Interview of Hai Zhang
Hai Zhang – Don't Follow Me. I'm Lost.
Tell us a little bit about your exhibition here at Chobi Mela.
Hai Zhang : The project is an artist book and installation, with projections composed of photographs I took in China between 2008 and 2012. Basically I tried to reconstruct the experience of the 4 years I was wandering around China. Though later I realized the limitations of photography. I'm interested in photography because it is a process of investigation. Through photography I record what I see. But most importantly these photos remind me of what I have missed wandering. What I need to come back to and remember so I don't feel lost.
The piles of photos I made for this project were taken under many different circumstances. I started photographing China because I was an architect and I received a fellowship to do a research project there. So the purpose was a very specific one and I was looking for some visual evidence of certain radical images I could use for my research. That led me to want to grasp what China is today, as a Chinese who left the country more than a decade ago. During the research I discovered many things while interviewing people and digging up information and realized that the story of the people in a complex society, is almost impossible to be accurately reflected in a photograph. So the message a photograph carries can sometimes be misleading. I was questioning should I still take photos if the photo is not telling the true story?
As mentioned, the research only went on for a year, but afterward I returned to China to take snapshots all around its cities for no specific reason. I didn't know what these photos could be used for. But later looking at the photos I remembered the wanderings I had done in China. It reminded me of how society is changing . So the image itself is not evidence or proof, the image actually just makes me ask more questions.
The first time I looked at the photos I had the idea of a book. This was later published as Don't Follow Me. I'm Lost. As a book the photo itself is no longer an object ,the book create a different experience. It's something you browse through, you can start reading or looking at any page you want. The nature of photograph as an object that hangs on a wall, the experience of looking at it individually is not important in that instance. The exhibitions are similar – at Chobi Mela this work will be on view for the 3rd time – and through them and installations I try to construct an experience that will lead the viewer to do more than just simply look at the photos.
What do you understand under the term fragility and how does it connect to your work?
H.Z : My understanding of fragility is that of something that's really fragile but there is still a core centre that holds everything up, that holds things together. Because if that little thing is missing, if there's nothing to hold things together, it's just fragments. To me the status of fragility is that of something that is almost ready to be broken down but that is actually still standing. That idea reflects my experience. I think the photos speak for themselves...I can't really explain it.
You've been here for less than 48 hours. Tell us a bit about your first impressions of Dhaka.
H.Z : I was very happy when the airplane finally landed in Dhaka because the trip was quite something, with the snow in Paris and all. The traffic in Dhaka was quite frantic and on the way I saw a blue train, a train with people riding on top of it! What caught my attention was the color of it: blue. In China we used to have these sort of trains, “Oh my God I thought, those blue trains”! And then I saw Louie Kahn's parliament building. That was a good surprise. I knew the building was here in Dhaka but I wasn't expecting to see it on my way to the hotel.
So now I'm just continuing to have fun and I'm sure it'll be an exciting festival. I came to Chobi Mela through Robert Pledge. He recommended me to come here since it is one of the most important festivals in Asia and I also met Shahidul in September in Turkey at another festival. Robert then introduced the idea of including two Chinese photographers in the festival. So here I am now and I'm really honoured to be a part of this.
Chobi Mela - International Festival of Photography
January 25 to February 7, 2013
House 58, Road 15A (New),
Dhanmondi, Dhaka 1209