Shanghai, Taopu, Jin Shan’s studio, June 10th 2013“Most of the inspiration for my work comes from the present reality in China. At this moment in history, China, the most populous nation in the globe, is going through immense changes. From this incredible transformation so many absurd, terrible and amazing stories emerge everyday, and these stories become inspiration for my work. However, while I am influenced by particular stories and situations that take place in China, I believe the underlying elements that motivate people’s behavior are universal. The impossibility of satisfying desire, the drive to power, the inherent contradictions in life, are all seemingly programmed into humans, into their DNA. In this respect my work begins with the specifics of present day China, but extends beyond these borders to portray the abstract forces that shape human interaction and structure societies. ” Jin Shan
Léa Genoud : Firstly I am curious about what you studied ?
Jin Shan : Oil Painting.
LG : How did you come to choose or why did you choose to do installations ?
JS : Because it was not interesting to do that [oil painting] and my school didn’t have other choices. After I graduated I started to change.
LG : What was your first installation ?
JS : It was a kind of slide piece in 2005. I changed stairs into a slide so that the people joining the show had to slide to enter the building.
LG : At the end of the slide you installed small models of the Pearl Tower?
JS : So that people would be like bowling balls and hit the towers. That was my first installation.
LG : What was this exhibition about ?
JS : It was in DDM Warehouse in Shanghai. It used to be a good Art Centre but in China nothing can last very long. Some people just took down the building. Some rich Chinese people from Guangzhou turned the place into a real estate project. That is the story and the end of it.
LG : I also saw you created a collective called « comfortable ». Could you tell me more about it?
JS : It is composed of a few artists. Most of the time we are like five or six and we do some projects together. We work on the same things, for example, once we had one room so we did something in a room. Once we had a piece of grass, so we did something with the grass. That’s it.
LG : Is it with this collective that you did the X-Baltic Triennial ? You occupied a house, right? Could you tell me more about this project?
JS : In 2008 we did the first kind of show in an old house in Shanghai. We used a lot of tricks to be able to rent the house and stay in it for one month only.
No one wants to rent a house for one month so we told a lot of lies and then we got the house for one month. We said a lot of bullshit to this landlord.
At that time we did not have many ambitious concepts. We just had a lot of fun with some things we could change a little bit and then turn into art.
For example in the bathroom, you can stay there ten days and then you leave all the trash in the bathroom and then shut the trash out. Then I switched the inside of the air-conditioner with the outside of the machine. The outside part was inside and the inside part was outside.
Some artists made stairs next to the windows so that it made you want to… How to this “professional English” word meaning “kill yourself”?
LG : Commit suicide.
JS : Suicide yes. So there was a lot of stuff like that. Some people made a fake floor. They found a lot of old bricks the underneath they put foam. So the floor felt very soft.
We didn’t have great ambitions for this project. For the Lithuanian project we had a more specific target. We tried to bring the Soviet time back to the house.
We used the historical memories to make an art project in one very old house, the oldest house in Vilnius. Then we bought a lot of Soviet stuff for the house and made the interior of it look very old.
For example, we made a barbecue in the garden and used some ashes to make the house look very old. As if no one had cleaned the house for a few years and if you moved the glass it would leave a dust mark. We faked it. We used the ashes everywhere around the house to make it look as if someone had fled. As if there was nobody there.
Social realist paintings were on the lunch can of Lithuanian people. It’s like the beginning of the 20th Century, this kind of painting from the Russian era is like social realism. As there was this kind of painting on the cans, I bought about a hundred of them and put them in the drawers and I installed automatic doors to open the drawers; when it’s open, it’s full of cans. You can then see all the paintings on the cans. It is a metaphor that brings back old memories.
Some artists bought books from the 1980s and used the paper from these books to make a paper sculpture. This time we had more concepts behind the works.
At the end we didn’t work very well. Everyone wanted to do something different. So I guess we Chinese like Italians are not meant to work collectively.
LG : What about humor, in general it seems you use it a lot as a tool in your work.
JS : Because I hate something to be very serious. I think nothing is very serious. I think seriousness has already been done in human history.
LG : But you use humor to talk about serious things.
JS : I’m criticizing seriousness as an attitude.
LG : Would you tell me more about the artwork « My Dad is Li Gang » ?
« The driver Li Qiming, who hit two students, killing one, fled the scene shouting, “Go ahead, sue me if you dare. My dad is Li Gang!” Social outrage erupted, provoking a social media phenomenon that made the phrase ubiquitous throughout the country. »
Courtney Coelho about the exhibition of Jin Shan at the Bell Gallery: My dad is Li Gang! August 14, 2012
JS : It’s a story that took place on a campus. Students were killed by rich people. Then the two rich people escaped so they didn’t care about the killing. I guess it that is part of human nature but it happened like that here. Especially in China it is more obvious.
After that a lot of students stopped and asked them to take responsibility for what they did and one answered: “My Dad is Li Gang”. That is a real story, Li Gang was head of Hebei Province.
So it’s just showing how power works in China. Everywhere you can find this kind of problem but in China the power system is tougher than in other societies. There are some societies that have means of covering that and make it seem more beautiful but here it is very tough.
So this is the basic story I used to make the art piece. It’s the title of the art piece.
LG: The art piece is a space ship covered with mirrors, a tricycle is glued on it, equally covered with glue. Why did you cover it like that?
