on ou zhihang's works
“GOOD GOOD STUDY, DAY DAY PUSH-UP”
A Dialogue Between Shu Yong And Ou Zhihang
Shu Yong (S): Right before the 2008 Beijing Olympics, you attracted nationwide attention because of your performance and photography series “See and Be Seen”, which put you at the center of a big controversy. Six months later, I noticed in media reports and your blog site that you recently finished a new series entitled “The Moment”. I feel that the two series must be correlated. But anyway, let’s talk about the series “See and Be Seen” first. Ou Zhihang (O): The creation of “See and Be Seen”, I believe, is a natural result of my personality development and individual experiences. As a fashion program host, I have been able to have the earliest access to the most fashionable items and events in China. And fashion, as a beachhead for social development, helps me to understand that people’s openness about the body grows in line with the reform an opening of China as a nation. In a sense, the evolvement of people’s attitudes toward their bodies constitutes an epitome of China’s development and such evolvement highlights the growing strength of the body. I think a special tension is created when a body is put into a public space or a cultural site. As I came to understand the real strength of the body, I somehow felt the urge to create things or works of art with my own body. That’s how I started to use my body to interact with landmark cultural sites across China. S: Your choice of doing “naked push-up” is really smart and I think it shows a dilemma you are faced with: on the one hand, you would like to expose yourself in public; on the other hand, you don’t want to expose your private part directly in front of them. O: Before I decided to use “push-up” as my signature gesture, I experimented with many other gestures, trying to find the absolutely unique one that I like the best. The reason I settled for a fixed gesture eventually is that it can convey the relationship between my body and the site in a most direct, systematic, clear and effective manner. Among all gestures and positions, the “naked push-up” does not expose my private part directly to the camera and looks pure, dedicated, positive and even reverent. At the first sight, the body looks like a caterpillar, trying to establish a link between itself and the outside society. It’s a distinctive and powerful performance. So that’s why I picked the push-up as my signature and have been using it in all my series, including the recent one named “The Moment”. S: “Doing push-ups” is one of the most common ways of exercise. While through the “See and Be Seen” series, you have brought new meanings into the concept of “push-up” and your work has been especially effective, considering the controversy it caused among the public. In the art community, the push-up has also been recognized as your signature. O: Well, I didn’t create the “push-up” or build it into my “signature” completely on my own. Its emergence is a natural process. Or rather, it became a symbol thanks to the efforts by the media and society. I intervened in the society and the society influenced me. In this repeated and mutual process, the society contributed to the development of “push-up” as a concept and turned it into a symbol. Of course, it is I who chose to use “push-up” in my artworks, but its passive transformation into a different concept and my signature is because of the media. It is fair to say that the media unleashes my potential and gives my works greater strength. Without that strength, the “See and Be Seen” series would merely be photographs of human bodies with landmarks as their backgrounds. And I would like to thank the media for prompting me to think more about the relationship between the “push-up” and society. Mutual intervention, or interaction, is the reason for my personal growth and one-way intervention would have been useless. That’s why I appreciate interaction and enjoy interaction. S: The ideas of interaction between many factors and the ensuing tension you just talked about are very meaningful. In fact, “See and Be Seen” challenges taboos and limits in terms of nudity in the mainstream media in China and gives them an opportunity to publish and review photographs with a naked body in them. Now, such a practice is considered acceptable, and in some cases, the review report is even published as a major feature story in a magazine or newspaper. It was impossible and unbelievable several years ago. So this shows the great value and significance of your works. O: It is true that now photos in the “See and Be Seen” series can be frequently seen in mainstream media reports and programs. From this, I can sense the growth of this work itself and the growing tolerance and progress in Chinese society. Chinese people’s ideas on human bodies have indeed changed drastically.