Transcript: Xu Zhen interview

Xu Zhen: Beyond Anticipation

(Original language: Mandarin)

XU ZHEN: The end of the 1990s was not a very active period in the Shanghai art scene. At the time, there were no art spaces; unlike now, when we have exhibitions every day. Everything was kind of underground. After 1997, when young artists, including me, left school we thought, if there are no exhibitions, we can organise some ourselves. Around 2000, after organising a couple of shows, artists from outside Shanghai started coming to the city. Not many, though. The focus of the Shanghai scene has always been on Shanghai artists.

Back then, information on the Internet wasn’t as widespread. Everyone was basically creating in their personal ways. You paid attention to things close to you. For example: desire, the tactile, sex, the flesh. You subconsciously wanted those kinds of things to offer you some stimulation; a new sense of being.

It definitely doesn’t look like a back at first glance. It looks more like an arm or a piece of flesh. When people hear the sounds, they expect certain things to happen. Something to hit the body. But because I have edited out those parts [the slapping actions], the sense of anticipation never gets resolved. I think it’s a rather abstract treatment.

The country or the environment you were in didn’t matter much. If you were a young person entering society your body would naturally be in conflict with your physical surroundings. The older generation was somewhat affected by the Cultural Revolution. Some were against political symbolism, some embraced it. And our younger generation was more concerned with individualism and urbanisation. It’s hard to say if one was greater than the other. What’s certain is that we’ve been expressing our own values in our respective times.

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