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On July 2, 2016, “Time Test International Video Art Research Exhibition” was unveiled at CAFA Art Museum. The exhibition is divided into two parts including “Moving Time: Video Art at 50, 1965-2015” and “Screen Test: Chinese Video Art since the 1980s”, aimed at taking the development of video art as the axis, the use of the two parts mutually echo each other to present the video works by more than 60 Chinese and foreign artists. As a participating artist of the “Screen Test” part, Song Dong was interviewed by CAFA ART INFO on issues relating to the development of Chinese video art.

Interview Time: July 2, 2016

Interview Location: CAFA Art Museum Café

Interviewee: Song Dong (hereinafter referred to as “Song”)

Interviewer/Editor: Yu Ya

Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

In this video show, your work “Concern – Monitoring” created in 1995, is placed in the “Screen Test–Video Primary” section, how do you regard the whole state of development of Chinese video art since its start?     

Song: I was one of the artists first involved in the creation of video, and I think video art is a beam of visible and intangible “light”. Of course, in the early 1990s, it was difficult for us to obtain the filming equipment and post-equipment. At that time, we often accumulated thoughts and ideas, and then waited for the opportunity to obtain the available filming equipment. The use of the simplest dual-butt way to edit and join subtitles, although it was not professional, I loved this non-professional state and manner, while this amateur status had created a lot of possibilities, I called it the “low-tech existence”.

At that time, the surrounding artists who had an experimental spirit were trying to use different ways and forms in the expression of self-awareness, while the forms of performance and installation were often used. Video became the means to record a performance and the site of installation. But I was interested in the video itself for the “visible and intangible” characteristics, and I have a continuing interest in indirect expression. Through the media such as video and the installation of video able to find a more appropriate creative language. Video language contains the characteristics of the combination of “documentary” and “virtual”, which communicates the needs of my creation, so video became one of the expressive forms that I have been using.


Compared to the traditional easel painting, for the art itself, in addition to multi-dimensional “audio-visual sense” (scene of construction, hallucination, video art), it also includes the concept of “time” (video art belongs to time -based art), for the ontological characteristics of video art, how do you think of and control the specific creation?

Song: The so-called “time” is commonly owned by us. Video, although it seems to exist through the film which continues over time, a few seconds, a few hours, or even several days to expand a dissertation or presentation, in fact it contains the artist’s multiple interpretations of the idea of “time” instead of the physical concept of time as one sees.

As one of my expressive forms, the characteristics of video art includes: firstly, a relationship to “time”, secondly it is related to the blankness and actuality. Thirdly, the video can be copied, can be very conveniently carried and transported, while replicas and the originals are the same. In the video, “time” can be “copied”, and “traced back”. Viewing a film each time is an experience and consumption of time “past” , really experiencing the “reality”, “virtually experiencing the virtual”, the coexistence of “reality and virtual” is a period of “time” moving on the timeline. I prefer to use “indirect expression” in the creation of video, to present the existing images and the “fleeting” process, to “re-observe” the “existing observation”. For example, I began to show a special preference for the changing substance of “water” since I created the first video work, I then created the medium “water mirror” which has been widely used in my videos.

You have mentioned the reproduction, transportation, portable nature of video, which is an advantage or a limitation to the collection of video art, for it makes the collection related to the maintenance of equipment and technology. What do you think of the current status of the collection of video art?

Song: If collectors are accustomed to the traditional concept of art collection, the first thing they face is the problem of reproduction and non-unique quality of the video work. However, along with the widening of the boundaries of art itself, the boundaries of the collection can be widened. Especially for video art, I think it can still be copied and spread. It does not affect the collection of video art, because in fact there might be different versions of a work, for example, there are the communication version for the public and the limited collectible version for the collectors. In my opinion, the museums and collectors do not only collect the art work, but also collect the artists’ creative thinking and creative experiences, as well as their own vision, taste and forward-looking, and the spiritual wealth is irreplaceable.

The video art started in the 1960s and has a developmental process that covers conceptual art, happening art and performing art in the 1970s. Whether Chinese video art which started in the early 1990s, is an anti-tradition “media tool” is worth considering?

Song: I don’t think artists use their initiative to contact or use it because video art is a new media tool. For example, in the earliest work by Zhang Peili “30X30”, Zhang used video to constantly try to understand and express the repetition, shattering and restructuring of video, which can’t be fully or appropriately implemented by traditional mediums. In addition, the so-called father of Western video art Nam June Paik was an Easterner. His work is heavily influenced by Eastern thought, the culture of TV and the TV itself became the medium to present his works, which presents images that refuse to include the usual narratives of the films and televisions, and he continued to desalt the narrative, thereby allowing the screen to repeat, pause and become distorted. Through constantly making the screen increasingly abstract, he changed video art to a type of “music”, which re-collapsed, defined the understanding of video, which essentially widens the artistic vision and ideas of nature. At the beginning of video art, the medium of video had a “cosmopolitan” tendency, while video is an integral part of our daily life now.

Along with the development of technology, computer editing and special effects are also increasingly and widely used in video art, such as new media video, interactive video and so on. As an artist, will you face how to balance the relationship between “technology” and “art”? 

Song: I think that art and technology are complementary. Art can’t be defined, which gives artists a wide range of imagination and space for creativity, technology and art is not contradictory and refuses a relationship of balance, every person has a cellular phone today, cameras are installed everywhere, the popularity of technology and the daily use of imaging equipment, as well as the civilian and amateur artistic creations, change the definition of video art, and this definition will be continually refreshed. The online broadcasting of massive videos and the extremely talented folk wisdom are changing the understanding of video art. The moving image has gone deep into our daily lives and changed the way of thinking and cognition.

Taking this exhibition as an example, Chinese and Western video art are presented in the same place, which has formed a comparison and dialogue itself, and especially along with the progress of globalization and information vehicles, do you think the difference between “indigenous identity” and “internationalization” is still obvious?

Song: Video Art itself has a very strong international presence. Particularly in the present, we are living in an era of globalization and people’s lifestyles are similar in many ways. So that in the concentrated mediums and the style of expression, people’s works have a very strong compatibility. But at the same time, each place has a very unique culture, and in my opinion the uniqueness of this culture is not a symbolic insert but life experience and value. It becomes exactly the most essential kernel on a cognitive level.

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