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Ocula Conversation

Chen Tianzhuo in Conversation

Sam Gaskin Paris 29 July 2015
Chen Tianzhuo. Image courtesy the artist

He turns 30 this year, but Beijing-born artist Chen Tianzhuo is China’s adolescent terrible. His work mixes bongs, hip hop, onanism and Southpark—the stuff of teenage bedrooms—with references to Buddhist art. In a way it’s radical for Chinese contemporary art, where humor is more often biting than absurdist. Chen is more interested in having a good time.

The physical objects he creates—neon lights, icons, wall carpets and masks—have become props in his videos and happenings, like the Acid Star Club he created at Star Gallery in 2013, and the Strange Days exhibition that took place at BANK Gallery—an avant garde dance that incorporated raw meat and Butoh dancing, the stuff of Japanese horror films.

This year Chen was invited to create a performance at the Palais de Tokyo, Paris, which elaborated on his existing symbolic system.

Congrats on the exhibition at Palais de Tokyo. I’m so jealous I wasn’t there to see it! Can you describe what happened at the event?

Yeah, man, I wish you were there—you’ve never missed my shows. It was really hard to describe what happened at the opening, but I can promise it was super dope! 

Chen Tianzhuo, ADAHA II Performance live @ Palais De Tokyo 22 June 2015.  Full Length: 44mins
. Directed by Chen Tianzhuo. 
Written by Beio & Chen Tianzhuo. 
In association with House Of Drama (France), Grebnellaw (Sweden).
 Starring Beio, House Of Drama, Grebnellaw, Han Yu, Dope Girls. 
Music by Zhiqi, SovietPop, Mi Zhang

I’m curious how the performance was received in Paris where some of your motifs—masturbation, weed, etc—are far from shocking. In fact, I think elements of your work become shocking in a different way in this context: it’s because stoner psychedelica, references to Southpark, and so on, are ‘bad taste’ or ‘kitsch’ or ‘mainstream’. How did people react to the work?

Parisian people didn’t expect to see things like that in a Chinese artist’s solo show. In this case, they were still pretty shocking. The combination of everything (hip hop, butoh, voguing, drag and weed…) and how i generated those things in a single performance are fresh to them, so the reaction is good I guess. 

Exhibition view, Chen Tianzhuo, Palais de Tokyo (24.06 – 13.09 2015). Courtesy of the artist, Bank Gallery (Shanghai). Co-production K11 Art Foundation (KAF). Photo: Xiaoyi Dai / Stephane Cardinale/ André Morin

Palais de Tokyo’s deputy director of programming, Khairuddin Hori, who’s originally from Singapore, reached out to you to arrange the show. Can you tell me about how he found you, why he was interested in giving you this platform, and how it’s been working together?

He actually came across my work on the internet when he was researching Chinese artists for this show. According to Khai, the reason why he picked me up was he wanted to find someone who was capable of doing a big solo show like this in a very short time. We only had five months to prepare everything. And of course, I think I pretty much suit his tastes as well. He totally trusted me on this project. Once we set up the framework in the beginning, he gave me lots of freedom to do whatever I wanted.

People tend to overemphasise differences between generations, but in China the pace of change in recent decades makes it somewhat less reductive. Do you feel that your work and your way of working is somehow representative of your generation?

In some ways, I think so. Because I’m concerned with everything my generation experiences everyday as the major sources of my work, and I intend to make work for them.

Exhibition view, Chen Tianzhuo, Palais de Tokyo (24.06 – 13.09 2015). Courtesy of the artist, Bank Gallery (Shanghai). Co-production K11 Art Foundation (KAF). Photo: Xiaoyi Dai / Stephane Cardinale/ André Morin

What are you working on next?

I will carry on developing my musical performances for a while. The one I just did at the Palais De Tokyo was just a beginning. I think it still has a long way to go and I could push it much further.—[O]

Chen Tianzhuo at Palais de Tokyo, until 13 September 2015
www.palaisdetokyo.com



ADAHA II (Trailer) Performance live @ Palais De Tokyo 22 June 2015
Full Length: 44mins
Directed by: Chen Tianzhuo
Written by: Beio & Chen Tianzhuo
In association with: House Of Drama (France), Grebnellaw (Sweden)
Starring: Beio, House Of Drama, Grebnellaw, Han Yu, Dope Girls
Music by: Zhiqi, SovietPop, Mi Zhang
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