Whenever you arrive in a new country or city, there are certain things you have to do, rituals you perform to experience a new culture or find new inspiration: visiting a museum, savoring a cup of local coffee, finding a lookout point and watching the sunset, picking up a knick-knack at a flea market. For Beijing-based artist Chai Mi, one of these little rituals, whenever she arrives somewhere new, is to visit the local zoo. Since she began performing her multimedia work Captured Creatures, Chai has visited over 30 zoos in several countries.
一个人每到新的国家或城市，都会有一些必须完成的事情。这些事在生活中就好像一种仪式，我们能通过它们去体验新的文化、得到新的灵感。例如去一间博物馆、喝一杯当地的咖啡、找到最高的观景台去欣赏日落的景色，或者去跳蚤市场买些有趣的东西。而北京艺术家柴觅的小仪式，则是每到一个地方就会去一趟当地的动物园。在《困生》多媒体项目期间内，她已经去了世界各国 30 多个动物园。
Chai’s art involves multiple media, including painting, animation, installation, and live performance. Captured Creatures, her third work of “audiovisual theater,” combines moving images, contemporary dance, and sound design. By creating an experimental atmosphere, she wants to draw viewers into a state that gives them a new perspective on the relationship between people and animals, and between living things and the environment.
Her recent performance of the show at Nanchang’s Snarte Space was her fourth. Chai arrived four days before the show and spent each day from morning to night constantly rehearsing or preparing the stage. Yet on the hectic evening before opening night, Chai readily agreed to an interview. We spoke about the creative concept behind Captured Creatures and about how the show has developed.
Neocha: How did the idea for Captured Creatures come about?
Chai Mi: Usually my works come about in a fairly accidental way, as a result of some perhaps very trivial thing or feeling. The idea for Captured Creatures came about when it occurred to me one day that I had really happy memories of going to the zoo as a child. I decided to visit one again and see what it was like, but when I got there I couldn’t find that childhood happiness. Instead, I found several other feelings. So it got me wondering, why did I react the way I did? I wanted to find answers to those questions, so I started going to zoos, taking a camera along with me to record what I experienced. I went to more and more of them, and I found there’s a certain subtle connection between every city and its zoo. In Captured Creatures, I hope to be able to let everyone see or sense the relationship between people, animals, and the natural and built environments. That’s how this piece came about.
Neocha: You’ve performed Captured Creatures in Kuala Lumpur, Beijing, and La Rochelle. This performance in Nanchang is the fourth. How does each one differ?
Chai Mi: Underlying each performance is a fundamental structure, a graphic model I’ve laid out that’s based on the relationship between people and animals. Let me explain. On a graph, I draw two circles, one for humans and one for animals. These two circles are positioned in one of four possible relationships. In the first, the two are separate—they don’t touch each other. In the second, the circles intersect and share a common area. In the third, the circle for animals is larger than the one for humans, and it encloses it. In the fourth, the circle for humans encloses the one for animals.
Each performance has four parts, one for each possible relationship. For each part, I come up with a style of performance that corresponds to that relationship, and the dancers perform accordingly. But the order of the parts, and the details of the dancers’ movements, vary from performance to performance.
A second difference is that I constantly update the source images—the images of animals, images of spaces, and the live real-time composition effects. An attentive observer may note that the animals in each performance are rather different, as is the length of time an image might appear on screen, because here there are a lot of impromptu components.
A third difference is that every time, the collaborating dancers bring their individual styles. I’ve found that every dancer has their own body language, just as each person has their personality. This performance has a degree of freedom, but at the same time it also has rules, and in each performance, the scope of freedom bumps up against the boundaries of the rules.
Neocha: Could you talk a little bit about the projection and lighting effects? What role do they play?
Chai Mi: I’m fascinated by light and shadow. In this piece the projector is like a sun: it’s the most important, or rather the only source of light. Only when there’s light can we show images, and light is itself temporal. Watching the animals flickering across the walls, you enter a state of contemplation. A question then arises: are they real or not? At first, you think they’re not, but after watching for a bit you can no longer tell, and the images take on an illusory reality. The dancers are real, and in the performance, they’re right there in front of you, but when the performance is recorded on video, everything becomes an illusion. The subtitle of Captured Creatures is “spacetime illusion.” It highlights temporality, spatiality, illusion, and reality, and the possibility of combining or switching between them.
Neocha: Why do you use live performance in this piece?
Chai Mi: I wanted to create a work that could share my experiences. Around 2012 I started doing some pieces with live performance and quickly realized that it can easily immerse the audience in an atmosphere. This kind of immersion is very different from painting, video, or installation pieces because when a performance occurs in a space, that space seems to suddenly become a world filled with related experiences. With this performance, I’m not trying to tell you anything, teach you anything, or lead you anywhere. I want to achieve an arbitrary state, a state that’s confusing and suddenly divorced from reality. In such an atmosphere, it’s easier for people to gain a new understanding. It’s a bit like blurring your previous understanding and making you enter that blurriness. When you come out you just might have a new view on things.
柴觅: 我很希望去创造一个作品能够分享我一些感受。我大概 2012 年开始做一些跟现场演出相关的作品，很快就发现这种艺术形式很容易让观众融入到一个氛围里面来。这种融入感和绘画、录像、装置等作品很不一样，因为当一个演出发生在一个空间里的时候，就像是突然把这个空间变成了一个充满着相关体验的世界。我通过这个演出不想告诉你什么，去教你什么，或者去引导你。我想得到随想的一个状态，突然脱离现实的，会有一点点懵懵懂懂的状态。在这样的一个氛围里会比较容易让人去产生一个新的认知。有点像是把你原有的认知全都模糊化，然后让你进入这个模糊里。当你出来的时候可能就会重新对事物构建一个新的想法。
Neocha: How do you view zoos today? Do you plan to focus on animals in your work in the future?
Chai Mi: When I travel to developed countries, I see that not many people go to zoos. A lot of zoos are gradually merging with parks and don’t even charge for entry. I’ve also been to a lot of zoos in developing countries, and those are like playgrounds—everybody’s consuming the animals as entertainment. But do we really need to go to zoos? Now there are a lot of park-like animal preserves. There’s no need to put animals in cages, since we can experience them in their natural state.
As for the second question, very possibly. I’ve recently started thinking about the relationship between women and animals. What’s interesting is that humans really like white animals, albino animals. It seems things become especially fascinating when they’re rare, weak, and pure—which is how women have been imagined at certain times in history. Some pieces may come out of that, though it’s hard to say—a work needs constant thought before it takes a definitive shape.