linked the past and present, or used the method of cutting the present into the history to reflect historical events. Many of my works themselves become a kind of historical records, for example, many scenes in South Africa, Liangshan series have not existed, or have become history. I have described my historical concern in ZodiacandUniversal Gardens. Therefore, it is easy to see, the game between history and present as well as memory and forgetting has always been the protagonist of my works. No matter what theme I used, the protagonist never left away. The only difference was its specific role. Of course, history is described as different versions, we can not find the only true version of history, but historical interpretation of various versions. My works are the personal, specific expression of my true feelings held for history. As for the different expression methods, they are based on the concepts I want to express and pictorial effects.
Cao Dalin: It is easy to see from your earlier works likeExit, Neighbors, to current Mere Formality, you have used the technique of changing color, texture, collage, and apposition. I suppose these are the result that comes from your initiative. How do you view the issue of initiative and passiveness in photography?
Cao Dalin: the simple capture and documentary in documentary photography have tended to decline today, because of the rise of the concept. Artists are no longer to record passively, but to present their own concepts and ideas in a more proactive approach, that is, the concept photography. The concept photographers are no longer only interested in the meaningful moment captured in life; they become more concerned about the cultural level on how to deconstruct reality through image media. Pictorial art is a substantial jump from copy, reveal, record, to reproduction and performance. When it expresses the concepts of artists, the image has transcended its original characteristics of objectiveness and record and moved from relatively passive records to active expression. Thus, as a language of artistic expression, the image is not a simple image itself, it might have become a combination of painting, sculpture, installation, performance, and even three-dimensional digital pictorial arts. The “conceptual” experiment of contemporary pictorial art, on one hand, uses image as a tool to express certain concepts. It is not a tool for recording, used to express the artist’s subjective intent, during which process the expression of concepts incorporates the preconceived elements. On the other hand, using the image as an effective carrier and media to cut into the contemporary art and culture, has begun to combine local narratives and involve in the overall context of Chinese contemporary arts’ narrative. Over the years, I have been committed to “active”photography, hoping to find more in the field of photography, in experiments and trials.
Cao Dalin: But, your active attempt, such as image post-processing, has been highly technical. In a broad sense, as long as the image is made by paper, people will call it photography. But a lot of post-processing often makes the photos identifiable. Shall we call these seemingly documentary but paradoxical works images rather than photography? Do you think the pursuit of technology will affect the artistic expression of your works?
Fu Wenjun: Indeed, many of my works have undergone post-processing. But I am different from many photographic artists. They often cooperate with professional computer designers, and those designers are responsible for the post-production. The post-processing of my works is operated by me, and I use my own image output devices. The reason is that I regard filming, production, and output of photographs as integral parts of artistic creation. I think only hands-on works can ensure the accuracy of the expression of ideas. Contemporary images creation in today’sChina, as well as all around the world, has taken on a new look, with its conscious use of computer technology and photography. They have created new possibilities for today’s artists. Moreover, they mean that artists have become more subjective and initiative. Photos are not the translation of reality. As a tool for recognition and recording, photography helps us to understand and record objective things in a unique way. The differences in subjects, angles, as well as ways of shooting will influence the expression of concepts in photography. I use the post-production for the same purpose, I think high-tech is just a subsidiary condition to help maintain the integrity and conceptuality of images. It may enhance the expression of the concepts, and get rid of the interferences which affect the accurate expression of artistic ideas, so that free ideas come out. To me, this is a trend in artistic expression. I use specific practices to express a gesture, promoting the combination of traditional photography and contemporary digital technology. It is not only a combination of technology, but also a combination of culture, society, and our perceptions of things and expressions. In this way, art is becoming increasingly valuable and meaningful. So, I think the combination of traditional photography and contemporary digital technology is conducive to enhancing the display of artistic photography. Of course, we can not blindly pursue the use of technology. What matters is the aesthetic value of photography itself.
Cao Dalin: You are known as an artist of concept photography, but many of your works are mainly based on documentary photography, as is shown in the two series in exhibit. How do you understand the concept photography? How do you express it?
Fu Wenjun: The objectivity and the nature of concept of photography have a kind of dialectic and uniform relationship. In some ways, photography is conceptual as a whole, because photography needs selection. And where there is a choice, there is the existence of concept. The real difference between documentary photography and conceptual photography is the weights of objectivity and concepts in photos. I use documentary photography in my works, since documentary photography has its own advantages. It can maintain the basic objective reality, thus enhancing the credibility of the expressed. It is on this basis that my ideas begin to have real meanings. But the main purpose of my works is not to record or witness objective reality. In fact, whether they are documentary or not is not the key point. What matters is the degree of fitness between the photographic language and the expression of ideas. Therefore, while usually making use of documentary photography, I also the inject artistry in photography, combining mechanical reproduction with the ideas and making personal creation on problems that I care about.