At first I was tired of the old mediums: photography, installation, mediums that are too old.At the same time, there were lots of video artists but I found nothing that interested me, that I could correspond with. And then the digital arrived: finally a contemporary language, finally a tool with which to evoke the actual reality, the contemporary world.
Bruno Lathuliere：How did you enter the world of digital art?
Du Zhenjun: I underwent an art experience spanning from the Middle Ages to the end of the 19th century – the impressionists, while of course passing by abstract art of the 60s and photography and installations of the 80s – to come to the irreversible conclusion: all these artistic forms are languages that are passé.
I was teaching traditional Chinese painting at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, thus I originally had a very classical training. After that I was very much engaged in plastic art: first with abstract paintings, then installations and photography in the 80s. It took me almost twenty years, with a strong classical education and a practice of traditional paintings with techniques that date back to the Renaissance, before I took up digital art. Twelve years ago when I arrived in France, I was still working a lot with the medium of painting, and it was equally that time that I started working with photography and the digital media.
It was only in 1997 that I acquired my first computer. A Pentium, 176 MGH, a baby today’s terms… at this period, I suddenly felt that a new language would finally emerge. Another interesting thing happened during this time: I felt it was the madness that characterizes this universe, the addiction that is shared by the group of people who have the equipment. The people of this era are in front of the screen all the time and no longer leave the computer: it’s like the arrival of the television as a media: suddenly people modify their behaviour and no longer go out of the house or have discussions with each other, and the world is changed irreversibly. This was the same case with the arrival of the computer: society was changed. And so was my lifestyle, my artistic expression.
Lathuliere：And you, are you a victim of this dependence, or are you able to keep a critical distance?
Du: This is inevitable: if you are passionate about new technologies, you cannot avoid becoming dependent. It’s precisely this relationship between man and the machine that interests me: it is always impossible to separate what arises from the positive or the negative. It’s an actual phenomenon; it exists.
Lathuliere：How should this relationship be critiqued while using new technology?
Du: My latest work is called Cover. It was exhibited at the Gaite Lyrique in November 2003 and will be shown in the Lille 2004. It is presented like this: all the information, all the images in this work are extracts from the universe of the television. If you are not in front of it, it doesn’t move; only when you are present will it begin to shake, and starts the animation.
It consists of different images from television that have been edited and sequenced so that they are animated only when exposed to the viewer; and at this moment I emerge. I aim to ‘cover’ the news and I’m only there when the viewer is present, if not I remain hidden. I always stay between the viewer and the images, if the visitor moves, I move as well and always stay in front of you.
The role of the journalist is thus to ‘discover’ the truth. As for me I’m doing the contrary, because this is not the truth. My role is then to ‘cover’ this, in the real sense of the word and of course figuratively speaking as well.
Lathuliere：What does the multimedia as an art form mean to you specifically, as an artist, is it something that you would not find anywhere else?
Du: At the moment, what interests me the most is still interactivity; interactivity not for playing but which obliges the visitor to integrate with the device and to function in the ‘work’. It’s a way of trapping, it’s – for me as much as for the visitor – a way of working
on the dimension of power inherent to a society of information and new technologies. we are in a dictatorship of information and new technologies, it’s exactly what it is today.
Lathuliere：You like the theme of manipulation a lot, there are tracking, chases, scenes with people chased by the police or with people being filmed by a camera in public spaces…
Du: Yes, it’s only with these tools, in these devices, that one can present this phenomenon, that one can talk about the life of today. A painting cannot do this, at least that’s what I believe. In the digital domain, even if there aren’t a lot of finalized works at this time, the activity itself is on the other hand in constant reproduction, the dynamic is actual.
What I want to say is that, it’s very difficult to express a sentiment of today’s living conditions with paintings. The digital arts, on the other hand, allow these personal sentiments to ‘evacuate’ and ‘emerge’, but at the same time they are shared collectively.