2015.01.28 Wed, by
Zhang Lehua Q&A: The Interpreter Who Interrupts

“The Interpreter Who Interrupts”: Zhang Lehua solo exhibition (Curator: Mian Mian)

Enrico Navarra Gallery (75, rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, Paris), Jan 8–Feb 7, 2015

Zhang Lehua (born in 1985 in Shanghai) works and lives in Shanghai, having graduated from the Shanghai Huashan Art School and the New Media department at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou. His earlier works often had a wry yet biting humor, though in recent years, he has switched tack and focused on questions of representation and time.

Zhang Lehua’s solo exhibitions have included “The World’s Longing for Lushan” at Vanguard Gallery, Shanghai (2013), “Love in a Golden Bowl: Zhang Lehua Solo Exhibition” at Art+Shanghai (2013), “Black-Bone Chicken” at C5 Art Center (2009), as well as other group exhibitions in Beijing and Shanghai—notably “Get It Louder” in Beijing (2010) and “Future is in Future” at ShanghART H Space in 2007. As a founding member of the Doublefly Art Collective, Zhang Lehua also took part in the Armory in New York in 2014 (Space Station booth), where the collective’s wild antics brought them a great deal of attention.

He also just had his first solo exhibition in France (at Enrico Navarra Gallery in Paris). Randian chatted with the artist about some of the ideas about his work and his practice.

Randian: You’ve worked on the Teenage Demo series for a few years now—and it’s probably one of the most familiar works as far as viewers in Shanghai are concerned. Could you go into the reasons why you used this form of the “propaganda poster”?

Zhang Lehua: Yeah. I first used this format as a basis to rehearse and start drawing again—and to attempt to search for new ideas within the working process. After my graduation, there had been a complete reorganization in my mode of creation: I brought all my works out and just sorted through them. Then I felt that these works—very much like my own self—seemed to revel in this sham doctrinaire tone. Maybe more frankly it’s a way of picking at things (tucao). With this format of the “propaganda paintings”, the relationship between the image and the text reaches a point of delirium.

Randian: Does it take you long to create each piece? Since aside from the illustration, you also have to create a whole story….

Zhang Lehua: Quite a bit of time, actually. Even though it’s just drawing, I personally have never been willing to replicate my own feelings, style, or whatever. Even if I do the same subject, the effect will be different. The “story” you are talking about is the complete “portrayal” in painting and in words that you get after “viewing/reading”.

Randian: That humor in the pieces…are you pretty funny normally? Sometimes I get the feeling that the humor in your work is very deliberate and carefully thought out.

Zhang Lehua: I actually often get nervous around other people—since whenever I loosen up, others have the impression that my humor is a bit nasty and frivolous. Actually, it’s just a bad habit—I’m a good guy. So I often turn the target on myself; I get my kick from mocking myself and what I do as well. My working process is pretty rigorous, strenuously getting at the kernel within senselessness.

“The Knowledge & Observation of The Marriage Between Astronauts and Proletariat’s Offspring”, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 110 cm, 2014
《宇航员与无产阶级家庭的子女通婚知识与观察》,布面丙烯与纸本拼贴,80 x 110厘米,2014

“Specification and Psychological Counseling Teenagers Masturbation (upgrade version)”, acrylic on canvas, 80 x 110 cm, 2014
《青少年自慰行为规范及心理辅导(升级版) 》,布面丙烯与纸本拼贴,80 x 110厘米,2014

Randian: You seemed to have undertaken a turn since Teenage Demo. Copy of Nature seems to explore questions of representation. Is that what you were thinking at the outset? Does the circle reflect a particular idea?

Zhang Lehua: The initial goals of Teenage Demo have been accomplished, but I’ll still keep treating it as an element of my everyday life. These new works are also in that earlier stage. I had a lot of expectation for these works—and also needed to make a number of them, because I was building a structure—it was an “excuse” to get started with painting.

With this “drawing from landscape”, for instance, I really went out to the scene of the landscape, but I only stared at a stainless steel ball to paint the site of where I was. The ball was something I could carry with me and something that can be placed on architecture or sculpture. From this point of departure, I started to draw seriously, paying out with my emotions. Viewers could end up liking the results of these circular drawings—but the meaning of this act of mine is about self-ridicule. The “circular” shape…well, let me give an analogy: it’s like a pin I put on Google Earth, which is why the title of each work is the GPS position of that sphere.

“40.032850, -6.828974″ , acrylic marker pen on canvas, 40 cm, 2014
《40.032850,-6.828974 》,布面马克笔,40 厘米,2014

Randian: You seemed to have seized upon “portrayal” in painting and in words (xiesheng). Will this lead to the traditional Chinese idea of “writing and painting is of the same source”?

Zhang Lehua: Right, “xiesheng” (“drawing or portraying from life”) covers “portrayal”, “depiction”, and “drawing”. Sometimes when I draw, I purposely hew closer to “writing” (like the marker pen I used on the circular paintings). Maybe it’s also because I was influenced more by Bonnard when I was a student. This afternoon, I saw a large number of his works at Musée d’Orsay and I could sense his liberation from the techniques of plasticity after the Impressionists’ renewal of light and color—his works, in detail, are all “formless”.

“Writing” for me is a warning against rhetoric itself, to prevent myself from being too overly expressive in terms of painting techniques. But I’m absolutely not incorporating “calligraphy” at all. A few factors in my life are beginning to approach tradition, but at the same time I try to maintain as much as possible a neutral criticality towards that.

Randian: The untitled work made of little pieces on a grid reminds me of many artists’ exploration of the creative medium itself—going back to something very fundamental in the use of technique or methods to represent or portray reality. How do you see this? Of course, this doesn’t really resemble how some artists are influenced by Zhang Enli—this is about writing and scribbling?

Zhang Lehua: This untitled work is about the emphasis of the relationship between image and text: I referred to a casually jotted down memo and then drew the coordinates and put them together on the wall.

Actually I don’t mind talking about influences; sometimes being influenced is something very natural. When I see Zhang Enli’s paintings, quite naturally I feel this urge to imitate—but I stop at imitating with my “hands”. For my own working structure, I place that between my eyes and the object referred to, and then allow myself the rules of the game which make me laugh—this “relaxed” state in expressing the “fundamentals” is the work that joins the mind and the hands.

Randian: “All about < >” is a particular title. How did you come up with the name?

Zhang Lehua: This was the work that got the greatest response in Paris. It, too, is xiesheng. I threw myself into a film projected on the wall and attempted to depict it. The title is really about how I felt the last image was a corpse within the film.

“Untitled”, acrylic 168 canvas, sketch with frame 240 x 280 cm / 35 x 40 cm, 2014
《无题》,2168幅布面丙烯+方格笔记本页,240 x 280厘米/35 x 40厘米,2014

Zhang Lehua solo exhibition,

Zhang Lehua solo exhibition, Tthe Interpreter Who Interrupts”, exhibition view