Claire Shea: What role does humour play in your practice?
Song Ta: To provide happiness and enjoyment. I like everything that makes me and others feel pleasant.
Claire Shea: What interests you about sculpture or how do you think about sculpture?
Song Ta: Sculpture is like graffiti. It appears in your eyes and compels you to remember it, and by this I am referring to giant or public sculpture. In fact, I’m curious why you decided to invite me to make this sculpture. I believed it should be super cool - so I had to make one super cool.
Ella Liao: At CASS our intention is to broaden the definition of sculpture. So most artists in A Beautiful Disorder are not sculptors in the traditional sense. Medium does not seem to be a limitation for you - your works always seem to be oriented around a concept. How do you think about medium?
Song Ta: I regard the idea as more important. I find it appealing to think of something interesting and then enlarge and extend the conceptual implications of it. I don’t want them to go away. I also value medium and genre, although I find them more personal. I also find immediacy enjoyable; like taking notes or writing casually. I always want to try and experiment more.
Wenny Teo: What is the history of the "original" statue in Guangzhou you used for the work at CASS?’ Why did you pick this representation of Mao in particular?
Song Ta: The title of this sculpture is Orange Isle and was created by Li Ming, who is the Dean of Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in China. This was the first attempt to create a statue of Mao as a young man. The usual representation of Mao is old, a little obese and stiff with a high hairline; not in line with the image of superman at all. But the sculpture Orange Isle is positive and powerful- like superman.
One night, some friends and I painted it. This took a long time due to the sculptures huge surface and required 8 people; 7 to paint and 1 to stand on lookout. There was no scaffolding, so we had to use the original method of large-scale construction. It was an impressive experience, as the face of the sculpture is very prominent without any fulcrum.I was elevated by the others to “make up” Mao’s huge face with the terrifying prospect of falling down at any moment. This was such an interesting experience and made me think of how the Egyptian slaves must have felt working on the face of the Sphinx. A bunch of people (slaves) worked to support the brush to paint with their flesh bodies. I think this is the meaning of sculpture. Unfortunately the painted sculpture was soon removed, leaving only the sculptures empty plinth behind. This made us so sad that our beautiful coloured Mao was removed, as it cost us over three hours.
Ella Liao: The work at CASS creates a black and white environment. No matter how people photograph it, it is still supposed to look like a black and white photograph. As the title suggests the work poses the question "Why do they never take color photos?" How should audiences understand the meaning behind this?
Song Ta: There is, in fact, no inherent concept – the work is meant to simply suggest interesting feelings. Don’t you think the sculpture is better when painted? Through this application of colour Mao is handsome and “alive” in opposition to the representations of him as an historical old thing in grey. When the night that we secretly painted until morning came, we felt as if we were looking at the real face and hoped Mao would come alive, climb out and roar just like Superman and fly out into the universe. But alas he did not. I spent this time in the UK making an opposite version of this colourful Mao; allowing history to solidify, where the audience/ people cannot enter into a historical photo any more.
Ella Liao: You said “Allowing history to solidify, where the audience/ people cannot enter into a historical photo any more”. So if the audience is not allowed to enter the black and white area, why allow the actors in black and white to perform in this area?
Song Ta: Actions have no meaning, the actors can essentially do anything in this performance. I just want them to look like passersby. If it were possible to also make the audience black and white, that would be perfect. Or, if there was something like a colour removing time tunnel, where there was an entrance like a changing room where people could remove their colour - that would be most preferable. I just want to include people in a “historical photo”.
Wenny Teo: Where did the idea to paint the backdrop to match the sculpture come from?
Song Ta: From the game “Colour photos first, and then back to black and white photos”.
Wenny Teo: Who are your artistic influences?
Song Ta: Li Ming has influenced me. I like his sculpture. It represents the strong sense of shape, power and beastliness at present. Li Ming is an official artist. Unfortunately, in Chinese contemporary art it is still hard to accept the official artists. Li Ming looks like Che Guevara. The whole package is so crazy - from his sculpture to his personal image. He is the headmaster of my university.
Ella Liao: And, finally, why did you copy this sculpture and not any other statues of Mao? How would you feel about copying a statue of a well-known British man?
Song Ta: I would like to paint a statue of a great British man on the street. I will do so if I have the chance. Or maybe I will make a sculpture of the queen? You should tell me where there are some interesting sculptures.