Wolf Guenter Thiel is Author, Editor and Curator
Wolf Guenter Thiel: The setting of your models suggests a certain Asian background. What is your main root of tradition in the process of creating your models?
Xu Zhongmin:The work »Trekking the mountain« is inspired from one of the most important traditional rituals in Tibet »Trekking the mountain« During some festivals or special dates, the volunteer pilgrims would pick a holy mountain and trek around clockwise, to endure the hardship in the journey of several kilometres or more. For them, this is both physical and spiritual, religious cultivation and a way of praying for blessing.
None of your models is a distanced, clean copy of what we could call reality.
WGT: Why is it important for you to point out a transfigured atmosphere in your work?
XZ: The global cultural perversion in post-modern era had greatly influenced contemporary artists, in a way that we have been led to pay more attention on how life exists, endures and ends. To a certain extent of one’s life, man shall begin to think about life, naturally. The series of works, which reflect my thinking here, began from the »Bridge«.
The »Bridge« is an installation in 2004. Alike »The Tunnel«, »Turning around the Mountain«, is applied the same media, method and format. These three works are all closely connected and succeeded, in consistence on the deep thinking of metempsychosis
Of human life concerning the »past«, the »presence« and the »future«. Based on the former experience the »Turning around the Mountain« has assumed and set a science fiction context like UFO, applied the special effect of light and electricity, and created both the modern and futuristic sense itself. »Trekking the Mountain« as an action in Tibet is a conduct of salvation in »this world« when conducting my art, I am also »Trekking the Mountain« in a sense. It is a spiritual cultivation process of self salvation, bitter and sweet.
WGT: We are showing your work in a context with three artists who are all working with models of “SOMETHING”. What type of “SOMETHING” does your model refer to?
XZ: Spiritual rituals from Tibet, Architectural Models, Visions of Buckminster Fuller and Marshall McLuhan. In general it is an contemporary theoretical approach which consists of Buddhist elements as well as western theory and philosophy.
WGT: What are the basic vertices for your work concerning the notion and the concept of MODELS?
XZ: The work carries a strong expressive force that transcends over the time and space. I want to represent the ancient beholding of styles, process and the meaning of human existence. The living of human being, as a whole, should be understood as an process of ceaseless circles and repetitions. My installation is intended to deliver and communicate the mysterious, abstract yet »force majeure« nature of life, by stressing the symbolic meaning through transcending the time and space.
WGT: Do you think that the process of creating an artificial space is able to discuss
MEDIALITY in art in general? What does this MEDIALITY mean to you in the context of SELF-REFERENCE?
XZ: Marshall McLuhan is convinced that the content of a new medium is the previous medium. So what is the previous medium for art or for my art? New Media derive their right of existence and power from the fact that they seem to make possible a more direct perception and experience of extramedial reality than all previous technological equipment. As soon as a new medium comes on the market, it exposes its predecessor as just-a-medium. Photography is nice, but film moves. Film is nice, but television is live. Television is nice, but the Web is interactive. Every new medium attempts to deny itself as medium and at the same time show up all other media as medium and nothing but medium. Every new medium wants to be transparent, invisible, and everything else is opaque.
With new media, you look through them to see reality; with old media, you see only their mediality, their technological limitations. But by claiming direct experience for itself and reserving mediated experience for the other machines, every new medium inevitably also evokes a sense of the mediality of all media, the realisation that all media, including the new ones, have nothing more to offer than a game with signs.
Back to my work. My medium is art, my previous medium is religious or spiritual, mainly holistic experiences. My artwork opens, in my opinion, spiritual, existential and artistic horizons in the perception of the viewer. Of course I also make use of technology and production possibilities. I do combine the two aspects of futurism and traditionalism. The mediality of my artworks makes it possible for the viewer to share my own experience of the world as I receive it.
WGT: The construction of the model always originates in a process of TIME. What does your model, a photograph or painting or film of it mean concerning TIME and PROCESS?
XZ: The three models I already mentioned all display a ritual or a process. »Trekking around the Mountain«, »Bridge« or »The Tunnel«. All three show abstraction of human beings practicing a process. The religious processes are not about time, they are about to express the wish of spiritual enlightenment, religious experience and lately express the wish for eternity. The film also displays this motive while he reduces the experience of the »model« to an artistic, subjective view of mine on the phenomenon, but still captures time as a running phenomenon. The photo is a memory of this experience and conserves singular moments or views and present them to the viewer. The illusion »walking« as well as the clockwise walking around the mountain is a metaphor for time and experience of time.
WGT: Your films, paintings or photos which derive from the model show an astonishing power of UTOPIA. why is a UTOPIAN SPACE so important for your work?
XZ: Living in China today means living in an ongoing utopia. The reality around in Beijing were I live, is so dramatically changing the urban landscape, that utopia is always already realized before you try to imagine. Actually utopia is always around you in China today. Cities like Beijing or Shanghai live of building utopia. My idea of Utopia is a retrospective view. I refer to Buckminster Fullers geodesic Dome for example which he invented in the 1940’s. Fuller’s ambition was to create a ‘design science’ that would be able to create the best solutions to problems with minimal consumption of energy and materials. Fuller became famous for creating the geodesic dome of 1949. This structure of the domes comprise of a complex network of triangles that form a roughly spherical surface. In order to create a shape, which is very close to looking like a true sphere the network of triangles have to become very complex. This was an utopia in the 1940’s and today, look at the Operahouse in Beijing.
To answer you question precisely I do think that the expression of utopia is a myth. The experience of religion at least presents an experience and believe to the people and utopia?
WGT: Do you consciously deal with CULTURAL CODIFICATIONS in your work, or are they merely implicit?
XZ: Obviously yes! For example the thing colophony human modules are just like pilgrims walking and cycling clockwise, one after one. This is a representation of social ceremony of sacrifice. Within the air hall in the middle, the set up is a complicated structure designed like a virtual city, kind of abstract. So you see Cultural Codifications all over.
WGT: If you think of Platonulls cave, your models represent the shadows that Plato describes. Would you agree or disagree that the shadows, the models, even form a richer, a more fascinating REALITY than the reality which creates the shadows?
XZ: I do not think so. Nothing can beat reality, at least no fiction I am aware of. Art can just present a special aspect of reality and make the viewer focus on the artist choice of views on reality.