An art virtuoso whose oeuvre spans painting, sculpture, installation and animation, Qiu Anxiong is one of China’s most prominent young contemporary artists. Born in Sichuan Province in 1972, he graduated from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute and had a five-year stint at University Kassel's College of Art in Germany before making Shanghai his permanent home. Qiu’s works are known for their profound and bleak contemplation on the relationship between man and nature, and criticism of mass urbanization and environmental degradation. His 2006 animation work, Flying South, will be auctioned at Christie’s Asia+ / First Open Sale in Hong Kong.
Were you born into an artistic family?
Qiu Anxiong: My uncle and father liked drawing things, but there’s no artist in the family. When I was little my parents would give me some paper and pens to draw with when they had to leave home for work, just so I had something to do. But I really got into it and by the time I was in high school I’d already set my mind to be an artist. I didn’t have a plan B.
How was the experience of living and studying in Germany?
It truly opened my eyes about the Western world, its social and cultural environments. In terms of art, I got an amazing opportunity to learn about Western art in-depth and up-close, to see the masterpieces in museums and galleries. I was in my 20s and although I was mainly trained as a painter, I wasn’t in the mood to settle with one method of art-making. After getting to study so many different disciplines of art in Europe, I was eager to experiment and explore. Overall that experience had a big impact on me as an artist.
What is it about animation that attracts you?
For me, the special thing about animation is that it contains the element of painting — something I’m familiar with — but unlike a canvas, it’s not stagnant. And since it’s animated it provides much more room than normal videos for one’s imagination. Another thing that’s special but not exactly ‘attractive’ is that it involves humongous volumes of work.
What can you tell us about Flying South?
It is my second animated work and discusses how our behaviour has changed both what’s outside and inside of us. The images were hand-painted using acrylic paint, while the style mimics that of Chinese ink painting. The work features one of my favourite motifs — birds, which for me symbolise freedom because they’re creatures of nature that can fly. So when you see birds in a cage or fall from the sky, there’s an instant feeling of sadness and absurdity. As the human society moves forward, we remove ourselves from nature, erase this freedom and create a new habitat that we then hopelessly live in, which in turn changes who we are.
Are you pessimistic about the future of humanity?
I guess in a sense. Humans are different from animals because we have high intelligence and have to bear the agony of knowing. We can foresee the catastrophic outcome, but we can’t stop it, and have to keep on living — it’s fatefully tragic. I believe that everyone thinks about it more or less because it’s a universal topic. Every era seems to have a different set of standard answers to our existential questions, but we all know that they’re not complete or forever. In a way, artists are similar to scientists — we try to stay a few steps ahead of the rest of the population to find answers that haven’t been given to us by the times, and the aesthetic value of art is just a by-product of this process.