Interviewer/An WanYue/Zhang Yumeng
Zhou Yujie is a visual artist who uses photography as her primary medium and combines archival, text and digital media. Her creative attempts to examine and critique the relationship between mainstream historical narratives and individual experiences through self-reflection, aiming to provide visual representations of unseen histories and experiences under complex systems of censorship and surveillance. She graduated in Mechanical Engineering in 2019, and studied for a Master of Fine Arts in Photography at Aalto University in Finland. Her works have been exhibited in Luxelakes·A4 Art Museum (Chengdu) and Dipoli Gallery (Finland).
Women always have roles defined by society: girls, wives, mothers, grandmothers, but each woman is rich and has a different life outside of their defined roles. The work collects the artist's memory of the great-grandmother, hoping that the family will have time to truly get to know each other, and also express the living conditions and personal experiences of women in different eras.
"I have their shadows on me. I see myself in their eyes and the pictures I take for them, and I know myself better."
An: What led you to create family-themed work?
Zhou: After graduating from an undergraduate degree in the United States in the summer of 2019, I returned to my hometown, Chengdu, because of the long-awaited return. My great-grandmother passed away in 2017, and when I returned to the home she used to live in, I heard from my cousin a lot about her past and saw many photos and objects that I had never seen before; one of the photos was of my great-grandmother when she was young She was photographed at the time, and she looked like something I had never seen before, both familiar and unfamiliar. My great-grandmother was a woman with bound feet, her husband died when she was pregnant with her fourth child, and she supported the family by herself in the years that followed. In my memory, she is a very traditional, stubborn, but also very staunch
staunch and strong person.
As I recall her, I think of my mother, my aunt, and my grandmother, who were all very independent and strong women. My grandmother was a person who was always passionate and curious about things. Born in 1949, she has experienced great changes and reforms in Chinese society throughout her life. Like all the silent and hard-working rural Chinese women, she is tough, hard-working, and maintains an optimistic attitude no matter what the circumstances. My mother is a very typical independent woman. She has worked hard for the family alone for more than 20 years.
I grew up in a family environment where women are the masters of the house. Their education and influence have made me who I am, a feminist, although they may not know what the term feminist means, and have never There is no claim that they are feminists. Every woman has a different life experience and story before she becomes a role endowed by society. "Four Women" aims to start from the family, to understand and tell the stories of women from different eras around them. This work is also the process of a family getting to know each other and themselves.
Zhang: My works also focus on the stories of different women around me. Although they were born in different eras, they all have a kind of resilience to survive the torrent of history. In each era, young people face different problems and challenges. In this work, you express a dialogue between four different times and spaces in a way that connects the past and the present. In the context of the current environment, do you have any views on the era that the new generation is facing?
Zhou: I have been thinking about this issue for a long time, but so far I have no idea. In the current environment, the directivity of the word "we" is difficult to define, and who "we" refers to.
Personally, I have always been interested in history, and many of the historical events I follow are English-based readings. Recently re-reading Susan Sontag's On Photography. In the last chapter, the world of images, the author describes the difference between photography in Western countries and China at that time when Michelangelo Antonioni shot the documentary "China" in China in 1972. In the article, the author uses a lot of "we" to refer to Western countries, while using a lot of "them" to refer to China.
Confused about whether you belong to 'us' or 'them' when reading. As a reader who is now studying and living in a Western country and reading in English, I seem to belong to the "we" in the context of the book; but I am not, and at the same time, I cannot substitute for the "them" in the definition of the book. The state of transition between us" and "them".
The real-time dissemination of current information allows people to quickly know what is happening in their hometown or China. This real-time nature makes people feel as if they still belong to "them", but the physical distance makes me no longer belong to "them".
Zhang: The historical spans in this work are constantly interspersed with each other, and some new dialogues have arisen. For example, the Tik Tok filter your grandmother used to take a selfie is somewhat similar to the red posters and big-character posters in the 1970s. Is there any connection?
Zhou: The creative intention of this work is to focus on the personal experience under the grand historical narrative, to record and discuss the stories of the most important people around me in the historical torrent where individual development has been neglected. So I photographed posters representing the grand historical narrative of the time together with their personal belongings to express individuals who were ignored by history.
Originally started using tik tok filters just for fun. My grandmother is a very energetic person and very curious about new things. She saw that everyone was playing tik tok and she wanted to play too, so she created this series. The filters used in the work are related to the visual language of the red propaganda posters in the 1970s, and both represent the popular culture of their era. This kind of red propaganda posters and big-character posters is actually a filter added under the historical narrative.
Zhang: Has the work "Four Women" been exhibited abroad? In the process of exhibiting, did you gain new feedback that gave you a new understanding of this work?
