Zhu Xian: The characteristics of the context of the place have reinforced the meanings of the work, thus giving the work a spiritual power.
Chen Zhen: It is not the context that has elevated the work; rather, the conception of the work itself was in the first place based on the consideration of the context of the place. One of my consistent creative methods is to dialogue with the “inside/invisible context of the place.” I have such experiences: whenever I propose a project – I mean a big installation project – in a place that I’ve never been, there are bound to be problems, big or small. Sometimes, I could really run into huge problems, even including the lack of inspiration. Another problem I may have is the irrelevance between the site and the work.
Z. X.: You once said that when you were doing your project, you didn’t need any studio. Then, isn’t it fair to say that your heavy reliance on the site is in fact using the site as a kind of studio?
C. Z.: To many artists, it is fair to say that. But to me, it is not. What I mean by leaving your studio is going to the real world, plunging deep into the inner layers of life. A site is not simply a space to work in, but it is a type of life. If the site is the contextual factors for the work, then what are the contextual factors of the site? We should look into this question.
Z. X.: The contextual factors of the site?
C. Z.: Yes! All the invisible things. For example, the history of the site, the background of the city where the site is located: its geographical, social, cultural, and ethnic context, etc. The theme of the exhibition and the intention of the curator are often part of the “contextual factors” also. Any major historical events and any particular events at the site of the exhibition would also be “contextual factors.” Sometimes, even conditions of natural elements and the difference of seasons can also be considered as contextual elements. The characteristics of the climate and temperature, and rainy seasons or droughts can all be regarded as contextual factors. For contexts, we should be able to create something out of nothing, and to find pretexts for them.
Z. X.: You seem to have some unique insights into the knowledge and experiences of the context. Then, let me ask, what are the exact relationship between the work and its context? In other words, in the particular relationship with its context, what should the creation process be?
C. Z.: Once a friend of mine asked
me, what was it like when I reach the most exciting moment and status
in my creative process? I said, it was like the “short circuit”
phenomenon in electricity. Two opposite electrodes meet: irrelevant,
yet from the same electrical circuit. What I am really interested
in is the “shocking” and “destructive” power
triggered by a “short circuit.” That is creation. That
is the most stimulating moment. To give you a more direct answer,
every time an artist runs across different contextual factors, he
will feel – in varying degrees, scopes, and measures of power
– conflicts, dialogues, and a “call from time and space”
or a transformation of each other. In short, he will experience
the “short circuit” phenomenon.
Z. X.: Your experiences clash with the “site experiences,” causing osmosis and transformation into each other. That is “transexperiences.” But do you think the life of the artistic works themselves is thus being limited? Do the works still enjoy their independence? What do you do with them after the exhibition?
C. Z.: The “short circuit” phenomenon in the creative process indicates the conception of the work, and the triggering of the thinking process. The moment of its occurrence is very much like the conditions and moments of a “new baby bursting out from the womb.” Dialoguing with the “inside/invisible context of the place” reflects the true concept and will of leaving the studio. This practice breaks away from the artist’s tradition of monotonous thinking and closed-door studios by relying on occasional, temporary, uncertain, topsy-turvy, jumpy, and mixed experiences. This new method is concerned with how to disintegrate the mechanic nature of an artist doing creative work by himself.