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Exquisite Cadaver: An Interview with Ren Zheng

Tell us about yourself. How did you become an artist?

My interpretation of being an artist is to be dedicated on your creation and aesthetics, being skillful, at the same time being thoughtful. Creation is a primordial impulse, a manifestation of vitality. So choosing this field is just an instinct, I never thought about anything else I would like to do. I don’t think there must be a specific reason for being an “Artist”. If I have to state one point, then it might be I feel the urge to create.

What was your first job in the art field?

If you mean an official paid job by selling my craft, then it’s colorist. I enjoy color grading a lot, not only on how to be skillful with softwares, but also our sense and perception about color.

What makes you want to tell stories? In other words, what are the themes/issues you want to incorporate into your work?

Telling the stories is a creative way to communicate and have interaction with people, at least that’s my understanding. Human invented natural language as a tool to communicate, but there’re different language in this world for us to know each other better, to know the world and ourselves better. Film is what I choose. The ultimate theme is the higher truth of humanity, the conflict between our scientific civilization and nature or universe, the metaphysical and philosophical question that I’m always pondering in my mind, wish one day I’ll have an answer.

Director Ren Zheng

Please tell us about your vision and your method of approaching a new project?

Semiotics, the signifier and signified. My way to tell a story is through my vision. Transfer the theme of the story by using semiotics. Signifier as the title, things that give meaning, a word/image; Signified is what is evoked in the mind, a mental concept.

Who are your filmmaking influencers? What are the films that were influential for you?

Andrei Tarkovsky has the biggest influence on my works. Stalker and Nostalgia, the first one states the pessimism about scientific civilization and human’s dismissive about the higher truth. But Nostalgia hits the deeper part of my humanity, a man who trapped in a foreign country and could never get back to Russia in his physical form. The “Russia” here is not as a country on the map, but a place in his heart, the specific Russian countryside with a pond, his dog and mom. Nostalgia is a sense of home in your memory, which all of us could never get back to where it used to be.

How do you think the industry is changing? How has COVID affected independent filmmaking/creation?

I’m not an optimist about independent filmmaking, but I’d like to switch my mindset, what we’re doing in west coast, the industrial production is still valuable. Not only to follow the rules, but know how to utilize the rules.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists? What are some of the things they must follow/avoid?

I know it must be hard to keep your initial passion as we are growing older and facing realistic problem. I would suggest to learn your craft, because being an artist means you have to be skillful with what you’re doing anyway, learn it, feel it, and know how to utilize the rules in the system. Keep reading and being flexible, like water.

Do you think films/stories can bring about a change in the world?

I’m very pessimistic about it. I don’t think so. It won’t change the world, but at least it can have a little impact on the audience who watched the films. I think that’ll be enough. Like any bigger institution and authority, or a system in general, they have to keep themselves living, we all know there’s something misplaced here, but we can’t do anything about it, we have to follow the rules, and that’s how our society functions.

What do you think people like to watch these days? Has the pandemic changed people's taste?

The technology definitely brings us some revolution in terms of visual medium. Surprisingly I found out there’re more high concept content in several platforms, which means people’s wisdom are improving, and most of us have more self-reflections.

Please tell us about your upcoming projects.

The Death of Jade, it is a project I’m making in USC, where I’m pursuing the MFA degree right now. It’s about a bereaved medical examiner has her worldview challenged when a jade-filled body is presented to her. Genre is high concept drama, if we have to use these words to label every film we watched. Jade is a representation of life, death and regeneration, the protagonist just went through the death of her son, and starts to question the systemic study and our anthropocentric society. What I’m trying to ask here is similar with Tarkovsky.


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