Visiting artist makes film

Video artist Chen Zhou poses for the camera in Dunedin’s Southern Cemetery, part of the city he has visited while on residency here. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Video artist Chen Zhou poses for the camera in Dunedin’s Southern Cemetery, part of the city he has visited while on residency here. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Chinese video artist Chen Zhou’s latest work, made while in New Zealand, will be shown in Dunedin this weekend. Chen spoke to Rebecca Fox.

Coming from the crowded streets of Eastern China, Chen Zhou was struck by the way he would bump into people from Dunedin's artistic community as he went about the city.

''He keeps seeing people he has connected with everywhere. He keeps saying it's fate. I say, no it's Dunedin,'' former Blue Oyster Gallery director Chloe Geoghegan says.

Chen was ''discovered'' by Ms Geoghegan while she was in Asia last year on an Asia New Zealand curators' tour.

The group visited Chen's studio and Geoghegan was impressed by what she saw.

''I thought this guy is cool. Zhou is an emerging artist in Shanghai and this is what the Blue Oyster focuses on. He is making work I thought the Dunedin audience would be interested in.''

Chen has been exhibited at Beijing's Magician Space (''I am not not Chen Zhou'', 2013) as well as in group exhibitions at OCAT Shanghai, Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art Beijing, Today Art Museum, Beijing, and in China Independent Film Festival.

The gallery applied for grants and Chen, who has a bachelor of fine arts degree from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (2009), came to New Zealand as part of a residency with the gallery, supported by the Asia New Zealand Foundation and Caselberg Trust.

''I'm happy to be here. I really like the city.''

Dunedin's heritage buildings and hills reminded him of his hometown.

''For me familiar feeling, comfortable feeling, [rather] than strange.''

He really liked the people in Dunedin, the artists and musicians he had met.

''When I go to gigs, [I] hear really good music.''

Chen also found people to be really genuine and ''not like artists in Shanghai where they are very fast''.

He liked the way Dunedin artists settled in and worked for long periods of time, a way he also liked to work.

Ms Geoghegan agreed, saying the residency gave people time to think.

Chen spent much of his time wandering the streets staring at the sights and sometimes even falling asleep while looking: leading to concerned residents asking if he was all right.

''They ask me if I am OK, [I'm] just wandering, looking. Sometimes I fall asleep. I feel like I'm a baby in this city [and] everyone take care of me.''

While the residency did not require Chen to make work while he was in the city, he had been inspired by the spaces, the architecture of the city.

''I'm quite sensitive to the environment.''

So while in the city he filmed a short piece about 200-year-old ghosts at Broad Bay Cemetery.

''Very exciting.''

The gallery has also organised a screening of Chen's first feature-length film, completed last year, Life Imitation, but first it had to go through New Zealand's censors.

''It's about young people, modern life in Shanghai.''

The film interpolates video-game imagery with images from daily life, blurring the virtual and the real world, exploring reality, dream and virtuality and provides a group portrait of contemporary Chinese urban youth.

Chen said the film was in three parts. One part involved shooting the screen of a mobile device, with its messages, which were all part of daily life.

''And I make the background pure blue, it's like outer space.''

The movie recently premiered at the 2017 Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival, and won the New:Vision Award.

According to the jury, Life Imitation ''creates an intimate portrait of the performance of the self in a hypermediated world, calmly casting an insistent gaze on shifting experiences of sociality, gender, and technology''.

Ms Geoghegan said the film was interesting because it was an art piece but was also about daily life.

While Chen headed home a few months ago, he is keen to come back.

''I really like the city. the tempo of the city, the beauty, the nature, so many flowers.''

To see
Life Imitation, Chen Zhou, Rialto Cinema 5, Saturday 22 April, 6.15pm

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