Grace Wang 「This Artist Is Changing China's Canvas, One Butt Plug At A Time」

Posted on November 20, 2014

Looking at the work of Chinese artist Tianzhuo Chen, one would think that he, a bespectacled, congenial guy, was oblivious to the notion of political correctness. From butt plugs to weed leaf prints and huge sculptures of 「South Park」 character Eric Cartman, his many performance art pieces, installations,​ and​ collaborations with Shangguan Zhe of ​Xiamen-based clothing label ​SANKUANZ (a label that is equally tongue-wagging with its neon-pop color and cartoonish, phallic graphics), all push the envelope until it rips. ​Tianzhou is genuinely fascinated with the subversive and aggressive, from drag-queen get​-​ups to rapping midgets.

Being from a country that has only in recent years started to soften its various restrictions, he has the advantage of looking at these Western cultures with a fresh, unbiased eye; instead of being force-​fed pop culture, he can selectively absorb whatever takes his interest, and comprehend them in his own way without existing social structures.​ Here, an edited transcription from Opening Ceremony's Skype chat with the artist, in which we touch upon religion,​ anti-elitism, and​ ​“hip-hopera.”

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GRACE WANG: ​You moved to London from Beijng to study design at Central Saint Martins then Fine Arts at Chelsea. What was that like?

TIANZHUO CHEN: ​From London​,​ I started to realize that I wanted be an artist. London is really different — it’s got lots of artists and people from different cultures. That diversity really influenced me: I’m really into queer culture, I’m really into the drag-queen stuff, and I really like street art, so I just kind of pull them together into my pieces.

Your work does draw on a variety of cultures. Can you talk about this mix?

I’m just really into different kinds of dance, and how they express feeling and soul through movement. For example, the Butoh dancer is trying to reach their soul; they’re trying to express that feeling after World War II. You can put different cultural elements and different dances or different art together, and it can actually start something new.

Can you talk a bit about your “hip-hopera?”

Hip-hop is just part of it. It has traditional opera and, like, a drag-queen performance. [It’s a] fictional religious story, about how to create a god. So it’s like putting some more contemporary elements into a really traditional story. I’m still planning it because I haven’t got enough funding...

You’ve said in past interviews that religion plays a part in the opera. Are you religious?

Yeah, I’m a Buddhist, [but it] references different religions. I wanted to make the main character dramatic, playing different gods at the same time. It’s kinda this religious country that has lots of different gods. One day he realizes that there is a divine real god so he starts questioning the belief that they have. So yeah, I think the story’s more about questioning yourself, what you actually believe, and what’s real and not real.

You also said in your other exhibition 「Tianzhuo’s Acid Club」 that you wanted to create a crazed feeling in your audience, like what people feel toward religion...

I think I feel a little bit lost, especially in China or Beijing where people don’t really have religion, so I just wanted to make people feel a strong, religious experience. They walk into the space, a church-like or a temple-like space, with a giant eyeball, lots of creepy installations around them, almost like a temple in Tibet. I want to make them, like, emotionally reflect the environment; make them think about their religious side of life and the fragility side of life.

What was it like?

It’s just like a place to really release yourself. People kinda got trippy, lots of people smoking weed and taking drugs, which is actually quite dangerous in Beijing. I think this is the only way you can find your freedom [here], 'cause it’s been forbidden, so you don’t have the chance to do that all the time.

In this interview you said, “I can’t just stay in one thing; I can’t just paint the same thing again and again. I’d lose my passion.” Could you elaborate?

I started painting when I was in college, and after a year I felt really bored. I thought I hated my work. So I started making installations to bring new blood into [them]. Then I thought installations are just too contemporary, too “art,” — people can’t really interact with an installation. I wanted to make my work more emotional, more sensational, so I started making performance art and videos.

When you say “too art,” are you poking fun at the elitist nature of the art world a little?

Yes, indeed. I guess there is a bit anti-elitism in my work. I like my work being absurd​ and aggressive.

Author: Grace Wang/Date: November 20, 2014/Source:

Tianzhuo Chen 陈天灼
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