I Don’t Think I’m Making So-Called New Media Art
–Guo Peng Interview
Time: April 5, 2008
Location: Guo Peng’s apartment
Translator :Zhou qiao
In our conversation, Guo Peng says it was a natural process for his generation to accept and to use “new media” to express themselves, because the environment was already like this when they were born. But instead of researching new media, he cares more about expressing himself well. And he thinks our cognitive system is going backwards because of the overflow of images in industrial civilization.
He thinks that method is important for an artist， providing new access and a different point of view are even more important than just using a new medium. Ｈe also thinks this new access is based on raising our eyes to think about lofty things. It depends on artists’ individual characteristics as well – this is the difference between art and philosophy.
Guan Yuda (Guan for short): The day before yesterday you came to my studio, showed me a lot of your works. I was familiar with some of them, but it was my first time to see those ones with mosaics. They looked like the glass windows in the church, and the light felt like penetrating sunshine. I remembered that Li Ji introduced you to me in 2004, and then we did your first exhibition “Picture Description”, eight artists were concerned in, right?
Guo Peng (Guo for short): Right.
Guan: Including two German artists. We had a lot to discuss and recorded what we said. At that time, all I could think of were Qiu Zhijie and Zheng Guogu when it came to new media images. They were the first Chinese artists who were into it. Once five years ago, I talked to Zheng Guogu on the phone about images; he said “images are overabundant in today’s art world”. Yes, since human civilization came into “Postmodern Times” or so called “Post-Industrial Civilization Times”, the media of expression have changed a lot. For example, the easel painting mode is in crisis of being replaced by new media mode. All the people who were in “Picture Description” were post 80’s artists, and what you were familiar with was new media without its historical context such as computers and TV. These media were not hard for you to use, and you could use them to express and to create immediately. But for me, for post 60’s people, words were the main method of expression, not because I majored in Chinese, but writing was the simplest way to express ourselves. Of course there were some superficial hand drawings; just like the basic descriptive pictures we made in primary school. So when I set about organizing the exhibition “Picture Description”, I felt maybe post 80’s artists were going to change the art world of image. Let’s look back on this.
Guo: I think the overflow and the popularization of picture are results of the industrial revolution. We can’t avoid it. The environment was already like this when we were born, whether we wanted it or not, we had to take advantage of it. Like Fan Kuan, Chinese painting was the only route he could take, what else could he do, make films? So, it was simply a natural process. When I was young, I often played with my cousins whose parents owned a huge photo studio with three floors. We used to play hide-and-seek in the dressing room, storage room and dark room, quite fun. Then they closed the photo studio and opened a restaurant, so they gave me most of that equipment. I was born in that environment, so I naturally got into photos. First, you were interested in taking photos; gradually you were interested in the “photography language” or “image language”. For me, I focused more on how to express myself well than on researching a new medium. I mean, I got to know this medium, and I could use it smoothly to express myself, that’s the point. I don’t know what other media I will use in the future, nor what forms my work may take, but for an artist, providing a new access and a different point of view is more important than just using a new medium.
Guan: Yes, as a post 80’s artist, what you learned in school actually had little connection with the medium you are using. I mean, still a certain connection but not much. You majored in sculpture, which was related to space too, so why did you give up what you learned for five years?
Guo: Once in Chen Changwei’s class, I was supposed to make reliefs but I didn’t do it. He asked me why, I said “mud is too dirty, I don’t want to touch it”, and then he said “alright, go out, and you don’t have to attend in my class anymore.” I did get out, but I was among top 5 every semester according to school’s scoring system. I can make sculpture but I can’t say I’m familiar with its language, and I’m not quite interested in it yet. Maybe I will go back to make sculptures in the future, who knows?
Guan: Alright. For your generation, new media were as natural as the strip pictures or writings based on picture descriptions in our time. Pictures were not the main thing; they were used to assist us in talking and writing. But for your generation which was born in the time of new media, pictures have become the main stream thing. Taking my daughter Shuangshuang as an example, her first foray into “Three Kingdoms” was through computer game, and later through a Japanese animation. Reading the book “Three Kingdoms” was the last step. It was a reversed process. “The Transformation of Media” as a basic methodology of post-modernism was brought up by Marshall Mcluhan. He considered words as “Cold Media” while pictures as “Hot Media”. The key feature of “Hot Media” is the speed of its dissemination. For example, a picture of a smoking man means male toilet, and a picture of a woman with high-heel shoes means female toilet. You don’t need to see the words. For our post 60’s people, we do need some time to adapt to the transformation. What about you? Did you use it comfortably and proficiently at the beginning? Because as I remembered, you didn’t start your career with new media, did you?
Guo: So-called “Transformation of Media” was not what Chinese people were good at, and it was not what traditional literati cared about. I’m not saying I’m among those literati, I mean, take Chinese painting as an example, we’ve been playing with it for so long, but we’re still not finished. Chinese people are not good at playing games of transformation; in fact, we just take things as they come. I have this tool so I make the best of it. Also, I think we can’t judge new media according to media progressivism.
Guan: That’s right. I discussed this topic with Wang Jiwei when I was organizing the China-Germany new media art activity in Beijing.
Guo: I mean, it’s not saying images are superior to paintings.
Guan: It’s just a way you chose to express yourself, and it doesn’t have anything to do with being avant-garde or not.
Guo: I think it offered us more access to expression, that’s all.
Guan: Just an easy way to show our feelings and imaginations.
Guo: Since photography, video, DV, digital TV，on-line broadcasting, uploading and downloading are getting more and more popular, to a certain extent, our cognitive system is going backwards. Everything becomes clear at a glance, so we’re losing our imagination.
Guan: I understand.
Guo: After reading a poem, I can look up at the sky, imagining what’s going on; the same Gu Qin melody can be performed in different ways because each player has his own understanding of the notation. But in our time of picture, there’s no poetic language, and we’re losing our own languages, our imagination and creativity.
Guan: Ok, I see. We’ve discussed a lot about this topic this noon in my studio. Whether computer or new media, it’s all about speed and storage amount. To be honest, all your photo-based art pieces actually have nothing to do with so-called new media.
Guo: I’ve never considered myself as a photographer, let alone new media artist.
Guo: I don’t think this is important. It’s neither a matter of east and west, nor a matter of traditional media and new media. This is not the problem artists are supposed to deal with.
Guan: Yes. Like computer images, any student can do very well as long as he’s familiar with drawing software. He just needs to manipulate computer and software without mobilizing much of his imagination.
Guo: Yes, it’s not what artists care about.
Guan: So, what do you care about?
Guo: According to my knowledge and experience, I care about some kind of culminating thing. Artists should raise their eyes and try to think about that culminating question.
Guo: I mean, starting from human being itself to higher levels, like faith.
Guan: But before you can clear up the relation between faith and human being, you have to face the physical body.
Guo: I mean to start from our bodies. First of all, you have to make sure you can keep alive, like the old saying “Well fed, well bred”. I need to solve this first. Yes, living for the sake of living is not enough, I believe there’s certain mysterious power above us, but I don’t know what it is.
Guan: I don’t know either, let’s search for it together.
Guo: Also, what makes life so meaningful and interesting is the process of exploration and pursuing learning.
Guan: Alright, you have answered the question I brought up just now.