Interview with UNMASK art group by Marc Bollansee
Feb. 22, 2009 Beyond Art Space (Beijing 798)
UNMASK art group was established in 2001 by Liu Zhan, Kuangjun and Tan Tianwei, who were classmates in the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing and graduated in 2003. In March 2009, UNMASK is releasing its new series, ‘ 0°’, at Beyond Art Space (Beijing 798).
Marc Bollansee is a Belgian art writer and curator currently preparing a Pan Asian show at Beyond Art Space in Beijing entitled “Beyond Globalization”, scheduled for mid-April 2009. He is specialized in Asian Contemporary Art.
Marc: It is evident that design, form and aesthetics are important to you, probably because of your background. What is in your case the process that leads from a beautiful design to an artwork that has a theme and a meaning?
UNMASK: We were once asked by someone in our audience, who our idol was, Andy Warhol or Philippe Starck, the famous French designer. The person asking, in a seemingly impromptu way, put a question with in-depth meaning. We spontaneously gave exactly the same answer: “both of them are our idols.” Subconsciously, we feel reluctant to make a clear distinction between art and design. Of course, we do not want to confuse the two concepts. I believe that the profundity of artworks does not completely rely on aesthetical forms.
Sometimes, we determine a topic before considering any forms, which is the case in our Wu Ying Zhe series. Sometimes, we formulate design logic before gaining an expected result through continuous validation, which is the case in our Transparency series. We will discuss this case in our answer to Question 4.
Marc: How would you describe the cooperation between the three artists?
UNMASK: We are like pals to each other, who have different perspectives of art. Debate and concession are inevitable, but eventually we can always figure out unique logic accepted by all of us. This makes us very different from other artists. We place great emphasis on both individuality and coexistence, which are the very foundation of our cooperation. And this promises great flexibility when implementing a plan, which allows all of us to exert our talents.
Marc: In your works the objects are fashionable, decorative elements. Is this a reference to the shallowness of an ignorant society only interested by material ideals?
UNMASK: The fashionable elements in our works simply embody our visual experience and the quality of the work. We do not mean to insinuate any social problems by that. In our opinion, these are general elements, which help convey our intention and express our emotion.
Marc: The human body also plays an important role in your works. What is the function of the human form in your works? There seems to be an ironic, humorous approach of the human form while you still strive for a kind of impossible perfection in the face or the body.
In your last series of works, Transparency, characteristically the human body is presented in a cut-out and incomplete way. This means that often only part of the body is shown. Can you explain why?
UNMASK: We have a habit of using human form, including the body and social status, as the carrier of our artworks. Maybe this results from our academic background. Most of our time in school was spent on research into Chinese and Western sculpture. We did not realize that it was almost impossible to surpass our forefathers under the same aesthetical framework and the same value standard, until we were about to begin our own creation. Anyway surpassing our forefathers was not our mission then. Realizing this fact, however, did not discourage our interest in the subject of “human”. With every human as a mini-universe, we can mine for a lot of special qualities. This habit of ours is not only reflected in our artworks, but also in our independently developed popular consumables.
Form ultimately serves content and we never repeat any previously used forms in our artworks.
Transparency is our work series in 2006. With our own body characteristics as the basis, we created human bodies in the aesthetic form of classical sculpture. Then we purposely deleted the redundant parts, including gender and ethnic identity, by removing the defects of the sculpture in a 2-Dimensional way. Finally, we got some proportionally varied and fragile bodies with internal and external parts that corresponded to each other. Putting these bodies randomly in a certain space formed an environment which was unbalanced, delicate and highly unexpected.
The entire creation process was like resolving a math problem. We did minus in accordance to the design philosophy of the work, and the represented appearance was simply a result. The design philosophy seemed to be found nowhere in the work, but was logically sound.
Marc: There is clearly a reference to classical sculpture in your works. I would say Greek sculpture and the beauty of the form like in ancient Chinese stones. This beauty gives an impression of harmlessness and innocence, while we know today’s world is not like that. Is this because you are nostalgic about the past or are there hidden codes and values in the beautiful human beings you create?
UNMASK: Classical aesthetics has always been influencing our study and creation. We are even more moved by the simplicity and austerity of those classical works, after breaking their aesthetic form over and over again. The feeling, however, seems to have been forgotten or ignored by most people. We are not nostalgic because we have to. What we want to do is to transform the feeling into some sort of modern visual form, thus moving our audience.
Marc: Can you explain the meaning of the artwork that you will show at “ Beyond Globalization”. I am mainly interested by the three different persons, the lack of communication between them, the size and the forms of the stones which are different for each person, as well as the ellipse that frames the whole scene.
UNMASK: The work series is named “0 degree”, which has human as its main subject. Three humanoid creatures gather in a void space, forming an isolated and virtual ecosystem. The characteristics of the creatures’ hair do not seem to comply with any natural rules, but they are also logically reasonable. The juxtaposition of artificial design and traditional experience creates a space full of mystery and solidity. We intentionally remove the dramatic relationship between figures. What remains are their distinct characters and the spatial harmony and balance.
“0 degree” is visually super-realistic and represents our persistent style. We are not good at realistic works with clear indication. It is our habit to create works in a virtual way. Using a shell to represent a panorama is not only for the formal aspect, but it is also a way of creating self-protection. (This technique has been used in our earlier works as well). The self-containing space is isolated from, if not contradicting to, the outside world, forming an independent and virtual environment.
Marc: How has globalization affected your work? Do you draw more inspiration than before from external sources? Do you consider today’s society too complex, hectic and technological which leaves less time to people to communicate in a simple and pleasant way? Do you consider that globalization isolates people who retreat from contacts with society and become increasingly selfish and self-centred?
UNMASK: The impact of globalization on us is slow but steady. This is represented not only in our works, but also in every aspect of our life. We have tried to adapt to this change and we share with you the same worry about the impact brought about by globalization.