Zhi Hongbo, born in 1979, is an environmental artist engaged in the organization and implementation of environmental art performances. The numerous works of him reflect the grave state of human existence, plastic waste, water, car exhausts, household appliance waste and the problem of global warming. His work is an interpretation of performance art reminding the world to respect nature and so protect it. His works have been awarded the gold medal at the Italian Video Festival, with the gold medal at Singapore photo competition and served on the judging panel of the Tokyo TV Art Competition in Japan.
Alina Hordiienko: Hello Mr. Zhi Hongbo, first of all congratulations to your environmental performance art work for winning the first prize in the Italian Art Exhibition, winning the Gold Award and being awarded the 2022 Art Award. As a pioneer of environmental protection performance art in China, you have always followed the events of the times to think, and then expressed it in the form of artistic activities. When did you start paying attention to environmental protection? What is the original intention of using art forms to express environmental protection?
Zhi Hongbo: Humanity is facing the biggest crisis in thousands of years, and that is the global environmental problem. In fact, I started to pay attention to environmental protection more than ten years ago, mainly because of the work, I was engaged in the time that relates to oil extraction and transportation. Also the impact on the environment, especially if the oil is leaking during shipping at the sea, is definitely huge. I have been to the scene to see large swaths of polluted seawater, seabirds covered in oil, fish, and others, which aroused my deep thinking. Even now I am working in the environmental protection industry which is the recycling and re-use of renewable resources such as white goods, batteries, scrap metal and others. In fact, there are a lot of news and propaganda about environmental protection issues. Why are the effects still unsatisfying? Because news and propaganda are mostly dry theories and words. Therefore, I use images and video to interpret art live activities and other art forms to express the issue of environmental protection, hoping to shock, awaken and appeal to people in the most intuitive, understandable, vivid and visually effective way. Paying attention to environmental protection issues is my original intention and my social responsibility.
Could you please tell us more about the difference between the traditional form and your innovative art form for environmental promotion?
First I would like to mention that the traditional environmental protection propaganda focuses more on science, education and popular science. Many people know about environmental pollution but don’t know what causes it, or they don’t know it comprehensively. Maybe some of their behaviors are polluting the environment. At this time, traditional forms has played an important role in popularizing, which comprehensively expounds the causal relationship of environmental pollution to people. From the propaganda film, people learned that global warming will affect the protection of rainfall or atmospheric circulation, making the abnormal climate easy to cause drought and flood disasters, the depletion and destruction of the ozone layer will lead to an increase in the intensity of ultraviolet radiation received by the ground, which will increase the intensity of ultraviolet radiation on the earth, due to the rapid population increase or unreasonable development of resources, environmental pollution and other reasons, all kinds of organisms and ecosystems are impacted, which reduces biodiversity, the spread of acid rain hinders the growth of aquatic organisms such as fish and shrimp, resulting in the soil acid and barren soil, the function of forest water conservation is destroyed, resulting in the reduction of species and soil erosion, resulting in sharp reduction of forests and land desertification.
There are 5 billion hectares of arid and semi- arid land in the world, of which 3.3 billion are desertified. Threat, air pollution causes 300,000 to 700,000 people to die prematurely each year due to smoke and dust pollution, water pollution, and harmful chemical substances reduce or lose the use value of water, affecting biological survival; marine pollution causes frequent red tides and destroys mangrove coral reefs, seaweed, and offshore fish and shrimp have decreased sharply, causing fish industry losses, trans-boundary transfer of hazardous wastes, hazardous wastes are chemically active or toxic and corrosive. Due to their high quantity and concentration, they may cause serious and incurable diseases. Since this form of publicity is relatively straightforward, it is difficult for people to remember, and the impression is not deep in their minds, and the effect of publicity will be discounted. On the other hand, my form of art publicity bids farewell to the traditional form of expression that simply focuses on landscapes, scenery, and narration. It takes people as the main carrier, and uses nature, the earth, the environment, and the new artistic concept as a foil, by using the artistic expression form of man and nature, man and environment, man and earth, man and society, life and environment to blend, harmoniously coexist and complement each other to publicize, through the live performance of models, or let the audience participate in the activities. Immersive to experience the feeling. The conceptual art elements are integrated into the scenes and scenes of the works, forming a publicity effect that is visually and audibly shocking in focus. Let this scene be deeply imprinted in everyone’s mind, so as to achieve the effect that the audience who have seen my works will never forget it. I think this is the biggest difference between the two forms of propaganda.
Every time when you create art that relates environmental protection, do you have a concept first, or do you feel the impact of some external things in your heart, and then conceive an artistic expression form, or do you have a model, and then look for the social meaning that combined with it?
I never think much about these issues, or maybe both! I know that as an artist, it is a fundamental responsibility to care about society in your own way. No matter what art form and method I use, whether I use images or make documentaries, there is only one purpose, to tell people that our beautiful earth is being destroyed, and the living environment of human beings is constantly deteriorating. There is only one earth, and we are here to live and thrive, we coexist and grow together, protecting the earth and our homeland is imminent, protecting the ecology starts from me, and environmental protection starts from now.
Your environmental protection art has always been very controversial because of its avant-garde artistic concept, novel theme concept, sharp and profound artistic expression, and shocking visual effect of your works. How do you evaluate yourself? What is your attitude towards criticism? Have you ever wavered? Have you doubted your own claims?
I never consider to judge myself much, because it doesn’t make any sense to me. Whether being praised or criticized, is becoming a valuable experience in my artistic life. I have never wavered, and I have never doubted my artistic proposition. I will persevere on the road of environmental protection art.
Alina Hordiienko (Ukrainian art journalist)
is a contemporary art magazine since 1980