Maverick: Interview with Zhu Tian
畢業於英國皇家藝術學院雕塑系研究生的朱田獲得了2015年度英國卡特琳藝術獎（Catlin Art Prize），她與另外七位提名藝術家為此獎項新創作的作品於5月在倫敦新城堡空間（Londonewcastle Project Space）與大家見面。在公佈得獎消息前，朱田的藝術創作已經受到了各方的積極關注。作為一名華人藝術家，朱田獨特的成長歷程和創作邏輯展現了年青一代旅英華人藝術家的別樣風貌。
Zhu Tian, graduated from the Royal College of Art MA Sculpture, won the 2015 Catlin Art Prize. Together with the other seven nominees, she will be staging her new works for the event in Londonewcastle Project Space. Before the winner announcement, Zhu and her works have claimed keen interest from various quarters. Her growth as a Chinese artist and unique artistic logic is a special showcase of what the younger generation of British Chinese artists can achieve on the foreign soil.
Zhu Tian has a Chinese nickname “Tiantian” (literally meaning “sweetheart”), which probably cause some of her elders to expect a sweet and fair lady. In fact, at first sight, she does appear a proper Chinese fair lady with her dainty figure and exquisite face. However, in conversation, the sharpness upon her brow clearly differentiates her from others—she is a different kind of “honor student”.
Before coming to Britain, Zhu was following a standard Chinese “honor student” pathway but what distinguished her from others was that under the cover of excellent academic performance, her rebellious idea and pursuit of art had not been stifled, or to put it another way, she was so cunning as to strike a balance—in order to win more freedom for herself and create the possibility to “rebel”, she had to maintain a good enough academic record as a bargaining chip; luckily for her, excelling in exams was no big deal.
直到進入了大學，中國大學教育的死板和僵化徹底讓朱田感到了失望，在一次到香港交換學習中，她接觸到了西方的高等教育體系，這種開放的教育模式深深地吸引了她，這便是她到英國留學的前奏，也正是這種新式的教育模式，開啟了她對自己職業生涯的考量和重新規劃。在來到英國之後，雖然是以金融相關的知識背景申請的經濟學課程，但她知道自己不會在這個領域發展，她的志向是在她所熱愛的文藝世界當中。於是一條“曲線救國”的道路展開了，從諾丁漢大學的經濟學本科畢業后，她又取得了伯恩茅斯大學（Bournemouth University）聲音設計專業的碩士學位，而後又在倫敦從事了幾年與聲音設計相關的工作。直到2008年，在這一年，朱田參與了維多利亞和阿爾伯特博物館（Victoria & Albert Museum）的《中國當下設計（China Design Now）》的展覽，這是她第一次在當代藝術語境之下進行藝術創作，而這次的經歷深刻地改變了她的人生軌跡。當代藝術創作中的無限可能性深深地打動了她，從這一刻起，朱田明確了她的發展方向──成為一位藝術家，至死方休。
In college, Zhu felt utterly disappointed with the stiff and ossified Chinese higher education. In one exchange program with a Hong Kong university, she for the first time experienced the western higher education system, whose openness deeply attracted her and which in fact served as the prelude for her move to the UK; and it was also such an advanced education model that inspired her to re-consider and re-plan her professional career. After arrival in Britain, Zhu applied for Economics with her financial education background, but she knew for sure that she would not proceed further in this orientation—what she was craving for was the world of art she was already deeply in love with. Thus, a detour to achieve her dream was taken; soon after she graduated with a BA in Economics from the University of Nottingham, she took an MA in Sound Design in Bournemouth University, and later engaged herself in work related to sound design in London for a few years. It was not until 2008 that she first embarked on artistic creation under the context of contemporary art by taking part in the exhibition “China Design Now” in the Victoria & Albert Museum, which profoundly changed the course of her life. The unlimited possibilities in contemporary art creation deeply moved her and from then on, Zhu Tian finally came to a clear realization of her calling as an artist.
Zhu Tian’s experience and her art career form a strong contrast with other Chinese artists in Britain as well as those Chinese art students who study in the UK. Zhu was still a teenager when she first set foot in Britain, her values and logics not yet fully formed, which enabled her to quickly fuse the conflicts and collisions between eastern and western cultures, and bring into being a logic system featuring a harmony of western and Chinese characteristics. Thanks to her outstanding academic performance and mastery of English, she was able to merge into British society and have access to a large volume of first-hand professional information. Most importantly, her rebellious attitude and independence could be brought to full play in a country which encouraged individual endeavor and critical thinking; at the same time, she did not receive any Chinese artistic education or undergo formal training and professional molding in fine arts, therefore she was free from technical and intellectual limitations, which in turn seamlessly prepared her for the core values of art education in the west. All of these make Zhu Tian the way she is today, a young artist with great potential. Instead of saying she is destined to pursue art without herself knowing it, it would be fairer to conclude that it is the relentless devil inside her who demands to justify itself and remain rebellious that spurred her on the road of art with no turning back.
