- An Interview with Shi Tou
Shi Tou is known as the most talented female artist from Yuanming Garden in Beijing, the first arts village in China. Her multimedia creations include paintings, photographs, and DVDs. Shi Tou has been invited by New York University, Chicago University, Illinois School of Professional Psychology, and San Francisco International Lesbian & Gay Film Festival to show her works and give speeches. Shi Tou is also the most noted lesbian activist in China. She is the first lesbian who came out to discuss same-sex relationships on national TV in China. She is the organizer and host of the first Chinese Lesbian and Gay Conference and the first mainland Chinese Convention of Lesbians (both held in Beijing in 1998). She also served as the editor of Tiankong (Sky), a community newsletter for Chinese lesbians, and helped set up a telephone hotline to exchange opinions about sexual orientation. This interview was conducted December 12, 2005. [End Page 409]
You are an extremely versatile artist, working simultaneously in several fields, including film, photography, oil painting, and documentaries. Which work is your favorite piece? Which one do you think is the most representative? Which one is the most antimainstream, which one is the most “queer”?
I started living and doing freelance work in Yuanming Garden in 1992. Yuanming Garden was the first fine arts village in China founded for independent, marginalized artists. It was named after the royal Yuanming Garden that was destroyed in 1860 by the French and British joint forces. The original garden has been razed and pillaged multiple times since then. The ruins are under reconstruction right now.
In 1995, the Chinese government forced all artists to leave the garden, and the fine arts village was formally discontinued.
During my years in Yuanming Garden, I created the “Weapon” and “Joy Clock” painting series. It was in the “Weapon” series that I finally found a language to challenge society, and to challenge myself.
The “Weapon” series does not glorify war. They express a critical consciousness, a rebellious spirit. They rebel against social conventions and rules. They also rebel against a given “self.” These works depict either a confrontation between a person and a weapon (in which case the weapon represents a social force) or the merging of a person and a weapon. These paintings try to capture a type of social existence that has not yet been shattered by the harsh realities of life, and the value of personal conviction, courage, and candor.
Then I did the “Joy Clock” series. The themes in the series are women, men, spider webs, absurd clocks, the happy Buddha and the lucky boy, a feral dog on a leash, undersea life, rare flowers, and ripe corns. Through a highly ornate display of boundless joy, these works express dangers that are hidden in different social relations.
I dedicated the “Female Friends” series to my female friends. These paintings portray different female figures that a woman meets in her formative years. I want to depict the friendship, love, wisdom, and strength these female figures offer: as mothers, friends, sisters, and heroines in history.
In the “Convex and Concave” series, the paper surface itself is not even. [End Page 410]
Click for larger view
View full resolution
[End Page 411]
I use abstract and contrasting convex and concave patterns to release the image from a traditional vision of convex and concave as ying and yang. I also contest the traditional view of ying and yang as a binary, male versus female opposition by focusing on finding balance within the self.
The “Together” photography series: on one of the pictures, you see several female couples in beautiful wedding gowns. These are taken as if they were wedding pictures, enlarged and ready to be displayed in your bedroom or living room, except they are all women posing intimately with each other. The pictures are full of humor and joy.
The women in the pictures are all my good friends. They are people I have been friends with since I was young. I was very comfortable working with them in producing these pictures...