An Interview with Zhong Biao

University of Pittsburgh doctoral student Yijing Wang interviews Chinese artist Zhong Biao at the artist’s lecture at the University of Pittsburgh’s Frick Fine Arts Building February 22, 2016.

1.The Illusional Universe 幻真的宇宙 painting, video and installation绘画、影像、装置 圣玛利亚教堂 意大利威尼斯 2013
Zhong Biao, The Illusional Universe, 2013, Painting and Video, Courtesy of the Zhong Biao

Yijing Wang: How do you understand the concept of time? What does time mean to you?

Zhong Biao: Time appears to proceed linearly only because we ourselves are in it. In fact, time has multi-dimensional forms. The ancients lived in a three-dimensional space and a linear time. Nowadays, through mobile communications and the Internet, people can transcend their real existence to achieve communication from different place, entering a four-dimensional world without spatial limits. People from the last century could hardly imagine that the world progresses more efficiently just by the work done by people sitting in front of the computer or using the mobile phone instead of doing the labor work. Thus, human has entered the four-dimensional world overall. In the five-dimensional world, different times exist coevally in different temporal sections. In my view, though too far to perceive, the six-dimensional world or even the ten-dimensional time and space already happened.

YW: In your works you juxtapose imagery from the past and the present, China and other countries. Could you tell us about this? How do you conceptualize the past? What is your understanding of your own relationship with the past and the future?

ZB: The universe holds all the past. The future is the reversed past. There is no present in time. The present is inside ourselves. Looking outside, we see the past and the future. Looking inside, we see the eternal present. There is no past, no future. Taking time as a cake, one side is the past yet the other is the future if it is cut into half. There is no present in the cake. The present lies in the knife that cut the cake, the hand that holds the knife and the brain that controls the hand. In fact, no one can live in the past and no one can position themselves in the future. It is the present that has body temperature, that is the only scene of life. The whole meaning of the existence of the past and the future is to activate every present moment.

YW: I once heard you say that you have always been interested in the past, but as your career developed, you also became interested in the future. What caused this shift in interest? Your massive exhibition Zhong Biao: To the Future in Shanghai in 2010 reveals your particular interests in the concept of “future”. Do you have faith that art can help shape the future.

ZB: As we know, the starry sky holds the past of the universe. Taking the sun and the moon as examples, it takes eight minutes and nineteen seconds for the sunlight to reach the earth. Thus the sun we see is the sun eight minutes and nineteen seconds ago. Similarly, the moon we see is the moon 1.28 seconds ago. Something we see one kilometer away is actually the existence that existed 3.34 microseconds ago. However close we are to an object, what we see is its existence in the past. One can never see its existence that is happening in the present moment. When one looks over, all the past subpackaged in different spatial passages come to us at the velocity of light. Hubble Space Telescope has observed the original galaxy thirteen billion light-years away from the earth. Rays of light from these galaxies come from the early stage of the just-formed universe after the big bang. All the past that has happened will never vanish but is being delivered to a farther place. So where is the future? Perhaps the future has already happened. We just cannot see it from our current perspective. Just like dominoes, the fallen down is like the past; the standing is the future; the moment of falling down is the present. If we position ourselves in the current perspective of the dominoes, we see the past fallen down consecutively when we look back; we see the closest future standing in the front when we look forward. Though we cannot see further, the future already exists, awaiting us in front. In my view, the past, the present and the future is a unity that already exists. We just entered part of the unity and everything already existed but only appear when we pass it.

Zhong Biao is a professor in the oil painting department of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in China.  He was born in Chongqing, China. He studied at the Zhejiang Fine Arts Academy in Hangzhou, China, and graduated from the department of oil painting in 1987. His many works explore the changing relations between time and space during China’s rapid evolution from isolationism to an urbanized modern state. His works have been exhibited in major museums in China, Italy, Indonesia, South Korea, Spain and the U.S. He currently lives and works in Chongqing and Beijing.