Dai Chenlian

“Art gave me a Reason to Live”- Interview with Artist Dai Chenlian

Benjamin Stromberg Insights, Interview Leave a Comment

After a one and a half hour drive by car from Beijing’s city centre to the south the many skyscrapers and blocks begin to clear. The end of the city isn’t reached, but instead another micro cosmos which is not part of the everyday life in the Chinese capital: Abandoned, decayed buildings and curious looks mark the way to the artist Dai Chenlian. His studio lays in this remote part of the city where proper administration by the government doesn’t exist anymore. The bald-headed man with the smart smile invites me into his premises and prepares a black tea. “Art gave me a reason to live”, he tells me. “It exists for me to express something. Through art I found my way to live happily.” So, how did he discover his hidden talent? “I think first of all you have to be sensitive and second you have to work hard”, is his answer. His path as an artist already guided him to Germany, where he lived in Dresden for a couple of years. Now he is back in China. Soon he is going to look for a new studio at the other end of the city, around two hours away.

“The artist should not always stay in the rules of safety. The questions should be questioned.” Nevertheless routine is very important for Dai during his work. Creativity and routine are no contradiction to him, but part of the same system: “I always use the powers of nature to change the routines like the elements. Usually I use water or fire. I want the routine to change or to break.” In a way, Dai provokes moments in which he could lose control, in order to gain control again and to create something new out of it: “I think a good artist is an artist who can also control his work. And I think my position is actually like being an editor. I have lots of materials and I have to choose them or to pick them or to combine them, just like an editor.” And how does he know when to publish? “I know it is finished when it can help someone else. If someone else gains something from the project there is a stopping point. And I will set a time for it. Like a pot of water will boil, it will come to its end”, he tells me.

But the end of a work is for Dai just a small mark on a long, maybe infinite journey. “Art always breaks itself and goes to the future, to the supposed next stage. […] And we can imagine what the future looks like and this is always imagined from now. It is the artist’s job do these imaginations and the artist will always stand with the future.” Right here lays for him the biggest difference between art and business: “Business is sometimes satisfied with its situation. The economy should create more ways or systems to overcome the separation of the rich and the poor people. They have to create stable systems if they want to make progress instead of standing at the same point.” Our translator and Dai’s friend, Zhang Heming, completes this perspective at the end of our talk and closes with a well known German artist: “As Beuys said famously, ‘everyone is an artist’. I don’t think that everyone should be an artist but I do think that everyone should be creative in his work. This is my personal dream.“

Interview and Blog-Post: Benjamin Stromberg

Translation: Benjamin Stromberg and Stephanie Barnes

Picture Source: The Artist


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