The Intimate Space in front of Camera

Conversation of Fang Lu and Carol Yinghua Lu 

Carol Yinghua Lu= Carol

Fang Lu = Lu  

Carol: How did you started making video?

Lu :Video was the first thing that made me excited. The first school I went to in America was in Baltimore, a city by the East coast and 3 hours from New York City. Because the city is very small, so I often took greyhound or some buses ran by Chinese to go to New York.  The contemporary art I saw in New York showed me a broader possibility of art. Later I transferred to study in New York.

The first time I went to New York was two months after the 9/11. I went to PS1 to see shows and there was a video exhibition at the time. I forgot about the name of the show and the actual works, but the format of that show interested me: in a very dark room, many televisions sitting on the floor and electrical wires crawling on the ground. At the time I felt a kind of liberation, from a media with such short history.

I wanted to make work with an anti-material attitude, with my body or non-conventional art material. Naturally I started using video to make performance work, which I called them performance videos. Even though my major was design then, I tried to use any opportunity to make video work. As long as I could, I would complete all the assignments with video. I even made a video for the final of a color theory class.  Professors in art schools in the US are often quite open. As long as you can explain yourself, they don’t really restrict what you do.

Carol: The first time I saw your works was a Youtube link you sent me. After seeing “Straight Outta HK” (2006) and “Panda Express”(2007), and I later saw “News Reenactment” (2008). These works gave me the impression that your work was around and developed from news material or particular topics.  They used video to retell an event. 

After you moved to Beijing, I had the opportunity to look at three earliest video works that you created in New York: “Sweet Dreams,” “Untitled Being I” and “Untitled Being II.” In these three works, I saw an important aspect of your work, that is you as the solo performer in front of the camera. In the videos, you are so different. You are completely in control as if there are no one else exists, and actively indulge yourself to perform a situation. You are completely immersed within, which is very powerful.

Could you talk about these earlier works? How did you start performing? During the “performance”, what kind of state you put yourself in? How do you act as a performer and photographer at the same time? How do you think about the identity of a performer? Is it an important element in the concept of your work?

B: When I started to make video work and use myself as material, the early works were projects like “Untitled Being” series. Some of the works were about very simple things that seemed like don’t have significant meanings, like me lip-syncing “Sweet Dreams”, the 80’ American song, and eating cake and ice cream at the same time. Performance and Video, the relationship of these two are an important aspect of my work. I wanted my work was neither a video recording nor just an action. They are not just video because the work commits to a task, an event, an activity or a physical state, which are developed through the process of video recording; and they are not just action because of the absence of a live presentation for the viewers, and everything was performed for the camera. I sometimes changed the timeline of the videos through post production, so the results were often not documentary nor reality.

The realization of these videos emphasize the relationship between oneself and the camera. I think camera can create a condition for me and the other performers who are in front of my camera. These conditions may be not reality, but I believe they truthful. They were something hidden in one’s body that did not express the same way before. DV camera is so flexible that it can create a space to accommodate intimacy. These spaces exist because of the camera. It sounds contradictory to have intimate space in front of the camera. The intimate space here is not the kind of secrecy we might refer to, but it is the space and moments that people don’t see and could not be expressed in the conventional world. When me or the other performers are aware of the camera, our psychological states are different. Anyone in front of the camera must realizes that this moment will be replay and reappear.  

As for the roles of camera person and performer, I think these two in my work are quite equal. The actual so called “live performances” were in the shooting process. Even when I am not performing, I hope that the status of me and the performers will be similar. I might be a “passive” director in working with other performers. There are a lot of unknown factors, and they evolve gradually within the video shoot. This is the same for participating performers. They will need to find out what is it about when they really do it.

Carol: When and how you started to create works like: “Straight Outta HK,” “Panda Express” and  “News Reenactments?”

Lu: These works were created from 2005 to 2007. The question that troubled me then, or maybe something remains unsolved today, was what relationship I should have with this society. These works compare to my other works were attempts to intervene with this society more. “Panda Express” and “News Reenactments” were based on news. I was living in America, so my knowledge about China were acquired from news. This way of comprehension was bound to have misunderstanding but also space for imagination. Based on some of the news stories I read online I created scripts, and to intervene with the reality through this way.

Carol: Now what do you think about these works and that stage of making art? And what about your relationship to the society?

