When I first saw a recording of my performance, I realised the potential that the medium of video had for my work. I felt that it answered my needs far better. I find that video is more able to express the inexpressible: it has far greater depth.
People's perception of contemporary urban life is dominated by monitoring equipment. For me, this perspective is productive. If one was to look for a constant thread running through my work, it would be the wish to perceive my body, my physical self, through the eyes of another person, or even those of an inhuman device. My first film, Don't be Cruel (2008) draws on personal memories of my childhood during the 1980s; I remember certain people giving me menacing looks and the incidents that led to this. The camera is able to 'record' things that happened to me in the past, things I can't forget that made me feel awkward and angry. It is like having surveillance footage of my own life. It has been said that Don't be Cruel blurs the boundary between reality and fiction, between my life and the work I create artificially. The relationship between life and art is always ambiguous, but I don't think that's a bad thing: we don't need to tell them apart.
Although Don't be Cruel is based on personal memory, I feel it records a collective psychological condition of twenty years ago. The next film I made, also in 2008, was Don't go so Fast. This film explored how people's ideals and the time at which they occur are different depending on their geographical location. For example, whilst Chinese city dwellers are driven by the dream of Dubai-style, 7-star luxury, poor villagers in a remote part of Shanxi imagine having a shower and a colour TV in their homes, which is what people in Shanghai pictured for themselves thirty years ago. People can therefore have the same expectations or aspirations at completely different times. I am interested in exploring these disparities and convergences between contemporary people and those who lived in the past. People's standard of living affects their view of life. This can be interpreted as an embodiment of the cultural environment during the last two decades in China.
You ask me about the influence of native Chinese society on artists and how I approach art as a cultural undertaking. The condition of being Chinese and living in China is subconscious; it is inevitable that historical tradition and cultural background have an imperceptible impact on art practice. Whilst it is necessary to emphasise identity and to be recognised in the global context, it is also impossible to abandon your traditions. I do not aim for a strategy of 'transplantation' in my work, but rather to make a parallel between my art practice and traditional and psychological conditions. If you're lucky, the result will be a very powerful mode of expression.
ARTFORUM '500 Words' builds a picture of contemporary artists and their work in the present moment. First to feature on Artforum.cn was Shanghai-based artist Zhang Qing. Born in 1977, Zhang has been part of the experimental art scene in Shanghai for over ten years. His work appeared in the exhibition 'Home' there in 1999, and has since been shown in Chengdu, Hangzhou and Beijing. Zhang's work to date has explored themes of socio-political disparity and collective experience in China. This year, Zhang participated in 'Reshaping History' in Beijing with 'Don't be Cruel', a video installation which marks the artist's transition from performance art to filmic media and into the territory of personal experience and memory.