A soft-spoken and pensive man, Miao Xiaochun, pioneer of digital media art in China and professor at Beijing’s CAFA has since 2005 been quietly constructing virtual universes, unlimited in size, perspective and imagination.
While today his works receive international attention and acclaim, Miao’s journey to becoming a professional artist was fatefully put off course in his early years when, upon failing to be admitted into any of China’s art academies, despite having practiced art from a young age, he studied German literature during his undergraduate years. Finding upon graduation that his interests still lay within art, he pursued a Masters Degree in Art History at the Beijing CAFA. Finally, owing to his German language ability, Miao was admitted to Germany’s Kunsthochschule Kassel where he obtained his second Masters Degree, this time in Plastic Sculpture.
Today, the thematic concerns of Miao’s works, which extend to video installations, photography, sculpture and painting, transcend the definitions of his formal education. However, it is in Miao’s approach to his works that belies the deep-seated influence of an education in art history, imbuing on his works a broad sense of history, perspective, philosophy and above all, humanity.
Maintaining a professorship at Beijing’s prestigious CAFA academy, Miao’s yearly artistic production is nothing short of prolific, each year encompassing a number of computer generated video installations, stills and painted works on canvas. While the oeuvre of his work now focuses on computer generated and designed graphics, Miao still paints by himself a great number of canvases derived from his digital scenes.
Miao’s work is currently on exhibition at Shanghai’s K11 Art foundation as part of the ‘Metamorphosis: 5+5′ Exhibition until September 2014.
God creates the whole world in six days. Therefore, I say to myself that I cannot create so many things, but only a limited scene. Then I can use the limited scene to express what I want to say. I always remember that I am not the creator.
Aqua Arts Foundation (AAF): Your works employ heavy use of imagination, with an organized use of perspective. Would you agree?
Miao Xiaochun: Do you know my first project The Last Judgment? The original is a two-dimensional work. First, I make a 3-D scene. I make 400 3-D models and put all these models in exact position as in a 2-D work. Then you can walk in with virtual video camera with much freedom to walk around in the space. It is completely different from 2-D paintings. With such software, the camera can move from top to bottom, left to right. If you take pictures in real world, this is impossible. Did you know, for example, that in Titanic the ship is built by software, and the shooting is completed by virtual camera? I remember that the filmmaker paid 1million US dollars to do this in 1997, but now I think it is much easier to do this
AAF: When you are doing long works like your piece at K11, do you use set numbers for imagery such as a man, an apple? Do you keep your work to certain limited objects or do you want to present limitless imagery?
Miao Xiaochun: Actually, it is impossible to present limitless things, as I have to create everything. Although I may feel like a creator, but in fact I cannot make so many things. I have to calculate on the computer, which may take one day or a week. For example, I spend one day to create one thing, so in a week, I can only create seven things. But God creates the whole world in six days. Therefore, I say to myself that I cannot create so many things, but only a limited scene. Then I can use the limited scene to express what I want to say. I always remember that I am not the creator.
‘In the Song dynasty for example, many scripts and paintings were exhibited in stores or teahouses, at that time there were no museums or galleries, so China actually has a long history of displaying meaningful fine art in commercial space’
AAF: With the development of software and computer techniques，nowadays you can combine art with advanced techniques, do you think in the future media art will have more space to develop and be recognized as fine a?
Miao Xiaochun: I was born in 1964, so my generation started to learn painting and computer at the same time and it can be said that we are between the traditional style and the new media. I had the feeling that I must learn how to use software for my artistic life. In ancient time, when people create ink brush, I think it is difficult to use it at first, but people accept it and use it to write and paint beautifully. For me, computer and software are just like ink brush, it is difficult to learn but I know they can help me with my works. I have a team to work with me, they know computer much better than I do, so we work together.
AAF: Your work at K11 is lengthy compared to some other examples of digital media art. Are you, or have you been influenced by feature films made by Pixar and DreamWorks?
Miao Xiaochun: Several years ago, I had a conversation with the Pixar; their team had just five people. One writes stories; one creates models and so on. But I am just one man. However, here are good and bad sides about it. Since I am alone, I have more freedom to create because I don’t pay much for my work. I will not think too much about how much I have paid and how can I earn it back. When they spend a lot on one movie, they have to consider how the audience will react and how can they appeal to the audience. Under this condition, it is impossible to do creative job and make innovative works. Therefore, the starting point of my work is to do what I want to do and not think about making money.
AAF: That’s true, even though the technology is developing so fast and it is easier to use software and programs, people have higher expectations. When they see media art, they expect it to be real. What do you think about the influence of media art?
Miao Xiaochun: Although it is different from painting, which only needs one person, it still requires not more than ten people. If there are too many people work together, it will be hard to command them what to do.
AAF: Which software do you use for your work?
Miao Xiaochun: I will hire some people who specialize in certain software and some graduates from the CAFA where I work as a professor. I will first discuss monthly payments with them and then we work together every day like in a company. Sometimes some students work with me as I work in the school, but I think their priority is to study, so I will make sure they have time to work with me every day.
AAF: In your opinion, what role does art play in modern society?
Miao Xiaochun: I think art is very important. Compared with animals, we are distinguishable because of science and art. We can know and understand the world and then create it though our own imagining. On another side, we can express our emotions and dreams through art. While animals can’t express their feelings like us since they cannot create paintings, sculptures, and videos. However, human beings can express feelings through art and connect with other people, no matter at present or in the future. Art can connect people’s thoughts through generations as well as different countries. For example, when I enjoy art of German and Britain, I can understand their cultures and thoughts. This is why art interests me. Art can transcend many things.
AAF: Nowadays people can go to museums and galleries to appreciate art and they can also know about art through MicroBlog or WeChat. Besides, people can also see art exhibitions in shopping malls, like your exhibition in the K11 Foundation. What do you think of this phenomenon?
Miao Xiaochun: I think it is very important to have those platforms for art. Traditional art can now be spread through networks like WeChat. In the Song dynasty for example, many scripts and paintings were exhibited in stores or teahouses, because at that time there were no museums or galleries. Many painters work for the emperor and his family but they get little payments. Therefore, in order to live better, they will paint for stores and teahouses. Those stores can have better reputations with those royal painters’ works. So this win-win method has existed for a long history in China. I think it is very interesting.
AAF: That’s the case. But people still feel strange about the recent exhibition of Monet at the shopping mall. But actually museum appears only in modern time, isn’t it?
Miao Xiaochun: Yes. In China, the history of museum is shorter. In ancient time, when people appreciate hand scopes, normally they only share between friends. They cannot see a scope of paintings at museums. They can only occasionally see one or two paintings from friends, just like climbing a mountain step by step, you can see different views at different time.
About Miao Xiao Chun
- 1964 Born in Wuxi, Jiangsu, China
- 1989 Graduated from the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) with MA Degree
- 1999 Graduated from the Kunsthochschule Kassel, Germany with MA Degree
- Professor at CAFA, works and lives in Beijing