Lu: I think anyone who are still thinking will often question one’s meaning in this society, especially artists. These thoughts will reflect on the tendency of artists’ works: sociology-based work, conceptual work, or visual driven type of work. I think those works of mine were intervention initiated from curiosity, but not experiential intervention. Therefore they will cease once they are done. Like “Straight Outta HK” and some other works then were created when I was living in San Francisco. I was rather curious about Asian American culture and wanted to understand their differences. “Panda Express” and “News Reenactment” relates to the Chinese reality and they were made after years living outside of China. These works are meaningful to me and belong to particular period.

Carol: "My Schoolmates" and "Density," these two works has an important connection. In both works you invited others to perform certain states in front of your camera, until they were completely absorbed by their own performance. A transition from acting to an uncontrolling self-expression and revelation. In “My Schoolmates,” participants are dancing with their own favorite music in a private and relaxing environment; in “Density,” two performers are hitting their chairs on the ground manically while sitting on the chairs. After a period of time, the physical action turned into real anger that was out of their control. I am very interested in this transition within your work. Is it something you predicted before shooting? Is it something you want in the beginning? How do you manage the rhythm and the interaction with the performers

Lu: As I mentioned that when there are other performers in the work, my role is a passive director, intentionally passive. After setting a basic environment or event of the work, there are still much unknown during the shoot. I don’t have too much prediction and there are no rehearsal. So even though the frame is set up by me, it is relatively open, also because it involves some of the most basic activities of people, like sitting on a chair or dancing. My “passiveness” allows performers bring in their potential psychological state to the performance, which is an important aspect for me.  I also did some works to experiment in the contexts of certain stories, to invite performers to improvise conversation in the stories. I think what I am asking from the performers are the same as what I ask from myself when I perform.  The ideal shooting condition is me and the performers are assimilating to each other.

Carol: You mentioned Bruce Nauman and Vito Acconci are the artists once influenced you. Which aspects of their work or thinking are important to you? When these occured in your personal development?

Lu: I began to make art with the influence of performance and video art. Especially I looked up to some of Bruce Nauman’s early videos. His working method is very “post-studio,” Even though he was making work in the studio but he had made very interesting transformation with the limitation of “studio” environment. He used his body to create physical and psychological connection with the limited space or everyday objects outside of the space. This has raised interesting questions on the working context of artists, and questions on what is art. He once said that anything artists do in a studio is art. Some videos he did in the 60s are artist in the studio doing simple repetitive things, like videos about body movements, using exaggerated movement to walk, or paint the skin to white and black.

I think my early works has influences from him. Yet, this idea of studio had disappeared or became a less important factor. Maybe I should say that the idea of  “limited space” of a studio has moved to other environments, such as apartment. In my work on the other hand, the connection of body and space in Nauman’s work has become the female body, for a starting point, which is the fundamental difference. This starting point with the female body has its own limitation as the objective limitation to work within a whitewall studio. Also, the special position that our society assigned to women is also the cause of the limitation. That’s why most of the women artists today deny that their work has any connection to feminism.

What I want to do is to transform the limitation on the issue of female body. I say transform is first, not to escape from the feminist topic. It is something embedded in our society and it is essential for any women artists. Transformation should not be made through the method of accusation. The attitude of accusation also means certain recognition on the rationality of the subject and its hierarchical differences. This type of attitude in art is often lack of vitality and creativity.

Carol: I very much agree with your view on the art making of women artists, and especially what you said about through “transformation” to make the issue of female body became unlimited. I think often times what we really need is a perspective and vision, but not really about what you do or what you solve. Many problems cannot be solved with a simple “solution.”

Vito Acconci was a poet turned into artist. His work is strongly conceptual. He use his body and performance to investigate the essence of art (he once said that he uses his work to create a home for his body), including the making of art and the context of presentation, the relationship of audience, artists and work, etc. He uses the vocabulary of “space” and “architecture” to describe art making. He said that the participation of audience made art became a type of space and architecture. Which part of his work interests you? How did he influence you?

Lu: Acconci’s influence is mainly his hypothesis and imagination on oneself in his work, and his task-driven performance for the camera. He was his performer and camera man in many of his early work and these two had very close relationship.

It is interesting that you mentioned he used his body as a type of architecture to have audience entered. Because he later gave up performance and became an architect. He explained that the reason he did so is because he didn’t want to be alone and making work, and he worried that in the end he would die alone. But what you mentioned showed that making architecture is also a way to return to oneself. A body is the architecture.

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