For his exhibition 0.064g at gallery@oxo in London, Meng Zhou created works in various media- sculpture, ink drawings, installation and video- centering on his fascination with the silkworm and the metaphor of the cocoon for wider society, especially in his native China. A student keen to push his practice further, this quietly spoken, self-professedly shy artist is definitely one to watch. Words: Anna McNay.
You have studied both Fashion Design and Paining. Now you are studying Moving Image. Your gallery@oxo exhibition incorporated film works, installation, sculpture and ink drawings. How would you describe your practice overall?
All the different media, all the creative forms, are the language with which I realize my thoughts. I have never limited my practice’s boundaries. Whenever I want to expand a specific idea, I find the right language to use. I Like to explore idea in many creative ways.
And where do these ideas and inspirations come from?
From the phenomena of nature, engaging with my feelings, living a long way from home, my previous practice or sometimes simply modern existence.
You mention phenomena of nature. The title of your exhibition, 0.064g, referred to the average weight of the cocoons created by more than a hundred silkworms, which you collected. In fact, the exhibition as a whole centered on your fascination with this creature, featuring paintings of figures wrangled in strands of silk; sheets of silk, doubled with ink, hanging in the breeze; hanging bronze sculptures of the cocoons of two specific butterflies; and two films projected onto stretched silk cloths, one attached by a mass of cobwebbed thread to a plastic chair. Where does this fascination with the silkworm come from?
My family’s business was a spinning factory so, when I was little, I used to keep silkworms. I have always been obsessed with insects and creatures that transform themselves into a different life stage.
One of your ink drawings was mounted on a wheel so that it could berated and views any way up. What was the idea behind this?
Similarly to my not liking restrict the media in which I work, I like to create a form, for people to perform with. Everyone has his or her own way of understanding a work. I’d rather not create a specific background. I create multiple background for people to choose from. There are many visual possibilities.
Does this fluidity and sense of movement and choice relate in any way to the time you spent drawing and painting dancers from Pina Bausch’s company?
The first year I was in London I spent a lot of time following these dancers’ performances. I went to Sadler’s Wells and to the Tanztheater in Wuppertal, Germany( where Bausch had been the choreographer). I even learned some contemporary movement myself. I find Pina is a figure who reappears and inspired my work every once in a while. Dance is a very hard to capture on paper; it contains such live energy. You never want to freeze a moment or take a picture because it never tells the story. Instead, I like to capture the feeling of the performance. I am goof at remembering what the dancers are doing and copying that movement or energy afterwards. I think this relates to my previous fashion practice as well. We were trained to draw without models. I have both benefited from and been influenced by this earlier stage of my practice. You can never get rid of your past.
Did you want to be a fashion designer when you were growing up?
No. I began studying in a science-related foundation course in California but I wasn’t satisfied and I wanted to apply for something more creative, so I joined the Pratt Institute to study Fashion Design . Then I figured out I only liked drawing and didn’t like sewing at all! The most important thing for me, whatever I am doing, is to be myself in my work. All the difference forms I use have this poetic Chinese rhythm flowing through them, so I just try to let flow naturally.
The catalogue of your last show is now in the Tate library.
We put a lot thoughts into the catalogue, even though it was a last-minute decision to make one. The cover material was chosen to resemble silk. I think today, when you are able to access such huge amounts of data online, when you do have somethings material, you have a different level of attachment to that object. That’s why I wanted to select papers and textures to match the show.
What are you working on next?
I want to focus on experimenting with how to present the video work. But, out of the sculptures, drawings and videos, the drawings are what most moved the public in meh last show, so it is important for me keep going with my drawing practice alongside my studies and I’m thinking about breaking out this small pictures size into oils or some other material. I’m still exploring.
“ALL THE DIFFERENT FORMS I USE HAVE THIS PEOTIC CHINESE RHYTHM FLOWING THROUGH THEM, SO I JUST TRY TO LET IT FLOW NATURALLY”