Born in 1985, Beijing, China, artist Chen Tianzhuo received his Master’s in Fine Arts degree from the Chelsea College of Art and Design in London. Drawing from his experiences in London, Chen began synthesizing the artistic disciplines of installation, performance, video, drawing, and photography. Adopting an eclectic and multidisciplinary practice, it blurs the boundaries between visual and performative art.
Many of Chen’s exhibitions require audience participation and collaboration, taking the form of underground parties, choreographed performances, and constructed ritual sites. Mixing religious iconography, dance, subculture, and popular culture within his artworks, giving the audience an experience that transcends both superficial states of the body and spirit; ultimately arriving at what the artist himself refers to as a “state of madness”.
We spoke with artist Chen Tianzhuo and got to know all about his upcoming exhibition “Recollection Pierces the Heart” which will be on show at Tang Contemporary Art’s Hong Kong space from 20 August–27 September.
What inspired you to be an artist?
I originally studied illustration for my undergraduate degree. Most of my previous works were digital. When I was in my second year of bachelor studies, I was inexplicably attracted to oil paintings, so I started to try to paint my own works. My artist career started with paintings actually. I don’t have an unwavering belief in the profession of an artist. I am curious about many things. I think it’s fine to stick to what I’m curious about so it doesn’t matter if I am an artist or not.
Who or what are the biggest influences on your works today?
That’s way too many, but I was particularly impressed when I watched Francis Bacon’s retrospective when I was in my second year of undergraduate, and I wanted to try painting and get rid of spending too much time on my computer.
What is your concept behind the exhibition “Recollection Pierces the Heart”?
This exhibition is more like a summary of my recent state. It contains some of my past videos, sculptures and performance works, as well as recent paintings, which is a bit like a transition from myself pre-pandemic to myself during this current pandemic. The change may not lie only in the medium of creation, but also in my mental state and creative state. I hope this exhibition tells a story of memory, composed of fragments at different points of my timeline. The fragments are reorganized purposelessly and unconsciously into a new narrative for this exhibition.
How do you think the Hong Kong audience will respond to the work and what are the best ways to experience your current exhibition?
I don’t want to presuppose how the audience in a certain place will view my work. Such presuppositions are often inaccurate and preconceived and will involve a lot of my own speculations about the environment in Hong Kong or the perception of the audience.
Speculation may also often be one-sided. But this time unfortunately due to the circumstances, I unable to attend the opening and I cannot communicate with the audience in Hong Kong face to face about my views on the work, and these views from the audiences are what I really want to hear.
I think the best way to experience this exhibition is to come to the exhibition without the expectation that I am an artist or you are attending an art exhibition, I would like the audience to treat it like going to an underground party where no information is announced and you don’t quite exactly know what will happen tonight.
What do you consider your main key inspirations when working on large scale installation works?
Most of my large-scale installation works are inspired by my performances. Sometimes they are even used as props in my performance, just like tarot cards in divination. They are a symbolic embodiment and representation of certain performances or rituals.
During this time of lockdowns, how has that impacted your creative process?
During this period of isolation, my work has changed from the original performances or theatrical work to paintings. This is a compelled change, but at the same time it has also allowed me to find some fun of immersing in a time of self-reflection.
In the past, my performances were realized with many collaborators, and it required a lot of time on the preparation with people. Now I am all by myself in the studio every day, facing a blank canvas on the wall. I haven’t had such experience for several years. To me, it feels a bit depressing but also romantic at the same time.
What are your plans for the rest of 2020?
Other than this upcoming exhibition in Hong Kong, there are no definite plans, especially plans overseas. I didn’t even foresee that I wouldn’t be able to attend my own exhibition, and just like everyone else, aren’t we all waiting and watching in various unknowns and uncertainties?
If you had to pick three people to attend an underground party with, who would they be?
My mother, Walter Van Beirendonck, and Khyentse Norbu!
“Recollection Pierces the Heart” is on show at Tang Contemporary Art from 20 August–27 September, 2020.
Opening hours: Tuesday–Saturday, 11:00am–7:00pm
Tang Contemporary Art 10th Floor, 80 Queen’s Road Central, Central, Hong Kong, www.tangcontemporary.com