Miao Xiaochun 缪晓春 (born in 1964 in Wuxi, China) is one of the most important artists in the Chinese photography world. In addition, Miao is a jack-of-all-trades artist who is comfortable working in a variety of media ranging from photography to digital art including 3D animation and painting. He studied in renowned art schools both in China and Germany, thus masters equally creativity and theory. Acclaimed not only in China but also abroad, Miao has already held solo exhibitions in Germany, Switzerland, United-States, Taiwan, and Singapore. His works can be found in various collections, such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the SIGG Collection in Switzerland.
Miao unceasingly reinvents narratives and pictorial genres, draws his inspiration from both Chinese and European traditions, questions the incompatibility between ancient and modern, oriental and western, faithfulness to reality and simulacra, so that to give his images a new spin both visually and metaphorically. His prolific oeuvre might be basically divided into two phases: before and after 2005. The first part corresponds to his series A Visitor from the Past (1999-2004) and New Urban Reality (2004-2008), in which Miao examines urban transformations and the historical disappearing in contemporary China. The year 2005 marks a watershed for Miao plunged himself into digital art; this medium fitted his idea better according to his words. Since then he created The Last Judgment in Cyberspace (2005-2006), H2O-A Study of Art History (2007), Beijing Index & Beijing Handscroll (2007-2009), Microcosm (2008), Restart (2008-2010) and Disillusion (2009-2010). Miao achieves his ambitions to push the boundaries between digital art and photography and creates alternate visions. On 20th February 2012 Miao briefly answered my questions.
In Pi Li’s article – entitled ‘Visual Maze’ - the author declared that your photographs are by no mean documentary but they explore other theoretical thematic (perspective, deconstruction, etc). However, it seems some of your photographs from the series New Urban Reality deal with the reality and the worrying of today’s Chinese cities, its dramatic changes, and its ruins among other problems. Would you say that there is a sort of anxiety about modernity in these artworks?
Pi Li’s paper is just an article written in 2002. I think he was evoking my series A Visitor from the Past, which I created between 1999 and 2002. In New Urban Reality I am mainly focusing on the rapid changes that Chinese cities are facing.
From 2005 onwards you plunged yourself into digital art. Did the change of medium make easier your re-appropriation of the work of old masters? For instance you have already referred to Lucas Cranach, Hieronymus Bosch, or Michelangelo.
Each era and each civilization during a certain period of time uses specific mediums and artistic language. For example, ink painting fully developed after the invention of ink, ink stone, brush and paper. In our era, computer’s mouse, software and digital prints equipments engendered a new computer-based artistic language. It makes no odds whether such tools are user-friendly or not, they can be the vehicle for the communication of rich ideas and emotions. What attracts me the most is the fact that creating in this field allows me to leave behind the burden of history. This sort of technology is already extensively used in everyday life. What I am eager to research is how I can transform this tool into an artistic mean that enables me to express my own vision of colours.
When I looked at the photograph from you series A Visitor from the Past, I have noticed that one of Nadav Kander’s has been shot under the same bridge in Shanghai. It seems some elements attracted both your attention: the traditional architecture on the left, the modern bridge in the middle, and the cranes on the right. What do you think about these two photographs?
Ferry is a photograph that I have taken in February 2002 under the Yangpu bridge. It is not traditional architecture that you see on the right side but a dragon-boat, however this ferryboat became a pure decoration without function anymore. The bridge in the middle is Yangpu bridge, you can cross it very quickly by driving a car. It makes me think about an old Chinese poem: ”The abandoned ferry traverses the river crosswise”. We would no longer use a wooden boat to cross a river. Contemporary lifestyle makes life easier, but at the same time having a life full of leisure and insouciance is now less and less attractive.
In Chinese culture, the dragon is a very powerful symbol, he is capable of everything, changes his mind constantly, he is omnipotent. Nevertheless when he faces the massive bridge that looks like a gigantic dragon, he appears insignificant, the ferry’s entrance becomes merely symbolic. Hence the map I am holding in my hands symbolized the search for the ferry’s entrance. Similarly, the literati who paces on the pier reflect this idea of being lost. Maybe Kander’s photograph has been shot at the same place, however it would be better to check when and why he has taken it so that to avoid any conjecture. There are probably many other photographers who shot this place but each one has his own intention.
Specialists constantly had problems when trying to compare traditional and digital photography. Still click a shutter or clicking on a computer’s mouse seems to be the same. Do you think that traditional and digital photography are utterly different?
I would say that the fundamental differences are the modes of recording and transmitting the image. Traditional photography requires films, thus it involves developing and enlarging them in the dark room. CCD or CMOS captors produce digital images, then they are printed thanks to a computer and printing machines. Throughout the history of photography, such changes in photography techniques happened several times, it is just that today’s evolution is far more phenomenal. We do not even have to talk more about this issue because after a while and after discussing about it, it will become clearer.
What do you think about Chinese contemporary photography?
I think it needs a lot of work.
Do you believe that you belong to a certain tendency in art?
Since 2005, my works belong to all kinds of computer-based art.
Since the inception of photography, there have been plenty of photographers who took China as their main subject matter, for instance Lang Jingshan, Marc Riboud, Yang Yongliang, and so forth. Is there any in particular you like?
I like all of them.
What are you expectations for the future?
I hope that I will have the same vigour to work everyday for a long time. The only way to accomplish gradually many projects is to never stop working. Besides it is through hard work that you can challenge and improve yourself.