Artist and filmmaker Wang Bing was recently in Tokyo for the opening of an exhibition of his installations 15 Hours, and Man with No Name. He also took time to talk at the Tokyo National University of Art, for which Yangyu took part as interpreter. Following his visit, we sat down for a few questions.
1. Did you find out the name of the protagonist in Man with No Name?
During the shooting from 2006 to 2009, I never got to know his name. I tried to ask him several times but he never told me, so I stopped asking.
2. You made The Ditch in 2010. Will you return to fiction cinema? Have you ever reached out to professional actor or actress?
I’m now preparing to shoot a fiction film. Of course to make a fiction film it is necessary to work with professional actors.
3. What benefit does the gallery offer that the experimental cinema couldn’t? For the work 15 Hours, what does it bring to the work when the business hours of the gallery per day are less than the work’s full length?
It happens very often that the work gets interrupted when I work on a film. During those intermissions, I would shoot works for art spaces. Moving image is open in its nature—it can be used in films as well as in works for galleries and museums.
15 Hours is a work completely made for art spaces. It’s usually shown in two parts on two consecutive days. The narrative in it has little to do with that in a film.
4. Beyond the issue of duration, were you ever interested in the formal possibility of the medium? Special effects, editing, multi-screen …
I’m rather conservative in terms of formal exploration of film. I like to have to narrative come into being itself during the shooting process. As a result, I seldom go for special effects, or multi-screen installations.
Many films of mine are rather long, because they are digital. In that sense, the digital media has given us more freedom for shooting and playing films.
5. Were you aware of the film installations of Chantal Akerman or Agnes Varda? Did these models ever provide any inspiration for you? Which filmmaker has influenced you the most?
I’m quite familiar with both of them. I often chatted with Akerman at Cannes in 2007. I had more chances to get in touch with Verda. I know about their video installations and am fond of their works. But I’ve got my own film languages and I seldom pick up other people’s. For the works shown in art spaces, I still stick to my own experiences with moving images and rarely get influenced by other people.
6. Can you describe the moment when the gallerist(s) came into play? Did the gallerist come to you or did you pursue them?
The first time I set foot in the art sphere was in 2008 when I showed the video installation Crude Oil which was 14 hours long at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. After that, I made Man with No Name, Father and Sons, Traces, Mrs. Fang, Feng Ming, A Chinese Memoir (the long version), Beauty Lives in Freedom, 15 Hours.
At Documenta 14 in 2017, I got to know a gallery in Japan. We were both interested in working with each other, and I’m happy to have a gallery in Japan to cooperate with for my video works.
7. When you show something at the gallery, is the gallery financially producing the piece? If not, who does?
It’s quite open to produce works shown at galleries. Sometimes we produce it ourselves, sometimes it’s the gallery who produces it. For instance, Beauty Lives in Freedom was produced by the Galerie Chantal Croussel.
8. Who acquires your work? Institution, museum, private collectors?
The first work of mine that got acquired was Man with No Name, by the Pompidou Center in 2014. Later on, M+ in Hong Kong got Feng Ming, Man with No Name, and Traces. The CNAP (Centre national des arts plastiques, France) and the EMST–National Museum of Contemporary Art (Greece) got 15 Hours. The Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía acquired Beauty Lives in Freedom and Crude Oil. None of my works have been collected by private collectors so far.
9. A number of western institutions are elaborating plans to open branches in China (Tate Modern, the Pompidou, …), which is unacceptable for someone like Ai Weiwei. Would you agree to show your works in these branches?
I’m an artist. The works that I made can be shown anywhere in any institution. I’d never prevent any of my work from being shown anywhere. I think the value that a work represents cannot be diminished by the venue or place it is shown.
10. How do you exist in China?
I never questioned my existence in China. I’ve always been living the same life that I used to live. It’s very down-to-earth. I wouldn’t ask for more than that.
11. What’s your impression about China’s presence in Africa? Can you talk a little about your African project?
I haven’t been to Africa yet but will go soon to shoot a film. I know nothing about it at the moment, and hope to keep undiluted feelings about it in the future.
Interview by S_Z