Michael Zheng

CV   |   Interview with Michael Zheng | www.michaelzheng.org

Getting Territorial
HUTTER | ZHENG | O’DONOGHUE
06.11.11 – 02.12.11

CV: <img src="http://vg07.met.vgwort.de/na/663ba42c85ca47638736033f6e14c04b&quot; width="1" height="1"

San Francisco based artist Michael Zheng was born and grew up in China. He studied computer science at Tsinghua University in China and, after relocating to the Bay Area, worked in Silicon Valley for ten years. Later he left his job to attend the San Francisco Art Institute, where he studied with Paul Kos, Tony Labat and John Roloff. He also studied with Nari Ward and Patty Chang at Skowhegan. His thinking is heavily influenced by the notion of the "original face" in Zen Buddhism. Using a conceptual approach infused with sincerity, absurdity, and humor, his work often takes the form of situational intervention, performance or sculptural installation in which he explores and critiques on a "system level" how people perceive, how we relate to each other and what is art.

Michael has exhibited his work worldwide. He received artist residencies from the prestigious MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire in 2005 and the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine in 2003. In 2005 and 2007 he was nominated for the SECA Award from the San Francisco MOMA. He was acknowledged by the Artadia award in 2007. In 2008, he was nominated for the Bay Area Now 5 at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts. His intervention project with the Baltic Triennial was selected as No.2 of the best art shows by the Pravda magazine in Lithuania, 2006.

His work have been reviewed in Sculpture Magazine, Yishu, Artweek, Shotgun Review, San Francisco Chronicle, SF Weekly, Portland Phoenix, Neue Rheinische Zeitung and Rheinische Post in Germany, Lietuvos Zinios and Lietuvos Rytas in Lithuania, and the Artists Magazine in Taiwan, among others. His debut solo in San Francisco, As the Butterfly Said to Chuang Tzu, won critical acclaim.critical acclaim.

Interview with Michael Zheng:

Tell us more about your work „Bed Bath and Breakfast“. How did it develop?

It came from a revelation of the nature of repetition in my own daily existence. The existential repetition could rule your daily experience, or you could choose to see the repetition as the agent for the minute differences. A zen buddhist way of experience it has an interesting dynamic quality while going through the same gestures.

© Michael Zheng

© Michael Zheng

I experimented to see if my body could feel the difference. I first took a regular walk in the house. Then I attempted to walk the same path in a manner and pace that would be as close to the first walk as I could. If I tripped the first time, I would try to trip in the same way the second time. Then I repeated this for a third time. I felt that each time came pretty close to the previous walk.

Naturally, I wanted to take advantage of the time recording aspect of the video for this act. And sure enough, I found to my surprise that the three walks came within one second from each other.

You’re a performance artist – why document performances on videos? Do you document all of them, only some? Why/why not?

I document some of my performances in video, some in photography. Performances are best seen as they are performed live. In that sense, documentation of performances always has a „second generation“ feel to it. That said, video documentation shows better some type of performances, especially those that have more development in the details. My experience is that, photography documents better performances that are durational in nature.

I also make performance „for“ video, i.e., they are only shown as video, not as live performance. „Bed, Bath and Breakfast“ is one of them. It’s a video piece. The action is its content. In this piece, the video camera serves as both an extension of the performing body, and as a recording device. The piece tries to speak to the dynamic repetitive nature of daily existence. From the performance perspective, I was interested in how my body/mind could remember it’s own actions. You know, walking a most mundane path in my house, an action that we do every day, an endless repetition. But if I try to consciously walk the same path in exactly the same manner, same path, stumbling in exact the same way as the previous walk, then all of a sudden it has potential to speak to the other dimensions of our existence.

From the video perspective, three channels each displaying one of these walks, amplifies the dynamic repetition of the action. Each frame has the potential to be the same, yet always deviant. And they seemed to always converge in some way. When viewed in an endless loop, it compounds the effect and slowly acquires a disturbing quality.

Interventions play a crucial part in your work. How so? What is it that you are interested in?

My intervention works aim to create an alternate vantage point to enable a possible way of perceiving the true nature of the subject. In my art, I purposely stay away from my most familiar territory, i.e., high technology – I have worked in the computer industry for about ten years. That self-imposed challenge has proven exhilarating and difficult at the same time. The freedom from being unencumbered by the tradition of art and from my own background in technology was most exciting. It allows me to come to art from both angles, of creativity and the critique of that very activity. Gradually, I realize that my motivation in making art does not lie in creating beautiful objects. Rather, it lies in an existential search for life’s questions through art. Over the years, I find a consistent thread of need to intervene life with my art, either my own or life in general. I have just come to a revelation lately that the need to “intervene” myself has run through my entire life consistently.

Having studied computer science at the prestigious Tsinghua University in China, you came to the U.S. with a scholarship and found yourself in the midst of the burgeoning dot com revolution. After ten years you left this business to become an artist. How does this influence your work?

After an exciting run of about ten years in the area of computer technology, I started to grow an internal need to break out of that. I decided to become an artist with the hope of seeing the humanity in a deeper and larger way. And yes, of course, this background has been playing an important role in my work. I can think of the influence in two ways. First, it imposes a cultural dynamic that I have to deal with in my life and manifest in my work. Living in a Western culture with a Buddhist/Daoist heritage has been a constant challenge and source of inspiration for my work. Many of my earlier works deal with these issues directly.

And secondly…

… looking at my body of work as a whole, I realized that even though I have lived in the West for more than twenty years and I have, consciously or not, made constant efforts to adapt to the culture and thoughts in the West, sometimes as a deliberate self-intervention, I continue to find that the influence of the Ch’an Buddhism has been deeply rooted in both my thinking and my work. The tendency for me to approach my work from an interventionist angle has a lot to do with the need to get to the “original face” of things, as espoused in Ch’an Buddhism. Indeed, in many of my works, I set up a certain scenario that will function as a mirror that catalytically reflects and refracts the reality, in the hope that it enables an alternate path into the true nature of that reality.


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  1. Pingback: Getting territorial: HUTTER | ZHENG | O’DONOGHUE |

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