The conceptual artist talks to Edmund Lee about Chinese ink painting and his relationship with traditional culture.
As one of China’s most intriguing conceptual artists, Qin Chong has exhibited gradually-vaporising water drops as artworks (Up to the Limit, 2000) and turned the national flags of the United Nations’ 51 founding members into black and white (United Nations Black and White, 2003). So what’s he doing with Chinese ink painting nowadays? Charting the ‘interplay between things’ so as to ‘reveal the exchange and transmission of matter, energy and information in this process’, his upcoming exhibition in Hong Kong, titled Interplay, may offer some clues with a collection of Qin’s new works in Chinese ink on paper and oil on canvas as well as sculpture and installations.
Can you tell us about your interest in Chinese ink painting?
I’ve long been creating works in a multitude of ways (such as installation, painting and sculpture) and with a variety of materials (including paper, oil on canvas and mixed media). It’s all decided according to the specific work and ink painting is only one mode of expression. Instead of an interest in ink painting, I’d rather say that I have a lot of admiration for the spirit of traditional culture – of which ink painting is a component. My works in ink painting only reflect my comprehension of and sentiment to it; it’s not about the technique.
Your works are often in black and white. Is there a story behind that?
My works from the period between the 1980s and the early 90s were often in bright colours; the colours only began to fade out in the late 90s. This is something I once wrote: “In this day and age, the human world is rapidly developing amid fast-travelling information, crisscrossing cultures, evolving societies and living environments that exert all kinds of pressure on the people; it’s such a colourful world. I’m going to find my balance point through the use of black (the king of colours) and white (the queen of colours).”
You’ve been living and working between Berlin and Beijing. How has that influenced your creative life?
If my education in Beijing has constituted the blood of my mother culture, my creative work in Europe may be said to have offered me a way to activate the blood. [It’s given me] a diversity of possibilities in expressing myself.
How important is the concept of time in your works?
Time is essential in a lot of my works – so is space, sound or smell. For instance, the work Past-Future is very much about time, while Up to the Limit, through the use of space, sound and smell to deliver its message, is significantly dealing with the concept of time as well.
Which is your favourite among all the works you’ve created over the years?
My personal favourite is Up to the Limit. Displayed on nine metal stands, the work consisted of pure water being arranged in different shapes and patterns as the exhibits – and it vanished over time. Only the concept of the work remained in our memory.
Your large-scale installation Past-Future will again be shown at the upcoming ART HK. Can you briefly explain the idea behind it?
Past-Future is made of countless pieces of writing papers. After they’re [partly] burnt, the remaining part of the papers will be [rolled into cylindrical shapes and] randomly arranged across the exhibition space, forming the ‘future’. The ashes on the floor will form the ‘past’ and will be inadvertently carried away by the audiences.
Would you say there’s any consistent theme in your work?
My artistic language was established through my contemplation of traditional culture – or maybe it’s just an expression of my true self. My own language is merely at its starting stage in front of the long river of contemporary culture.
Qin Chong’s parallel exhibition project Interplay is at Galerie de Monde, May 10-Jun 12, and ART HK, May 17-20.