Zhang, Peili is considered the father of Chinese video art for his three-hour video 30X30 (1988). He is also as an influential educator who started the New Media Department at China Academy of Art in 2002 where young artists such as Hu, Weiyi, Lin, ke, Lu, yang among many others graduated from.
This episode starts with a re-discovery of his seminal work 30X30. The work depicts the artist breaking a mirror and gluing the pieces back together. Although being labeled as the first Chinese video art piece, the artist’s intention behind the work has been ironically covered by its fame. Firstly, as revealed in today’s talk, it is actually called a “failure” by Zhang. He actually planned to lock the audience in the room, forcing them to stay with the monotonous or “meaningless” time of mirror gluing, and thus making obvious the consciousness of time passing. However, it was Zhang that ended up being forced to hold the video controller and fast forwarding under the pressure of the audience. What made this work pivotal in contemporary Chinese art is not that it was made in video form, but the effort to engage the audience, trying to make them part of the work and thus create an experience for them which might leave some traces or make some differences in their life instead of just a pretty painting on the wall to be taken a glance of. In that sense the original intention of the work wasn’t touched upon at all at the time. Secondly, the point is to create a period of “meaningless” time no matter what Zhang was doing. Because of the expectation of the TV media, the audience would tend to expect something to happen during the event, but they were disappointed to find that there was actually nothing, neither in terms of the content nor the video form, camera language or visual effect, except for the passage of time. Zhang mentioned Waiting for Godot when asked about if he has been influenced by the Greek myth of Sisyphus. But the choice of mirror breaking and gluing has its own symbolic meaning anyway, which actually comes from the Chinese idiom “A broken mirror joined together,” which indicates a certain hope after a violent break. The work finally shows helplessly that a mirror can never be rejoined and reused. We didn’t dig into the political metaphorical meaning which could possibly be there, but continued to talk about the use of video instead of performance. Zhang dislikes showing himself in front of his audience and he feels much more comfortable when faced with a camera, which means that the “mediated” time is more “natural” for him than the “real” time. From there we discussed his later works from Uncertain Pleasures (1996) to his retrospective exhibition Certain Pleasures (2001), covering the topics including the relationship between “to look at” and “to be looked at”, the visceral power of media worthy of both artistic exploration and particular vigilance.
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With particular gratitude to Chronus Art Center for facilitating this interview.