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Burn with Inspirations

Change is a constant state of this world.

Born in Changsha, Hunan in 1991, Shengwei Zhou is a digital artist, scriptwriter and director. Graduating from the School of Arts, Peking University, Zhou was once the distinguished lecturer of the artists’ workshop there, and the final judge of the “Exploration” Short Video Series in the 22nd Shanghai International Film Festival.

Shengwei Zhou

His representative work, SHe, was nominated for the “Best Animated Film” of the 21st Shanghai International Film Festival, and shortlisted for more than 30 honors of international film festivals, including the Competition Round of “Animation is Film 2019”, the 24th L’Étrange Festival, the 24th Fantasia International Film Festival, etc.

Meanwhile, it won the honor of “Best Feature Film of the 6th Chongqing Youth Film Exhibition”.

Besides, SHe has been exhibited in many places, including UCCA (Ullens Contemporary Center of Art), Beijing Broadway Film Center, Beijing Today Art Museum, Shanghai Himalayas Art Museum, and Shanghai HOW Art Museum, and collected by Shanghai HOW Art Museum.

Shengwei Zhou and his film SHe have been recommended by the column of top-ranking media, including China Newsweek, Nanfang People Weekly, Oriental Outlook, Vista Story, Sir Film, etc. In the “Douban’s Most-Anticipated Chinese Independently-made Films of the Year 2018,”, it ranked at the fifth place.

Poster of SHe
Poster of SHe

The Metamorphosis is the first work of Wei that I watched. The unique style of his works made me eager to know him. Then, I had the honor to meet him on the ISFVF organized by the Beijing Film Academy. After chatting with him for a while, I was deeply impressed by his straightforwardness, carefulness, cheerfulness, and realness.

I admire and appreciate all indefatigable dream-chasers. SHe is the first feature animation created by him. The whole animation lasting for around 95 minutes took him six years to shoot. Made up of more than 58,000 photos, most roles and settings were designed based on daily necessities. He made around 268 models, all by himself. As to news reporting of SHe, I would not mention it too much, for too many authoritative media have covered it.

Talk with Shengwei Zhou

Q: Has the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 affected your plan in 2020? How have you spent the “STAY HOME” period?

A: I have not been greatly influenced by it. After finishing shooting the new film Art is Dead, I decided to go back home, celebrating the New Year and taking a period of rest. But the epidemic lengthened my home stay. I thought that I could take a good rest at home. It never occurred to me that it was so boring at home that I had to do something. Therefore, I started reading all kinds of books, and studied specific topics, attempting to summarize my intuitive creation from the theoretical perspective and find out a path suitable for myself. Therefore, I read a lot of books about the history of art. Combining my background knowledge of film acquired from the film directing program, I gradually found that I could probably seek an interdisciplinary career, that is, to not do things by logical thinking and not belonging myself to any existing stable system. What is at the core of the system is creativity or concept. For example, SHe symbolizes an integration between installation art and stop-motion animation films. Art is Dead represents an intersection between the conceptual art and the documentary film. This epidemic made me increasingly realize that change is a constant state of this world. Therefore, I hope I can stimulate more possibilities in the cross-field changes.

Around one month following the outbreak of the epidemic, I started learning English and preparing my application, since my document summary and analysis were almost completed. Over the past few months, I have been preparing for my language tests, hoping that I can one day study abroad for a period of time, and find some new platforms to further realize my pursuit of an interdisciplinary career. Therefore, many actions are taken during the journey rather than as planned. Previously, I decided to take a rest for one to two months. But things were changed, and I went back to the busy learning life of Grade 12. At present, I am doing exercises in the daytime and reviewing my lessons in the evening. Every minute counts to me, and the time passes by swiftly.

Manuscripts of SHe

Q: Is the current life the same to what you imagined five years ago? Are you a person fond of making plans for yourself or feeling free to change? What are surprises that you have achieved in this process?

A: I did not have too many plans for my future five years ago. I just wanted to finish shooting SHe. Personally, I am a person concerned about my present life. But to focus on the present is not equal to being casual. In fact, I can easily become anxious and cannot be quite casual. What I do is to try my best to capture the present, and then dig the value of the present in a relatively reasonable way.

In fact, my creation can also reflect this personality trait. For example, the scenario and role design of SHe is very special. Many people have asked me how I came up with these design plans. Actually, my creation is usually an outcome of my observation along the journey rather than an outcome of my preliminary design. When I was about to graduate, I found that people around me had many items that were not in use. So I collected these items therefrom. I have never spent lots of time and energy in doing something strenuous. But when I redesigned these waste items, my brain was strained, that is, the general direction should remain unchanged. But the details can be adjusted according to materials, styles and characteristics of the waste items.

Another example is an exhibition in the new film Art is Dead. Because of my limited budget, I could not design an exhibition in the conventional sense. At that time, the fine art guidance team had their own workshop, which was a very daily space. Then, I told the fine arts group that we would not put up the exhibition but directly defined the current space as the exhibition. To all audiences visiting the exhibition, this daily space was an exhibition. All things in the space were included. Even the audiences were part of the exhibition. Then, I would interview their opinions on this exhibition. Then, the play suddenly reminded people of the fairy story, The Emperor’s New Clothes. All audiences, afraid of being classified as people not knowing art, gave especially interesting feedback to this exhibition. Finally, I did not spend even one pence but achieved effects better than expected.

Therefore, either turning waste items into scenario pop-ups or presenting elements in the play from a new perspective, all these are surprises newly generated in the process. They are actually an outcome of different perspectives. So the plan could not reflect changes all the time, and casualness could not be rational all the time. But this does not mean that we let things drift but we seek a method to have a dialogue with the changes in a drifting status.

