Jérôme Sans: You started making film in Hangzhou before moving to Shanghai in 2004. And shown in multiple channels. Why were you documenting marginal people, migrants, homosexuals…?
Zhang Ding: This video is called Pry. It consists of multiple videos, one about a homosexual in Gansu Province, one about a man of Hui Ethnicity from Gansu who migrated to Shanghai. They have different social roles. I was interested in the background and identities of these people.
You diverse art has been described as intriguing. How would you describe your artistic practice?
It is difficult for me to describe my own work. I create an atmosphere and let the audience have their own emotions. These emotions are a very important part of the work, or they can even be considered as the artworks themselves. Emotions can not be recorded. The object is the seed for these emotions, as well as evidence of them.
In Tools (2007), you showed a mountain of old green refrigerators stuffed with cheap insulation and speakers that randomly gave off explosion sounds. Please explain this work.
The exhibition Tools consists of 4 pieces, one of which was a sound installation made of 24 refrigerators, those typical of the 1980s. The refrigerators were filled with loud speakers, and linked to a detonator, whenever the audience pressed on the detonator, an explosion could be heard. This piece was exhibited with another installation of cacti. Together, they presented a confrontational and anarchic atmosphere.
You made a video where an actor rides on a bicycle with a horse’s head in a pool, dancing in an old fashioned public square. What is your relationship to performance?
Great Era is a 14-minute video where the character rides on a horse head-mounted bicycle through typical and everyday life settings. The character drifts in reality and dreams simultaneously.
Your universe is between Fellini-inspired, baroque and surrealist films. What are your art references and which artists do you feel close to?
Many artists influence me. For me, China is a rather complicated situation. There are things happening everyday beyond our imagination. The complexity and variety of Chinese society influences me more profoundly than these people do.
Your 2008 work The Dream of Yabulai is a video installation laid out in a hexagonal pavilion. What is this dream about? Is this the dream of your generation?
The Dream of Yabulai is about a utopian social structure from my imagination. Different roles represent different aspects of this society.
A dream to go somewhere else, in other worlds like in Next. A journey through internet or through games, video games?
Next is more closely connected to Great Era, a character on the margins of society living in his own dreams.
Do you agree that your work is questioning the notion of “unfinished” or raw mise-en-scène and stage and the question of acting? Like in your work Game of Direction Unknown…
My art pieces create a theater atmosphere, leading viewers to organize their own emotions and sentiments. This so called “unfinished” aspect perhaps refers to the fact that the works serve as a background, requiring integration with the audience.
Game of Direction Unknown: is this a metaphor for your work?
I’ve never thought about it this way, but this is perhaps the most clearly defined artwork in that direction.
Opening (2011) deals with entertainment, between club culture, temples and gyms, underlining the common notion of ceremony. Was it a way to open the vocabulary outside of art and make people interact?
Exactly. It was to hand over the space to the audience and let them forget about art and enjoy!
How do you see the future?
Our desires dictate our future.