Zhou Han, has obtained a bachelor’s degree after studying under the Department of Mural Painting at CAFA between 2008 and 2012. Since 2014, she has been completing her master’s degree in Mural Painting at CAFA. Zhou Han was born in Changde, Hunan province, which is famous for raising dynamic girls. Zhou, just like her artworks which are like a girl full of golden hope and passion.
Interview time: June 9th, 2017
Interviewee: Zhou Han (hereafter referred to as Zhou)
Interviewer: Zhong Yuwei (hereafter referred to as CAFA ART INFO)
Editor: Lin Jiabin
Translated by Miao Yinan and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO
“One of my reasons for creating this series of works was the influence I gained from the British writer Doris Lessing’s literature. In her book, Lessing suggested that there might be millions of ways to interpret the world, and everyone would eventually find his/her way to explain it. For example, one could write a red note, a yellow note, a black note, a blue note. By crossing out everything that’s confusing and hard to explain, one will be able to gather the rest and make it into a “golden note”. I don’t think people should become negative about the chaos that has always existed in our world. I will make the chaos become a golden secret power.”
CAFA ART INFO: I believe that you have read Lessing’s novel “The Golden Notebook”. You know that actually “The Golden Notebook” is comprised of five notes, including red, black, yellow and blue ones, with each one representing different social issues and life problems. And “The Golden Notebook”, so to speak, it is a conclusion for the philosophy of life. Did Lessing’s attitude towards life have an influence on the creation of your graduation project?
Zhou: My understanding of the world is a bit different from Lessing’s. What really interests me is that, Lessing sees the world in parts, which requires you to comprehend things from different perspectives, for instance, race, sex, and politics etc. However, I perceived the world from a more artistic and personal approach. I had an idea on how different forms exist in the world, and I extracted the vague part of it and made it into my “Golden Note”. I was influenced by the method that Lessing used to perceive the world.
CAFA ART INFO: Is the “gold” that you’ve extracted a kind of romantic space that you’re trying to create? Or is it an imaginary utopia-like space with hope? A philosophy? A methodology?
Zhou: To me gold represents an aggregation of all the romance I have extracted from real life. It’s my imagination and ideals, yet it is rooted in reality. So my imagination and ideals are temperate. I will not let them grow wildly. Therefore, I only used a small amount of gold in my works. Gold is a method I used to explain the world. I’ve spent a long time constructing a system to think about the world. And this system is helping me to express how I feel about different people, matters and objects I’ve encountered in this world, with a more open mindset.
CAFA ART INFO: You’ve chosen some imageries to express in your graduation project. Are they part of your attempt to show how you perceive the world based on your system? Do they have a storytelling quality?
Zhou: You’ve got a point. Yes, they do have a storytelling quality. My current creation method has a gameplay and storytelling quality. After my concept is settled, I will start constructing stories, and fill the main plot line of my system with these stories. My graduation creation came from a video work I did previously. At that time, I set up some scenes in an empty house. These scenes were all about emptiness and golden fluid. Since then, I have kept working on this stuff. Some of the scenes that appeared in my graduation creation were related to these, but with more connections to my life experience afterwards. For example, I have illustrated the soft whispering between the two plaster figures in gold, and this came from a common conversation scene in people’s daily life. Of course, I would think of many different plots when I am creating. For example, white chairs and golden fluid, people’s eyes etc.
“ The artists that had a great influence on my video works include Lucas Samaras, a weird master in mixed media, and Ed Rusha, a master in print advertisements and concepts. I have explored and developed my concept around their inspiration. I am more focused on the mix of video and painting media in contemporary art.”
CAFA ART INFO: Why did you choose this method of mixing video and painting to create your artworks?
Zhou: I hope my emotions and the way I express them are free and fearless. So I would do a lot of research on my concepts when I first started. In the early stage, I would spend tons of time building my concept and plots. Then I would make a lot of attempts, figuring out what is the most suitable media to express my plots. Maybe this could be a video, and that could be an oil painting. For eyes, I have found that dropping water on film would create different effects. So I applied this method to my depiction of eyes on films. I went to Venice for the Biennale, and I saw that some artists’ visual language is so simple but striking. When I linked them together, I have found that they have a lot in common. For example, they all seem to like mixing digital language with mixed media.
CAFA ART INFO: Did you encounter any difficulties when you kept making numerous attempts? How did you overcome them?
Zhou: I’ve encountered a lot of difficulties. I think the biggest difficulty comes from other people’s advice and critique. Especially because what I was trying to do was kind of rare and very few people have tried this, it’s certain that there was going to be a clash of opinions. When you’ve found the issue, and you realize that you have to give up on what you’ve already done to reconstruct it, it is the most difficult moment when the reconstruction is not yet successful. To me, the hardest part is not in materials or techniques, but in the process of thinking over the issues. I would create a large amount of systematic theory studies. I’ve spent some time alone to make my system stronger.
“I used to keep using oil paintings for my creation. And I always liked using this method of expressionism. However, as I grow, I don’t want my works to be too emotional. Instead, I want my works to have a bigger bearing capacity and I happened to be exposed to conceptual art at that time. So I started reconstructing my artistic view and creative approach by tearing everything down. ”
CAFA ART INFO: You’ve had this concept of “extraction” even in your undergraduate graduation project. At that time, your depiction of “extraction” was about having an illusory image in a realistic setting, more like a third-person view. But when it comes to your graduation project for master studies, instead of using an illusory image, you’ve used “gold” as a way to visualize. This makes me feel like your artworks have not only matured over time, but also have changed their state. Could you talk about what has changed during your past few years of creation?
Zhou: I had too much to imagine during my undergraduate years. It’s a revelation for my emotions which are hard to tell. After my bachelor’s degree, I went to work. And I did a lot of things that many artists probably would not be willing to do. The development of contemporary art requires that you have more interactions with society. So I might not be restricted to be an “artist”. I prefer to be extracted from the fine arts field for my creations. I also hope that’s how I will live in the future. This could be the change I’ve had on my mind for the past few years.
CAFA ART INFO: You have always studied in the Department of Mural Painting at CAFA. What influence did the experience of studying mural painting bring to your creation?
Zhou: What studying mural painting has brought me is freedom. The teachers in the Department of Mural Painting all have different research directions. Especially in the No.3 studio where I was studying, every one of us has a lot of contemporary art creations. My supervisor was really generous. The curriculum from undergraduate to graduate studies has a great influence on me. Sometimes the school would invite many contemporary artists and curators to discuss art with us. The Department of Mural Painting has shaped me in every single way, and it has really encouraged me to make my creations more freely.