Chen Wenling: Where Communism and Consumerism Colide
By: Derek Ezra Brown
Chen Wenling, one of the world’s artistic treasures, acts as a mirror to the face of materialism, showcasing either his disgust for it in the forms of pigs, or his nostalgia for unaffected youth in the form of elongated red children. Here we discussed the message within his work and what it is like to be not only an artist, but a reflection of what many of us feel about today’s world.
Q: In a world where artists value change in order to keep working, you continue to find a million successful ways to showcase one powerful concept. Will you continue to work with this concept throughout the rest of your career, or will there be a change?
A: Each artist’s creative direction should be very different, it is difficult to use patterns to standardize. Picasso, Duchamp or Richter’s creative paths were very different, difficult to figure out, like a magician perspective. And like Van Gogh, Freud and other masters it was consistent, and had a clear view. For contemporary artists, it depends less on symbols and style, but the concept will be the first, hit the theme, and style. I will be relatively like creating that way, my future artistic concept of the trend is not fanatic, but I must know that it will be more free and creative.
Q: You rose to fame with your “Red Memory” series, featuring guileless and nude children at play. These elongated and care-free red children are a strong contrast to the grotesque pigs you have created since, who represent the members of society you despise. How does this representation of the inner-child at play reflect your theme?
A: Pigs in Chinese folk culture are a symbol of wealth and desire; pigs in the memory of the Chinese people are mostly derogatory than commendatory. Through the creation of the theme of the pig, I suggest that the development of modernity in China is still influenced by the United States, European centralism, materialism, consumerism and expansionism, bringing unprecedented prosperity to the material stuff, also to the people; of course, with many difficulties to the living environment and to the social structure. This problem is particularly important in many developing countries, more alienation. Competition in every area of the world today is very cruel, as well as a serious decline in modern spiritual beliefs – hedonism, pragmatism, utilitarianism and money worship constitutes the absolute belief in our lives, it is a fetish religion… No confidence in the future, there is no sense of security, is our common psychological consensus, where is our soul’s exports? Urgent need of each of us to explore the common people. “Red series” is my natural ben really trying to answer the pig series of questions and confusion, from an intuitive point of view, “Little Red” body barren is the spirit of the rich. I have a childhood lacking of material life, but our life memory is very naive and romantic, there is a poetry, the true happiness, lived in a very simple and old way but enjoying life, like playing on the river with the water or picking up wild fruit to eat in the mountains, or Hekou natural springs. Life was very simple but very happy, a bit like Gandhi life in general. The modern material lifestyle is highly prosperous, extremely complex, with anxious tension, individual, suspicious and fear of life… now air, water, food, pseudo-religion, false information, pseudo-culture and public safety are difficult to reassure. Our living environment has been severely damaged; we get a lot today but not of the most important part, while the core part is lost. A healthy society must have a balance of material and spiritual, this is an important symbol of healthy life. My series of pigs and red series seems to be a self-questioning context of this relationship.
Q: You seem to travel back and forth between exhibiting innocence and joy vs. greed and materialistic satire. What plays into your decision to exhibit one aspect over the other for a certain exhibition?
A: The real world is full of contradictions… life is full of contradictions. I expect my work to reveal some kind of negative energy while also providing some positive energy, so that the positive and negative poles can mutually compensate, get more balance with each other, and people can see more hope. Because the reality is that there are many serious problems we can’t give up, but face them.
Q: It seems there is a pattern throughout your work. Your last solo show, “Chinese Landscapes,” which, for example, featured a sort of Noah’s ark escaping the flood of materialism, seems to be a conclusion of your concept thus far. Is every exhibit a continuation of the story expressed in the exhibition prior?
A: I am opposed to the art of using a fixed set of art to do the logic of the exhibition; I like to use different artistic concepts and forms to express their survival experience and the reality of the presentinsights. A typical person or a typical artist is the sum of the entire social relations, the artist’s inner feelings loyalty have the power and are very valuable; and this inner sense to do art must not be touched. The independent spirit and true feeling is the most important condition for being an excellent artist.
Q: One of my personal favourites out of all your series, “Suspense” was a moment where you were inspired by your traumatic experience getting robbed and stabbed with your then girlfriend, who is now your wife. What happened 12 years after the incident that made you want to showcase this trauma to the rest of the world?
A: This work is an autobiographical work of my personal life: the work of capturing sharks, sharks attacking hippos, hippos devouring crocodiles, and crocodiles attacking humans. An interactive killer food chain is a rope through the four main issues suspended in the air. It reveals “who are winners, and who are also the losers of the universal truth” and we are often in the same situation; in that year and I was robbed by a gangster, when I was with my girlfriend, now my wife, a traumatic experience that has contributed to my artist personal life history, it is the largest source of personal artistic inspiration; each artist’s personal experience is unique and never overlaps the history that this robbery gave me to redeem the trauma, unusual sentiment, my personal art history have to leave traces of the personal survival experience into a common social experience, so that more people can share and discuss. These are the artist social functions and responsibilities.
Q: Art is often inspired by a dark place, during a dark time. Do you believe it is helpful for Artists to have crises in order to create their concepts? Does happiness deter creation?
A: A philosopher said, “Suffering is the best school in life,” or “Life is not a white prison”, I believe that any kind of life experience may stimulate the artist’s creativity. I hope that I can use the aesthetic eyes of all the experiences in life. Too comfortable may not be conducive to generate inspiration. But it also vary from person to person, cannot be generalized. The sufferance of Van Gogh or the happiness of Picasso made them masters. Artists have the ability and creativity to transform and enhance their own experiences of life.
Q: Do you feel a sense of relief when expressing your experiences and views with your Art? How does creating influence your own life?
A: Artist’s personal life and creation is you have me, I have you, and we can’t be without relationships, like a coin on both sides. Sometimes the expression of art is like a person’s vomiting or excretion, there is a pleasure, of course, very easy, ha ha.
Q: I am looking forward to your next exhibition, and as a New Yorker, I cannot help but want to ask why you have yet to have a show in America, a place that largely embodies the culture you despise.
A: The United States is indeed the most important country for the development of the rules of the game of the world; it is indeed a country filled of consumerism and materialism. But the United States also has a lot of progress and open mind. I like, as an artist, very much the multi-inclusive, freedom and opening of New York spirit. Before I need to have a gallery in New York to represent my work, and a solo exhibition could follow.