Zhu is versatile in her art and adopts a wide range of media, among which; performance, sculpture and installation are most commonly used. Her works also cover a variety of themes, so it is hard to classify her into any certain types. Her works this year however, do give us some clues for what she is interested in and the creative logic she employs.
- 對肉體的不屑、對精神性的崇尚──《賤賣品（Selling the Worthless, 2014）》
Extract from the video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGiB1bh4pXw
Disdain body and embrace spirit—
Selling the Worthless, 2014
In this work, Zhu staged a social networking auction for her body, where anyone could bid on any part of her body in A4 size with the starting price of 0 yuan. At the same time, she also put her dreams for sale with extremely high prices. She views the body as nothing more than a carcass, a container, even a prison, but dreams are a unique landscape created by her free spirit, which thus has a direct bearing as to what is personal and valuable to her as an individual. In this sense, the superiority of dreams’ epiphanic nature over earthly body is all too apparent.
- 對權威的質疑和挑釁──《扯/胡說/胡說八道！（Bullshit！, 2013）》
Question and challenge authority—
This work is a perfect reflection of Zhu’s idea that any scene, action or sound can be an instrument and procedure for her artistic practice. The black humor and contempt for established rules in this work has become iconic of Zhu. She played a recording shouting “Bullshit!” at random intervals from concealed speakers pre-installed at the venue. When critics and authorities began to comment on the works and the audience was filled with expectations, her recording set in—it is not difficult to imagine how the derisible and fragile relationship between the authority and audience was suddenly shattered when “Bullshit!” arose out of nowhere interrupting the self-important commentaries by “masters” in which the audience had totally lost themselves. The mere thought of it can instantly prompt one to laugh.
- 個體和集體的衝突──《捆綁/關係（Tie, 2014）》
Conflict between individuals and the mass—
In a group exhibition in Vienna, Zhu deliberately changed her exhibition plan before the opening. She put on an eye-catching performance in the center of the exhibition conspicuously tying herself to a chair on a tall plinth and inviting audience to interact in any way they like. However, she never disclosed her intention—to test how other participating artists responded to such an unexpected incident and what conflicts, if any, would happen among the artists as a collective, and the curators and artists as individuals. Not surprisingly, such an act caused a stir in the exhibition and among the artists, some of whom protested while others supported it; meanwhile, the curators were busy arguing with artists and coordinating a response. In the end, the work was pushed from the center of the venue where she demanded to stage her work and eventually banned on the opening day of the exhibition. What’s more, the official introduction of the work never revealed the depth of it, and this is also why Zhu was willing to adopt performance art—“you have to be on the spot where there are always uncertainties which ensure different outcomes every time; the immediacy and directness of such confrontation is what other media are short of”.
- 對既有規則的挑戰──《錢（Money, 2015-）》
This is a performance piece intending to last from April 1 (2015) to the day the artist dies. In her opinion, regardless of culture, money is an inescapable yet notorious topic; money is taboo and it is considered impolite to ask how much one has. As an artist, Zhu is also nagged and fettered by money issues, and she copes with them by publishing a report of all the money she has on a monthly basis. Anyone can demand a copy of her bank statement in any given month to see her income and expenditure. She is well aware of the potential risk in doing this, and even met with tremendous opposition from her family, but she is quoted as saying “I resent money so much, which is the biggest shackle and obstacle in my life so far, and I have this strong impulse to battle with it, I want to see what influence it exerts on my and our life. Publishing my finance is a way to intentionally observe it from a long-term perspective of a distant third party and to present myself as an experimental object which hopefully can entail a chance to re-consider money issues for us, and if it will bring disaster to me, then just let it be, fuck it!” She said she would carry on with the work for her lifetime, whether you believe it or not.
- 用戲謔的手段來調侃生活──《抱大腿/緊貼策展人（Cling To A Curator (work in progress, 2015)）》
· Cling To A Curator (2015), Performance with Laura Petrillo (Academy Now)
Cling To A Curator (2015), Performance with Zavier Ellis (Charlie Smith London) ·
Take life light-heartedly—
Cling to a Curator (work in progress, 2015)
In her recent artistic practices, Zhu has employed ridiculous measures to express her objection to the existing systems of exhibition and art. She stripped naked and held the curators she collaborated with like a koala, with cling film binding them tight together. A naked artist and a neatly dressed curator tied to each other—it is such an absurd sight and though it might not look good, it does depict the reality of the current art circle that young artists should try every means possible to cling to curators so as to attract more attention and opportunities. Zhu has once again brought the typical British humor and sarcasm into full play.
