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Artist interview: Zhao Tianji

Artist Interview: Zhao Tianji
The first time I entered a participatory, or real environment, my intuition was to provide some service. Later, I reflected a lot on this, and hope to distance myself from this attitude in the future. Because I discovered that the attitude does no help in real situations. I just wanted to do something for the workers by intuition. After that I initiated a new project with Alessandro, the one that helps the workers to realize their art projects. I think it’s still using art to promote communication among people and encouraging self-expression, but in a relatively equal position. I won’t promise the workers anything, because I’m not capable of bringing them anything. As an outsider, I felt awkward when first entering the factory.
Alessandro was on leave when we did the first project. Therefore, we had to find a way to integrate into the environment. We entered with utmost care and felt very detached from the environment. So we took a pretext of realizing a thing, and then we discussed the details of the thing with everyone. When it comes to participatory art, one attitude is intervention, a top-down approach, and the other one is service, a bottom-up approach. Both of them indicate certain unequal relationships.
I believe that art has its strengths. It doesn’t belong to a specific field, isn’t restricted by a certain professionality. It has the potential… maybe to become an excuse for every possibility. In this project, we can also help the workers do things other than art. We are making art just because Alessandro always brought artists to the factory. Therefore, we want to continue promoting art among the staff. The workers have the opportunity to realize their ideas through experimental activities. We are not necessarily turning the workers into artists.
We had a lot of discussion in the process. For example, should we be concerned about the aesthetic quality? Do we have to bring the elements of a factory into a visual space? It’s not necessary. We’ll make every piece according to the author’s will. We have talked to many workers to envision their individual works. Everyone has a different style. So we should respect their individuality. We shouldn’t force a label of “plant workers” on their visual language just because of their occupation. Why couldn’t it be a purely individual expression? There are so many sculptors in Beijing, just putting down their ideas in two-dimensional sketches, and getting sculptures done by factories. Why couldn’t common people do the same?
In fact, I think, it’s not necessary either to emphasize or to understate the identity of being a worker. Let it be natural.

We interviewed Zhao Tianji in front of the factory’s bike shed in early 2016. Tianji first came to the factory in 2014. In this excerpt, we ask her to reflect on her experience over the past two years:

  • How did her attitude change over time?
  • What is the significance of art in this project?
  • How does she see workers’ relationship to art?
  • This article is from the free online

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