Zhou Wendou interview


For the first time Zhou Wendou is exhibiting his extraordinary installation ADHD in Hong Kong, at the de Sarthe Gallery. Eunice Tsang dives into conversation with the Beijing-born artist to learn about psychology and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and video games – we live in a time of constant distractions and moments for reflection have disappeared. Zhou Wendou examines this shift in his installation ADHD, named after attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a particularly 21st century disease. The single piece consists of a chrome sphere, residing in a fountain of ink and covered in windshield wipers that swipe back and forth, depicting the repetitive nature of life today. Audience members are invited to question the consequences of an entire culture diagnosed with ADHD. 

We chat to Wendou about what inspired the piece and his evolution from painter to instiallation artist.

How did your career get started?
When I was 15 I was studying at 168 Secondary School, which is just next to China Central Academy of Fine Arts. From our second floor balcony we could see the students drawing in the classroom. At that time, I thought drawing was pretty simple and fun, so I gave up my senior high school entrance exam and enrolled in an art school instead. In 1989, when I was doing my Grade 12, I went to the China Avant-Garde exhibition then on at the National Art Museum of China, which impacted me hugely. It was then that I decided to pursue a career as an artist.

You lived in Spain for 10 years. How did that influence your artistic practice?
In Spain, art is life, and the fun of life is the fun of art. With the balmy climate and ample sunlight, Spain is home to a more poetic, humorous – if not farcical – interpretation of art, instead of [one focusing on] struggles and cruelty.

What made you switch from painting to creating installation art?
In 2000, at the Academy of Fine Arts, Complutense University of Madrid, the dean spoke to me during a drawing critique lesson. “Wendou, I’ve been observing you for a long time,” he said. “You draw and paint well and you are the best in the class. But, you know, there are hundreds of thousands of people in Madrid who can draw as well as you.” I was floored, but it made me realise I [had to do more] to make a difference. The next day, I put away my paint brushes and started to think about what I was actually good at.

What fascinates you most in life?
Space which you can see but you can’t touch – black holes, wormholes, antimatter, dark matter, gravitational waves and all that. They’re all so magical.

Can you tell us more about ADHD?
In the metro it’s noticeable that people always shake their legs unconsciously. Medically speaking, it’s a sign of anxiety and attention disorder. That’s how the term ADHD came to my mind. There’s no direct link between ADHD and leg shaking, but they share the same idea. The uncontrollable-ness that lurches through our muscle movements, broadly speaking, also lurches through our society – the attention deficit, mechanical repetition, hyperactivity and many other actions that are out of our control. Isn’t such a dilemma a part of our daily lives? That’s why I want to launch an exhibition to invite the audience to rethink our lives and our society.

You strive to make the ordinary extraordinary. What exactly interests you in your daily life?
I believe interesting things are always happening throughout our daily lives. For instance, one day I was in a sculpture factory. A red circle emerged at the back of the boards, which looked like a warm sunset. I was very excited and an idea immediately came to my mind – I could make a similar installation with an auto-tracked oxygen-acetylene torch at the back, to randomly graffiti the steel boards.  

And what are you creating now?
I’m now building an ‘item dictionary’, which defines thingamabobs based on my understanding and explores the implications of them. For example – “Linoleum: the final isolation between the sky and human beings.”

Is there anything you would like to keep exploring?
To discover ‘the use of the useless’, so I can dispel the distance between something’s utility and artistic value. That way everything will become obvious and straightforward.

ADHD de Sarthe Gallery, Mar 24-Apr 23; desarthe.com.


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