Q: When you made SHe, had you expected or known that you would achieve so much now? What do you want to speak to the “you” in that period?

A: To be honest, it had never occurred to me that I would achieve so much, but I still had lots of anticipation. Personally, I am not a person with a pure heart and few desires. I have my ambition, and I would wait for my moment patiently. At the same time, I believe in the force of reality. The internal core of SHe is real. Though it has many defects and problems, its emotional internal core and outlook on the world are real. From the moment that I started this project, I had much expectation for it. But at that time, I kept myself in my own world for too long, without too many opportunities to deal with the society. Therefore, it was not until SHe was completed that I found that to finish something under a socialized context was too hard, which required too much luck and opportunities. Every external growth of SHe was a good luck for me. So I want to say to the me at that time, “Wretch, you are so lucky.”

Images from SHe

Q: What is your favorite film?

A: I think there is not an exact answer to this question. At the age of 10, my favorite film was Harry Potter, because it ushered me into a new world and set wings to my imagination the first time. At the age of 20, I would say my favorite film was the film by Tsai Mingliang, because I watched films of different genres at that time. But no matter what film I watched, I would forget that the boring real world was taken into the film. Tsai Mingliang’s work was the first one that I could face up to the emotional image, and accept the boring image. At the age of 25, my favorite film was the one made by Haneke, because the images in his film, like a scalpel, could directly dissect things that were the realest to you. The visual impact could not be brought by other images.

Currently, it seems that I have no films or directors that I am especially interested in. On the contrary, I start understanding the digital art and virtual reality. If there is anything that can exert an visual impact on me in the future as things did previously, then the visual impact might appear in the field of creation activities related to virtual reality.

Q: Your style is very eye-catching. Will you try other styles or maintain your own style in the future?

A: In fact, Art is Dead is a work completely different from SHe. There is not even one dialogue in SHe; but Art is Dead is filled with compact dialogues. The protagonist in SHe is the waste item, while Art is Dead is to photograph the real person. As to differences in form, SHe is obvious in terms of its styling, and has integrated the expressionist and surrealist styles, but Art is Dead is in essence a documentary film. Regarding differences in content, Art is Dead is a large-scale falsification scene, a social experiment or an art of behavior. My styles are flexible and variable, but the internal core remains unchanged. For example, I pay attention to the internal core similar to the relationship between the individual and the invisible network. SHe represents a trial of strength between a female shoe and the power system behind, while Art is Dead is a trial of strength between a nonexistent artist and the capital force behind him. Under such a setting, there is a lot worth discussion that is amplified.

Q: Apart from films, your handicraft is also independent and unique. How will you make a balance between your work and your life? Which channels can be sources of your inspiration?

A: To me, inspiration is an outcome of a suffering and burning process. It feels that something you have not noticed in your daily life has crawled to you. Then, you feel as if your body is stuck by things invisible. These things are an unconscious accumulation. Everything you see and hear will slowly get fermented into these things, which are attached to your body like wandering ghosts. One day, you suddenly feel extremely tired and painful as if you will get suffocated when you are walking. Then, your internal temperature starts rising, and you set a fire to burn out all these wandering ghosts. When they are burning, the exploded sparks are inspiration. After the inflammation, you feel much more relaxed or empty. Then, you will feel anxious again, but anxiety will provide you with a new magnetic field. Then, another wave of things is attracted. The process goes on and on.

Wei's handicrafts

Q: Can you share your follow-up works with us?

A: Just now, I talked about many details of my new film, Art is Dead, whose post-production has not yet been finished. I think this film is more like the performance art, and a falsified but real social experience. When all people living in the real world are discussing about a nonexistent person, then what would happen? When these lies are gradually fermented into facts, what will happen? There is not the so-called truth. The era of Rashomon narrated around the truth has gone. I think the era of narrating and constructing facts rather than the era when facts are narrated has come. The boundary between reality and falseness has been blurred. My new film is an image miniature.

Poster of Art is Dead

Q: Are you satisfied with your current self? Is there any field that you want to continue making breakthroughs in?

A: Not quite satisfied. If I am really satisfied with myself, my creation career would come to an end. Just as I mentioned above, I wanted to try an “interdisciplinary” career. If possible, I would keep on learning in the field of digital art and virtual reality, thus finding new possibilities.

Wei and participants in Art is Dead

Q: What do you think of success? How do you cope with your frustrating moments?

A: In my opinion, “success” and “failure” are terms to show superiority of the class which one belongs to. In fact, these two terms do not exist in my life dictionary. To me, “destiny” and “drift” are better replacements. Everyone has his or her destiny, or his or her own way of existence. Some unconsciously arrive at the destination; while some can realize their destiny, thus letting nature take its course or struggling for a better outcome. In the process, he or she might “drift” away from his or her original course of life. If the life experience is described by “success” and “failure”, then holders of vested interest are turning their destiny into a kind of criterion, which is used to measure others and display the superiority of their class. Long ago, the criterion referred to money and fame by default. In other words, a successful person should have both wealth and fame. But time has been changed, and there are new criteria coming up, such as whether a person is happy, whether he or she is enjoying his or her life, and whether he or she has lived in the way that he or she desires. However, not every life is happy, and not everyone can live in the way dreamed of. The holders of vested interest have turned from the rich in the past into “people pursuing their desired lifestyle”. So I do not think failure will make a person frustrated. It is the way how failure and success defines life that would frustrate a person.


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