JS: Because I think this glue can express human desire. Because when this material melts, the colour looks like…
You like men or girls?
JS: So it’s looks like men’s semen [laughs]. You know I asked girls many times because this color is very art to get.
LG: So you used it to express this desire you cannot control. Desire of power.
JS: It’s human. The men’s semen is human desire. If you want to fuck a girl and then you want to come. It is all in our genes, it is natural. Actually I wanted to show that some problems belong to the human nature. Everyone has the power to fuck people so it is not only in China. China is very tough. It is sometimes good to use something very obvious to show people.
LG: I found an article from Jordan Mainzer. He was speaking about art, Internet and Chinese democracy. He made up categories that classifies the artist who “uses the Internet or not” and “is or not political.” The first category would be artists a little bit older than you, like Ai Weiwei, using internet and are clearly political in their art, then you « who uses or makes art about the Internet but whose work is not inherently political » and finally artists of the younger one-child policy generation, who, for the most part, are not at all political.
What do you think about these classifications?
JS: I think it’s different. Ai Weiwei points at very specific problems the government caused for people. I want to show something that belongs to the human being. It does not involve nationalism. It’s just a coincidence that I’m Chinese. I was born here; I grew up in this country. Political problems inspire me to think about the human being, about ourselves. Thus I think my work is different than Ai Weiwei’s work.
LG: What about the younger artist generation? The author’s point out that they don’t speak at all about social-political subjects. What do you think about this statement?
JS: I think if the younger artists are not interested in political themes it is because you can’t promote those themes.
I hate those articles where art critics claim: “new artists just focus on their daily life, they’re different from the older artists.” This is the usual crap from those who know nothing about the younger generation, they don’t know how this kids grew up and were educated. They were educated the “wash-blind” way and they don’t know enough about the real world.
LG: But you had the same education as them?
JS: I’m older. You are from 90s right?
JS: I have more than 20 years difference with you. Students like you in China don’t have access to Google, if they want to use Google it doesn’t work.
LG: But from what I experienced here it seems a lot of people are using VPN or some kind of software to pass the wall?
JS: A lot of adults in the art world use it, but none of my students use a VPN.
LG: Even in the art school?
JS: They always use Baidu, the Chinese search engine, similar to Google.
However with Baidu only rubbish comes out.
If you search for artists, only the new generation will come out, they grow up to become superstars but nothing supports their status. They have no life to draw artistic resources from. It can be fun for a while but it won’t last. You need depth to go far.
LG: You are a teacher in an art school, right?
JS: Yes, I am.
LG: What do you teach?
JS: I teach paintings and installations.
LG: Do you talk a lot with your students?
JS: Actually, I’m afraid to talk too much.
JS: The government just promulgated a new law requiring that the younger teachers do not say anything negative about the government. So now, we don’t talk much.
I don’t usually talk much anyway but if you face this kind of rules… I guess you understand what I mean.
LG: Do some of your students come to you and ask you questions?
JS: Yes, they ask a lot of questions.
LG: What kind of questions?
JS: Most of them are art questions.
LG: Do you have in mind some examples?
JS: They ask me why this artist is good or why is he famous. So I give them examples. Most of the art you know is very specific. Most of it is very technical.
JS: I like Europe so much. I have been to Italy. I really love this country. It is very interesting. Looks like if everyone is just enjoying this or her art; not much to do, it’s very interesting.
LG: Not much to do?
JS: [Laughs] Actually, it is not but because I am a tourist, I only see that. It makes it beautiful.
LG: It is funny you mention that because I met young European artists in residency here who met Chinese artists and their comment was: “Oh they already have galleries representing them and they are so young, while we, back in Europe, sometimes have to work beside our artist work.”
JS: Here it is crazy. A lot of young artists have massive spending’s, like Ferrari cars, because they sell their paintings half a million or one million. Artists my age already have a Porsche car.
If you go to Beijing, you can see some painters. Well, I don’t do painting, so I can have so much money [laughs]. Again artists my age, 36-35, have a Porsche car, while they started painting only ten years ago.
For example Chen Ke, who produces some kind of cartoon with the round face. Her paintings are over a million for one piece, and if you want to buy one now, you can’t because someone already bought it.
LG: Who buys those works?
JS: It’s a lot of KTVs, very good quality private cocktails and places like this. They hang them on the walls.
Artists are rich because their costs are much less than a New-Yorker or a European. But I think it will be gone very soon. It’s an economic bubble.
LG: I read about your exhibitions in America, did you also have exhibitions in Europe?
JS: Yes, in the Dutch Groingen Museum. There was a very big Chinese show at the time, before the crash, when Europeans still had money and at the Venice Biennial in 2007.
LG: Yes you did a silicone sculpture of yourself peeing like the Bruxelles Mannkenpis. I read some young drunk people destroyed it.
JS: Yes but I have a second one. Somebody bought that piece but never came here to pick it up. [laughs]
“I like humoristic art, so I use this method to express my ideas. Sociology, urban anthropology are methods for observing humans and useful methods in society. But when they try to explain the relation between human and society common word language logic turns to become useless. This is the one of the main reasons I chose humor as an artistic language to express ideas. I know that art cannot solve problems of the social reality, but I just want to display it, and I believe this is the real role that art has.” Jin Shan