Interview: Zhang Ding

The new media artist gives us a tour of his Putuo warehouse studio

New media artist Zhang Ding specialises in producing large-scale wooden structures which allow the viewer to walk, sit or climb on the artwork. With a new nightclub-themed show at H-Space this month, he shows Berwin Song around his studio.

Things come pretty large in Zhang Ding’s world. Upon entering the Gansu-born artist’s hangar-sized studio at the ShanghART Taopu complex in Putuo district, it’s hard not to notice a peculiar two-storey-tall circular platform, complete with hanging flowers and chairs on the upper level. ‘It’s for a video we’re planning to shoot soon,’ Zhang, 31, explains, also gesturing to several life-sized plaster animal moulds in the corner. ‘When we find the right location, we’ll have to move this whole thing there.’

Though Zhang originally graduated from the oil painting department of the North West Minority University in Gansu province, he quickly switched to new media, obtaining his masters degree from the prestigious China Academy of Art in 2003.

Since then, he’s become known for creating colossal structures – among the various pieces set around his studio is a four-seat rowboat dismantled from his piece ‘A Game of Unclear Direction’ (2009), which was recently reassembled for Things from the Gallery Warehouse III, held at ShanghART’s H-Space in February.

The piece, a room-sized platform stage, welcomed viewers with a step ladder, inviting them to climb aboard and interact with various features embedded into it. ‘I always make a set of objects for each piece,’ he says. ‘People can enjoy the pieces however they like. It’s not me telling them what it is; they can decide for themselves.’

Zhang was one of several ShanghART-affliated artists to move to Taopu. ‘We’ve been here for almost a year,’ he says. ‘[Local artist] MadeIn was the first to find this area; we had all been looking for a new space – we all used to have studios in a complex on Lingsi Lu in Zhabei district. We can manage ourselves better here.’

Zhang Ding's 'Law' on display in the ShanghART Taopu Warehouse

The ShanghART Taopu Warehouse, just across from his studio, contains two additional pieces by Zhang: another large wooden platform structure, ‘Law’ (2009), which invites viewers to climb onto a precarious slope to peer into a massive bowl-crater filled with glowing lights, or to walk out onto two protruding wooden plank diving boards; and ‘Tools’ (2007), a collection of 24 old green refrigerators, each stuffed with cheap insulation and a speaker that randomly gives off explosion bangs.

Zhang’s latest work, at H-Space this month, is entitled Opening. Continuing his preference for audience interpretation and interaction, the pieces in the show form Zhang’s version of a nightclub, complete with flashing disco lights in three colours, and various elements representing a bar or a dance floor.

‘I don’t want people to see this as an exhibition,’ he says, ‘but more of a party.’ To that end, the exhibition’s opening was indeed a party, complete with a DJ spinning club tunes and hired dancers (who were positioned on several pedestal sculptures throughout the gallery space).

Past works from Zhang Ding

Though Opening’s party atmosphere only lasted for a night, viewers can still imagine what they like in the remaining sculptures. Upon closer inspection, each piece seems inspired by gymnastics equipment: there’s a balance beam held up by cherubs, and a set of flying rings replaced with disembodied heads. ‘I wanted people to see the connection at first, but now it’s more about confusion,’ Zhang says. ‘I wanted to portray something pretty, but also place it in an environment where it had no meaning. People can take it how they want.’

Opening is at ShanghART H-Space until July 10. See our event listing
for details.

Berwin Song

See details of the Opening Exhibition

See the ShanghART H-Space address details

Read our quick guide to the ShanghART Taopu complex in Putuo

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