Interview – Shen Wei: Between Blossoms
Between Blossoms takes us through an inner state of change, a journey of darkness and light where oneirism and mystery are intertwined with stillness and absence. What is the genesis of Between Blossoms?
The beginning of the project evolves around the idea of exploring emotions that are deeply within me. Perhaps, I did not know how to express it profoundly, that is why making these images was so important to sort of rediscover these feelings visually and aesthetically. I think it’s hard to specifically indicate what this project is about, because there are so many levels of meaning. The project really connects to me very personally. It’s about how I see life, where the darkness, beauty, lightness, mysteries and fantasies, and all qualities that intertwine between them. Every image says different things, but when you put them together they represent how I see the world and how I respond to life.
Still-life, landscape and self-portraits exist together in a net of multiple layers of meaning, arising emotional states of the mind. How important is that interaction created between images in order to build a sequence or a narrative mood?
For me it is very important to have all the elements in the series. I tried to do that in almost all my projects. For instance, Chinese Sentiment had all the elements; still-life’s, portraits, landscapes… I Miss You Already is all self-portraits but I tried to explore it to other dimensions with close-ups of my body or me with another person and still life.
I can find immediate references to elements you depicted in preceding projects, nevertheless it is revealing that we can establish connections to other disciplines such as painting. How important are those references for you?
All my work has a similar reference, and that reference is my life. The way of how I am thinking about expressing my feelings, especially the darkness, sensuality, the inner-melancholic sense of these images resonate to my early work. Between Blossoms is also very much about the unseen energy which is a continuous theme of my mixed media work, Invisible Atlas.
I don’t think any single one of my projects works as a completely separate project. They relate to each other. In fact, I always have an overlapping period when I make several projects at the same time.
Between Blossoms started in 2014 when I was still making the mixed media work, and I was making self-portraits at the same time. If you look through all of my projects, you can find them to be connected in many ways and they are reflected to each other. That’s how I like to work.
…the light I am drawn into is very much reflecting my inner-self.
I am not a very high key person, I am interested in isolation and unknown.
I like empty and ethereal places; caves, forest, space…
The mood in Between Blossoms is set by a low key almost chiaroscuro sense of light. Can you tell us more about the treatment of the light?
I think that’s my current mood! I find this dark and quiet mood is both intense and calming. I am periodically attracted to a certain kind of mood. My self-portraits are really the beginning of how I started to use mellower and gloomy light to create a low key and mysterious atmosphere. Certainly, the light I am drawn into is very much reflecting my inner-self. I am not a very high key person, I am interested in isolation and unknown. I like empty and ethereal places; caves, forest, space… I think it is easy to see these personal preferences in my work.
The process of observation and image-making is extremely important and distinctive to understand the feeling of your images; long periods of time waiting for the perfect light, sensorial feelings in the viewer or the sense of movement. Can you explain more about the process of image-making in this project?
The way I photograph is always more spontaneous than it seems, even though the pictures look well planned. I travel a lot, so many of my images were photographed when I was travelling. Whenever I see something that I have an immediate strong response to, I will make a picture. However, finding the right moment is very crucial. Late afternoon is my favourite time to photograph, the landscape changes its character in each stage of the dusk. It’s not really about sitting and waiting for things to happen, it’s just walking into a place that you know is your favourite place.
In images like Monkey, elements of solitude and stillness are emerging powerfully, while we can also find the sense of darkness and mysticism in Plum Tree. How is that encounter between the scene – the photographic element – and your state of mind in front of it?
The Monkey image happened when I went to a village and I saw a group of monkeys on a tree. In the beginning they were in groups but when I looked at them from a different angle, I saw one little monkey on the tree in front of the river, which is almost like a Chinese painting. I don’t think it’s a planning process, it’s an instant response to something that resigned to you.
In Plum Tree it was a different kind of process, a slow walking in the park trying to memorise all the beauty. The walk was during the blossoms season in one of the temples in Beijing, where I was surrounded by the flowers. I am just looking and trying to discover the most beautiful tree.
Every picture has a different way of making it, but they sort of end up in the same kind of sentiment. I don’t think I ever planned what kind of picture I want to make because for me every picture I make is part of me. They cannot be different; they have a thread through them. They share the same core.
In previous projects like I Miss You Already or Almost Naked existed an approach to eroticism and sexuality that is completely blended into a new stage in Between Blossoms. How challenging was to distill that feeling into something more primordial?
Eroticism is an important element of my work, but in Between Blossoms it’s in a more abstract and conceptual way. Photos of flowers and trees are very sensual and erotic to me. I am still shooting nude self-portraits; these flowers are just a continuation of how I explore eroticism.
The project really connects to me very personally. It’s about
how I see life, where the darkness, beauty, lightness, mysteries and fantasies,
and all qualities that intertwine between them. Every image says different
things, but when you put them together they represent how I
see the world and how I respond to life
With your upcoming show at Flowers Gallery in New York, do you have a specific strategy to displaying your work? Would you like to expand this project outside the walls of the gallery into other formats, like photobooks?
I have three different sizes assigned to the series. Each image has only one size. I like the contrast between the juxtaposition of the large and small pictures. I think the size should maximise the strength of the image, not every picture necessarily has to be very big. In Between Blossoms, all my self-portraits are small because these ones are very different from previous self-portraits such as in I Miss You Already, where I have explored sexuality and the body. However, these self-portraits are about my state of mind. This is the first photographic project that I experimented the display with various sizes.
My goal is to have the work published in a book. In addition, because of the different sizes of the work I would love to experiment different ways of installing it.
Between Blossoms opens at Flowers Gallery, NYC, March 2 – April 22, 2017
Interview by Pablo Lerma / Published 27 February 2017