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Artist interview: Zhuang Hui

Artist interview: Zhuang Hui
In the past, I carried a camera and through the lens, I observed the world from my individual point of view. That’s to say, it satisfied my personal, spiritual needs. But the photos in the studio were largely made for the Yumen Project. It’s a public point of view, no longer a production like “Zhuang Hui Meets the World.” Therefore, we had to pay attention to the details of the project. When we started to prepare the photo studio,
we decided to suspend judgement: the less, the better. We decided to do the interior decoration in a local style, and employ a local photographer.
How the photo should be printed, and how the business should be run: we all followed the ways of a real commercial photo studio. In this way, we exited from the scene. In turn, the project gained a public point of view.
I won’t control it so much when the project has just begun. I’ll let it develop freely like water flowing aimlessly. But the knowledge of art that accumulated in the past is needed in making a conclusion. The knowledge doesn’t come from books alone. It’s a comprehensive process. For instance, I often learn how to make a display by feeling the artworks of others in an exhibition. When it comes to my own display, I know the boundary of my work. I know to what extent I should control it. I will abandon the unnecessary parts. Feed the project to its fill, and then slim down. That’s a relatively simple way for me, firstly doing addition and then subtraction, until it reaches the proper size.
For example, in the project of Yumen, we did the “addition” by learning about the problem. We travelled to many resource- depleted cities across China. We have collected a huge amount of raw material, but people can’t see it in the final exhibition. In fact, we condensed all the background research into one single booklet. The booklet is the conclusion of all the research, and it’s less visual than the display. We had to focus the display on Yumen, the one point. Otherwise, we would have turned into environmental artists who presented every detail of the problem. That would become totally different politics. But if we didn’t do the background research, we would have never learned about the problem.
If we just operated the photo studio in Yumen alone, we wouldn’t have the confidence to have a good display. Every time we presented it, we wouldn’t know which part is strong and important, and how to place the accentuation, and so on. It would be very difficult.

We interviewed Zhuang Hui in his studio in Beijing in early 2016. In this excerpt, we asked him two questions:

  • How did this socially engaged project differ from his previous photography practice?
  • How does he usually develop a project?
  • This article is from the free online

    Discovering Socially Engaged Art in Contemporary China

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