J: Can you describe your artistic career? How did you become a full-time artist?
Z: I started my career as a commercial photographer but found that making two-dimensional works could not satisfy me either financially or artistically. I dived into creating three-dimensional artworks which became a pivotal point in my life, especially for its impact on my visual aesthetics. However, balancing work and art production soon became such a tough task that, at the turn of the millennium, I decided to give up my career in commercial photography to become a full-time artist focusing on three-dimensional creations. There is no job security in being a full-time artist, but at least I am living out my aspiration.
Plastic clothes hangers | 2018
J: Why did you choose Taiwan? And what had prompted your return to Hong Kong?
Z: I am not an artist who rests on my laurels or goes with the flow. I think oftentimes it is more about the challenges I dare myself than the external pressure I receive. At that time (in year 2000), I simply did not see any potential for my artistic development in Hong Kong and so decided to take my talent elsewhere. I went to Taiwan as a stranger, but quickly noticed that it has a distinctive arts ecosystem quite different to the one in Hong Kong. The Taiwanese government is very supportive of artists, which often renders arts development and politics inseparable (for example, during the presidency of the Tainan-born Chen Shui-bien, much art resources was allocated to the south). Before I eventually settled down in the south at The Pier-2 Art Center, I did not realise that such a place rich with artistic ambience and where could full-time artists thrive could exist.
Eight years later in 2008, when Taiwan’s political environment changed drastically in favour of the Kuomintang (the Nationalist Party), I took the opportunity to return to Hong Kong, to see if there was any change or improvement in the arts development scene back home. That was the same year when the JCCAC was established, and I was one of the lucky ones who had the chance to join this artist village and witness its takeoff and development. During my eight-year residency in Taiwan, I had a lot of introspection. Hence upon returning to Hong Kong, I found myself working with a completely different mentality and mindset. Simply put, my relationship with Taiwan was a discourse, whereas that with Hong Kong is a confrontation.
plastic sheet| 2004
J: How would you comment on the arts development in China, Hong Kong and Taiwan respectively?
Z: In my opinion, China is a country with thousands of years of heritage that shapes and strongly influences its ideology. With its large population, the Chinese art market is naturally a big one. China is enjoying a boom in the arts and becoming rather influential in Asian art culture. For art lovers, this is good news because art is often reflective of the general well-being of the society and its people.
Art in Taiwan follows the island’s geographic demarcation into north and south. Arts in the south have more local flavour, while arts in the north embrace broader influences and more international perspectives. There is a buffer zone between the two where the Taiwanese people can find a balance between preserving local indigenous art whilst taking in exotic cultures. In terms of arts development, this is a good phenomenon.
Arts development in Hong Kong has undergone dramatic changes before and after the colonial period. In recent decades, Hong Kong has seen its artistically indifferent citizens become enthusiastic participants. We should give credit to the older generation of artists for such change, for they had carved out many new paths in the arts. Although the city’s cultural policies have a long way to go and the pace of advancement seems slow, it still beats not moving forward at all.
J: How do you find JCCAC? What are your hopes and expectations of this place after its first decade?
Z: Decades ago there was no such concept as an artist village in Hong Kong, until the launch of Oil Street Art Space after lobbying by a group of activist artists. But that venue was only meant to be temporary and was subsequently redeveloped for other land use. The presence of an artist village was not properly formed until this building was repurposed into an arts centre and artist village to provide artists and cultural organisations with a “home” for creative pursuits. I personally think this is a huge improvement for the local arts industry, even though running a shared arts space for a variety of artistic genres on a mutually-beneficial basis is definitely no small feat. The maximum capacity for residences in most arts villages in Taiwan is about six to 10 artists. The studios are big that they could easily accommodate my largest works. But I think size is not all. Nothing compares to the artistic sparks in JCCAC when artists congregate, collaborate and interact creatively.
If you ask me about my views on JCCAC’s future development, I would say that there should be more focus on fine arts. I think that JCCAC’s artistic direction needs definition if it is to shine on the global stage.
plastic clothes hangers,
| 2014 – 2018
J: Your works have been featured in numerous exhibitions. What attracts audience to see your art?
Z: If I were a member of the audience, I would love to see the sincerest self-expression and persistence of an artist through his or her works. These two elements have intentionally been included in my work Guan Yun Chang featured in JCCAC Festival 2018’s “Factory Forward” group exhibition. This work is part of my Recollection of Time Series which I have continuously developed in the past 10 years, making use of discarded cloth hangers collected in the abandoned Shek Kip Mei Industrial Estate before the building reincarnated as JCCAC. I am still in creative search for the pièce de résistance of this series – if possible, I would like to complete a Chinese Zodiac group sculpture in the next two years. Working on series is very important for artists to mark milestones along their artistic pursuits. It cannot be replaced by any symbol or language.
Stainless steel clothes hangers | 2009
Stainless steel clothes hangers | 2014
J: Apart from the “Factory Forward” group exhibition at JCCAC, you are also working on two other solo exhibitions – can you share with us some of the highlights?
Z: I have always given people the impression of being an artist of formidable “size”. Through the “3 & 6 Furniture Art Exhibition” at unit L2-02, I wish to show my “alter ego”, so as to convince people that Ban Zhang’s artworks can also be “size-friendly”. I hope the somewhat elegant and flexible qualities reflected in each chair and lamp in this exhibition will constitute a feeling of contrast for visitors, especially after they have seen the bold and masculine Guan Yun Chang in the L0 Gallery.
“False Time” is an exhibition that I had spent two years brainstorming and building, making it a testimony of the passage of time. I would leave it to the visitors’ own interpretation on whether this is a positive or negative theme. Aiming to explore the relationship between the artist and the audience, the exhibition takes place in my studio so that visitors can engage in direct conversation with me. Since art should be in sync with the pace of societal development and be audience-oriented, we should leave the audience to make their own verdict.
Crystal stones | 2017 – 2018
J: Any words of advice for artists of the younger generation?
Z: If you want to make a career in the arts, you must go out and experience the world before deciding on your own artistic direction. Living in an ivory tower restricts vision and limits imagination, Creativity should suffer no boundaries.