采访者：瓦凌 博尔励（Waling Boers）
瓦凌 博尔励（Waling Boers）: 你的作品托生自现实图像：你自己拍的照片或从报纸拿来的照片，同行拍的照片或来自艺术史的照片。这么多照片被数字化并以标准形式转化为绘画。但这些绘画也不是你自己画的。对你来说艺术是什么？
Interviewer: Waling Boers
Interviewee: Yan Lei
Waling Boers: In your work, you use a lot of images taken from the reality: photos made by your self or taken from the newspapers, images from colleagues and art history. The numerous images are digitalized and transformed in a standard format to be painted. You don’t paint these paintings yourself. What does art mean to you?
Yan Lei: My work is to show what the role of an artist is in our contemporary society and what art making can be.
WB: What is your role as an artist? Or better to ask: What is an artist?
Y: This issue intrigues me too. At the moment, it seems that everyone could be an artist; whatever one does can be considered as art. Then why can’t I be an artist too?
B: I don’t think it’s a question whether you are an artist or not. You are educated as an artist and you produce images in contemporary culture.
Y: But I don’t create images. As method, I sum up all of the images that can stimulate my imagination. I use this methodology to be freer in how I am emotionally related to the world around me and still be an artist. To make the work is more like a job.
B: What is your attitude towards Chinese art?
Y: It’s easy to make art in China. You only have to use your brain and forget about your soul.
B: Within the context of contemporary art, it looks as if Chinese contemporary art needs specific definition of it context to be understood by others. Is this kind of identification with Asian or Chinese art needed, you think?
Y: At least this kind of classification can bring me advantages and opportunities. But there hasn’t been a single exhibition about Chinese art that I like. In the international contemporary art context, Chinese contemporary art doesn’t have any special quality. Actually I have great doubts concerning whether it is a real value to be framed by the “special experience” of Chinese contemporary art.
B: Does contemporary Chinese art have its own roots or is it only related to western concepts, like the Political Pop, which you could see as an continuation of social realism, also a western import article?
Y: I don’t think it has any roots. As a whole, Chinese contemporary art is deprived of its subjective background. It doesn’t have continuity in the Chinese art history. Some might just be games based on simple symbols. What we are missing is not only a historical continuity; we have also lost our real philosophical foundation.
B: Where and how has it been lost?
Y: Yes, and who should be held responsible for this loss?
B: Let’s change the perspective: Does art have any meaning? Or isn’t there any meaning in art?
Y: We might have different understandings and ideals of meaning. The meaning that I understand is the integrity and value of an artist’s existence, how it reflects her or his emotions. My choice of what to paint is not based on the visual or aesthetic appeal of the things around me. I am more interested in the intrinsic mystery of a work than in the superficial presentation of it. In my view, the meaning of art comes from the inherent force of an artwork. Art does demonstrate one’s human dignity. But I am realistic enough to say that, practical speaking, every work is a kind of agreement as well, because it is the result of compromises. And this involve a lot of social-political motives. I hope that my work will communicate these meanings as well.
B: Could you give us an example of how the political aspect works in your work?
Y: Take the Shenzhen Sculptural Exhibition, The 5th System for example. I made a proposal for the organizer in which I asked to occupy a piece of land in the size of a golf course to fence it and keep it for two years. The nature of golf courses is related to the particular cultural identity of Shenzhen as a city that is all about property development and business. In order to reach an agreement with the owner of the land, the city, we had to negotiate many things. Eventually I obtained the right to use a land, but they only allowed me a piece of land that was about 400 square meters. This proposal involved the issue of public lands. It was related to keeping the land open or fenced off. It was a discussion of land, resources and public art.
B: That’s clear. What does it mean to you to reproduce paintings of other artists, like Pablo Picasso or Cao Fei?
Y: Those images corresponded to what I was thinking at the moment of making them. Some time ago a collector gave me a calendar of 12 landscape paintings, which I thought were representative of his taste. And I admit that the collectors’ preferences affected me so I made paintings based on those images.
Picasso’s painting, “Boy with a Pipe,” won the highest bid ever in an auction. The image of the painting came to my mind when I knew that my work would be auctioned in the same place as Picasso’s work. So I made a reproduction of it and offered it to them. But it didn’t enter the auction eventually (see annotated image page 144/145).
Sometimes, I enjoy the excitement brought about by a matter of fortuity. 2006 is the year of the Dog in China. I happened to see some images of Cao Fei’s work where men were dressed up as dogs, behaving stupidly docile. Sotheby’s also organized the biggest Chinese contemporary art auction ever. These few events collided I combined them in one painting and called it “New York, Dog Year.” Based on my liking, I chose those events and turned them into a new reality in my work. I called this series “Super Light.”
B: Is there a subversive element in your work?
Y I don’t know whether the actual paintings are subversive as a result I don’t know either whether images can have such a magic power.
B: In your work, you have developed a kind of systematic method or strategy, like consequential use of technique, color, seizes, composition and producing methods, workers who are working on you paintings every day. Why?
Y: I use this method to demonstrate my understanding of art. This state of working is my attitude towards art. In fact, I know that my spirit is not pure in front of canvases. I might soil the canvases and the paint might soil my hands too. In front of the canvases, I was not necessarily a better painter than those I hire.
This system of working is the extension of my knowledge in the art of creating images, including the application of what I understand about light, composition, color and the system of making. What is interesting is that people sometimes don’t think I have done anything at all, or there is any trace of concept in it. It is good that they don’t really realize how passionate I am about these things. An artwork is like a seed. After you throw it out, you don’t have any control over it.