Zhou: There have been two exhibitions recently, one is the school’s open call for photography students, and the other is a double exhibition with friends. These two exhibitions are the first time the project has been presented. This project started in 2019, and when I came to Finland, I didn't think to continue this work. Every time a work is discussed in school, everyone is particularly interested in it. Many scenes and things that we are familiar with are relatively unfamiliar to foreigners, because many of what they have learned and seen are stereotyped Chinese culture.
An: In these two exhibitions, faced with different exhibition environments and spatial conditions, how did you consider environmental factors? Does this narrative work in different settings bring you any new ideas?
Zhou: Exhibition is another way for artists to practice their ideas. I have never wanted to present the image in a purely two-dimensional form. The image and space should be combined to materialize the image itself and display it as a three-dimensional object.
In the exhibition at Dipoli Gallery, the choice of wood as the material for the photos of my great-grandmother is partly because wood represents a heavy, heavy meaning, just like these photos do for me. On the other hand, wood contains the meaning of root. The use of transparent cloth to present some photos of the body and hands is because I hope the audience can view the work from different angles.
In the exhibition at V1 Gallery, I used a harder material cloth to present images of some objects, making them sculptural photographs, and making "objects" "objects". In addition, I also made a wooden structure installation, connecting the photos printed on the fabric with red lines, intending to express the kinship between generations through these zigzag red lines. These two exhibitions are more experiments to explore image and space.
Installation View, 2022, Dipoli Gallery, Espoo, Finland
Installation View, 2022, V1 Gallery, Espoo, Finland
Zhang: You have always used a more delicate way to present your work, including the choice of materials. Can you talk about why you chose fabric as your medium?
Zhou: During the creative process, I have been thinking about what materials to use to present the work. When choosing fabrics, I was worried that the whole work would be too feminine, because fabrics are generally considered a feminine medium in contemporary art. But in the end I chose fabric because before it became a modern art material, fabric was the only material women could get and create with.
Where are you from
"All solid things melt in the air." Memory is more or less insoluble, however, ice can freeze it. Ice has more space than water, and such space transcends everyday experience and translates into a progressive, ephemeral state of suspension. This suspended state is the artist's answer to "where are you from".
In this interactive installation, the audience is abstracted into dots, lines and images. The images come from stones picked up near an apartment in Helsinki. The sound is composed of recorded recordings of the collision of these stones. The dimensions of the images and shapes are determined by the sound. This installation is a continuation and ongoing questioning of "where are you from".
An: Was this work about stones shot in Finland?
Zhou: After coming to Finland, I shot all over Europe, some in Italy and Greece. The original intention of this work is to connect some of my personal emotions and memories. My mother often picks up rocks when she travels, and no matter how far she travels, she picks them up and goes home. After I came to Finland, I went to the beach near my apartment for a walk every day. After watching the stones on the beach for a long time, I also began to learn from her to pick up stones and go home.
The stone itself implies solidity and eternity, and it contains a long span of time and space. A small stone takes a long time to form. We don't know where it came from and how it was washed to form the stone you see now. But after years of wind and rain, it may eventually turn into a pile of dust. In the current environment, all those seemingly fixed things may finally turn into a mass of sand like a stone, and solidification is only a stage. The transformation process of this stone from solid to sand and ice from solidification to melting is what the work focuses on.
Lost in Translation
Standing in front of the blocked historical text, I turned on the camera of Google Translate, and I danced the third set of national middle school students' radio gymnastics "Dancing Youth" in front of me. The translation process from Chinese to English changed because of my physical changes. In a state of aphasia and collective amnesia, in carefully constructed public memory, individual memory can also be dangerous, it is erased and forgotten. How do I, or we, look and remember?
Zhang: You seem to have a special feeling for words. Is this work trying to dissolve these words?
Zhou: It can be understood in this way. This work is some of my feelings about the fragmentation of current information dissemination: by intercepting articles on various social media, fragmented expressions are used to express fragmented reading in the new media era. These fragmented text images are also an expression of current censorship systems, information access and the discretization of information sources.
An: What Yu Jie and I have in common is that we do not want to be defined by a specific identity or role; Yu Jie’s works use words to dissolve our social identity, while I use a more visual way.
Zhang: Does your experience in the Finnish language environment have any influence on your current creation?
Zhou: The work "Lost in Translation" was created under the stimulation of language barriers after coming to Finland. In Finland, most public places such as supermarkets use Finnish, so when I go out, I usually use Google Translate's photo translation to translate the Finnish on the items into Chinese or English. However, when the phone camera recognizes the hand, the screen produces a grid that resembles a failure mode. This failure mode inspired me to create this video work.
On the one hand, this work aims to express the sense of distance from the society due to language barriers; because of language problems, people will always have a sense of alienation from the whole society. On the other hand, it is about the impact of language and cultural differences on the culture and the individual itself. For example, in Finnish it is gender-neutral, and they use hän to mean all her and him. In this language and culture, people's perception of gender is very different from China or other English-speaking countries, and this experience has also made me personally pay more attention to the specific cultural differences in the language.