ART.ZIP: How do you comment on your work? Are there any issues and directions you are particularly interested in?
ZT: At this point, I try not to think too much about my work as a whole. I am just starting out, and I am still exploring many subjects and media. The only thing I am sure of is that my art is a life-long undertaking, and I am extremely averse to stability and a predictable future. I get bored very easily, and only making art can sustain the adventurousness and instability that I crave. As for the direction my art is taking, I have very few restrictions and plans; I’m instinctively skeptical and anti-authority. I tend to ask ‘Why?’ or ‘Why not?’ The more I am told not to do certain things, the more I have to try them out to see what on earth will happen. When faced with stock answers and established systems, I always have this irresistible desire to poke them, to try and bring what is underneath to the surface. Maybe there is an anarchic punk in me? I think there needs to be someone like me in society to balance the system. So, in my work, I often question the existing rules and default practices, and engage with power-related issues.
ART.ZIP: It is difficult to discern your Chinese background from your works, have you ever considered your identity as a Chinese artist?
ZT: Absolutely not. I have never considered it, because the categorisation of people according to “countries” is a rather dated notion that needs to be left behind. We live in a highly mobile and fluid time and any attempt to define ourselves based solely on a certain nationality or culture is just wishful thinking. I am not a sociable person, either in China or the UK; I am very skeptical of the idea of collectivity, especially when they reach a certain consensus in their opinions. My work simply represents me as an individual. I feel very reluctant to be categorised under any labels (like Chinese, British, immigrant, post-colonist or even male/female), but rather as a person, a lone particle in a strange world.
ZT:嗯，我有很多喜歡的藝術家，比如比利時的法蘭西斯·艾里斯（Francis Alys），布魯斯·諾曼（Bruce Nauman），馬丁·克利德（Martin Creed），謝德慶。最喜歡的一件、嫉妒到恨不得是自己的一件作品，就是邁克·蘭迪（Michael Landy）的《崩潰（Break Down）》，我曾在腦海里無數次地演習，想像自己拋去一切物質束縛的場景，但他是真的這麼去做了！牛逼炸了！在藝術表現形式上，我好像越來越受行為的吸引。我越來越看到行為的優勢，它在你產生並提出一個問題的時候幾乎能在執行這個行為的過程中立刻給你某種答案，相對來說，你只是一個被動的執行者，這個行為事件的本身才是高於你、真正有生命的主體。而其它任何的藝術形式，幾乎在你提出問題的同時，就產生了一種固化的局面。對我來說，作品淩駕於作者之上的才是真正有生命的作品。創作者操控局面精打細算嚴格控制產生的作品頂多只能算一次作者的自白，除非你是異於常人的偉大之人，不然意思就不大。對我來說這些都是次等品。
ART.ZIP: Are you interested in any artists and media in particular?
ZT: Yes, I like many artists, such as Francis Alys from Belgium, Bruce Nauman, Martin Creed and Tehching Hsieh. I am very fond of Michael Landy’s ‘Break Down’. I like it so much that I wish it was my own work. I have often imagined myself abandoning all earthly possessions but Landy really did it! He fucking did it for real! That is incredible! In terms of media, I seem to feel more and more attracted to performance art as I become more aware of its advantages. When you have a question and decide to ask it through performance, it provides you with answers of some sort. It’s a living process. To some extent, you are no more than an operator; the performance work has a life and development of its own. Whereas with most other media, there’s less dynamism, you start with a question and it often ends there. To me, a work that is beyond its maker is a work with life. A work born from meticulous control and manipulation is at best a mere confession of the artist.
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Catlin Art Prize 卡特琳藝術獎
The Catlin Art Prize. Now entering its ninth year, the Catlin Art Prize is an annual event showcasing the most promising art school graduates one year on from their degree exhibitions. The Prize is unique in providing the artists (short listed) with the time and opportunity to develop their practice, encouraging them to demonstrate their progress by producing a new body of work to be exhibited at Londonewcastle Project Space, London. The selected artists are taken from The Catlin Guide and are considered to be producing work of an outstanding quality, which demonstrates their capacity to make a significant mark in the art world during the next decade.
The curator of the Catlin Art Prize is the independent curator and art writer Justin Hammond.
Catlin Group Limited is an international specialist property/casualty insurer and reinsurer and a leading underwriter of art insurance, both in the United Kingdom and worldwide. Catlin underwrites fine art insurance for a wide variety of clients including museums, dealers, exhibitions and private collections.
The Catlin Art Prize 2015, 8th-30th May
Londonewcastle Project Space, 28 Redchurch Street, London E2 7DP
Opening Night: Thursday 7th May 6-9pm
Opening Times: 11-6pm daily, Sundays noon-4pm