Zi Bai is having his first solo exhibition in Kunming. The exhibition, Made in Spectacle Society is a photo-based exhibition, the works are from 2007-2008. Zi Bai was born in Xishuangbanna and has now moved to Kunming. We asked him a couple of questions about his art and what inspires him.
Can you tell us about the project and how you came to choose this subject matter?
In 2007 I visited landfills and garbage dumps in the city were I am from, Xishuangbanna, and I was shocked from what I saw. There were these huge piles of garbage. People shop a lot more these days. China has become more capitalistic and commercialized and people have more money, and spend more money on things. Sometimes it seems like when people shop they don´t know where the waste ends up.
In 2008 the American government criticized China for not having control of their pollution and garbage, but what I realized was that most of the products at the landfill was American. American Coca Cola cans, or beer bottles from Budweiser etc. I also heard that Budweiser has done a lot of promotion for their beer in China, and for example given away cars to the bars that sold the most Budweiser in a year.
So I decided to start photographing this, because I wanted to portray the details. In photography you can see the details more than you can in paintings. The details became clearer. I am interested in what’s under the surface, and by focusing on the details I am able to do that.
How would you describe your work process from idea to work?
I was really interested in consumption and this led to my visits to different garbage dumps. I was shocked at the vast amount of garbage. That’s why I started this project.
Normally I start with an idea, like in this case visiting the garbage dumps, taking lots of photos of different things, as much as possible really. Then start working with the photos on the computer. This time I visited the garbage dumps several times to get the best and most detailed photographs.
For this project I started by looking for coca cola bottles and cans. But noticed that there was an other brand, a chinese drink called Wong Lo Kat, which there was a lot of too. These cans are red and look similar to the coca cola cans.
I also found a lot of used syringes at the garbage dumps. I was shocked about this, because these syringes can carry a lot of diseases and should be destroyed at the hospitals.
Can you name an artist/artwork or exhibition that has inspired you?
One artist that I am inspired by is Andreas Gursky. He has photographed shopping centers like the one called 99cents and I photograph garbage at landfills.
Why do you want to make the recycle places look beautiful?
In China everything is suppose to look beautiful, but under the surface there is a lot of problems. That is what I’m trying to show with these pictures.
My pictures can be used as beautiful decorations to hang in your living room, and when something is beautiful, you just look at it as beautiful; you don’t see it for what it really is. But if you look closer, under the surface, there is something disturbing. And that is what I am trying to create with these works.
Have you experienced that your work has influenced people, socially, or have you gotten any reactions?
Not directly, but when I had an exhibition in Shanghai, there were served cans with drinks for the people visiting the exhibition. Everybody just threw the empty cans on the floor. I let the cans be there as a part of the exhibition. This was interesting for me to notice how the people acted and then it became a part of the exhibition.
Why is it interesting with many objects piled together?
One wasted can is no danger in it self. But when you see piles of cans it is powerful, almost scary. I cannot breath and it gives me a feeling of claustrophobia.
Why or is art important?
Good art can change human beings and how we see things.