Monday, November 10, 2008

Reflections on Chen Zhen & Zhu Xian's Interview...

I had to read this interview about four times before I could begin to make any sense of it. This wasn’t like most interviews about straightforward things, this was a deep conversation between “two” persons that allowed me to see the intricate inner thinkings of this artist. The first thing I want to discuss is his notion of “short circuit.” He describes this phenomenon as the peak of his creative process…the “most stimulating moment.” This reminds me of the “light bulb” effect that occurs when one is brainstorming. The moment the brilliant idea hits is very much like the spark of electricity in a short circuit. The burst of emotion is the culmination of what Chen Zhen calls the “conception of the work” and the “triggering of the thinking process,” is what happens when all things start to connect. He says that in order to do so, it is necessary to break away from the norm. When you do things repetitively, there is no place for a creative outlet. I remember at work, I would do the same monotonous tasks daily, and with that, there was no place for me to think outside the box. Only when you try something new, do something different, stray from the norm, is when innovative things can be produced.

The second idea that Chen Zhen brought up is this notion of the creation of a second tradition, especially for Asia. This new “state of consciousness,” he states, is developed by overlapping foreign influences with Asia’s traditional culture. To a business major like myself, it seems as if this artists view on modernization is very much in line with any business man’s perspective. First there must be modernization along with growth in economics, intertwined with help from outsiders; there is no and should not be any “anti-West” and “anti-tradition” divide. Asia’s rich past and foreigner influence should culminate into a short circuit result of a new tradition. This new wave of culture for Asia shows that she is moving on from her oriental past to a new modern era. Asia is developing and perhaps going through a “transpexperience” of her own. Though not physically expanding, Asia is gaining economic power in the span of the entire world.

Lastly, I wanted to discuss his idea of moving on, his “transexperiences.” The artist moved to France to experience new cultures, to become a well-rounded individual and to continuously learn throughout his life (even Spanish at his age!). He understood that breaking free from things that used to hold you back is the only way you can understand yourself; the only way you can really “zou,”—truly live. Despite the apparent physical travelling, he does “soul travelling,” where his development as a person throughout his life takes place. I can relate to this transexperience from my moving to Shanghai. I left NYC, my hometown for the past 20 years of my life to halfway across the world for 4 months. I grew up in New York, attending both high school and college in the city. That’s when I knew it was time for a change—I was not about to spend 8 years of my life strolling the streets of Downtown NYC. So I made this leap across the ocean and vast miles of land to try to make it on my own as a person. I have to admit, before coming to Shanghai I relied on my parents a lot; I am an only child so of course they spoiled/babied me rotten. Now almost three months into this program, I have done my own laundry and cooked my own dinner. While they may seem like small feats, they add up to myself being able to grow and mature as an adult. I know that I am fully capable of things that I never had the desire to do before, simply because it was not asked of me. I just came back from a week long vacation in Malaysia, doing things on my own, no tour guides, no adults. That’s something that I will remember for the rest of my life; it was a life changing experience. This whole study abroad experience has been one big “running away” from home-esque journey for me, both physically and emotionally. I left my native place and went from one place to another in my life. The different friendships I gained and my expanding network of peers, something that Chen Zhen finds most important with transexperience, is a concept that I have developed here in Shanghai. It is these relationships that allow me to grow into the person I am right now—one who is definitely different from the person who stepped off the airplane in Pudong International airport a couple months earlier. These relationships are what moves the world, according to Chen Zhen, and he manifests their importance in many of his works, like the Round Table for the UN building.

By the time I finished re-reading this essay, I saw a lot of applications for his thoughts to my own life. It really amplifies his statement that “art is relevant to everything, especially to people and their lives.”

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