VIP - VideoChannel Interview Project

Zhu, Xiaowen

Xiaowen Zhu


Interview: 10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background

I was born and raised in Shanghai, studied art in Germany and USA, lived and worked in Los Angeles in the past two years, and am currently based in London. I majored in Film/TV Production and Media Art at Tongji University and received an MFA in Art Video from Syracuse University, New York. I like running, making music, reading, writing, gaining new experience and learning from making and viewing art.

2. When, how and why started you filming?

I was very into writing when I was in high school and dreamed of becoming a writer, which I still do. Then I just started filming stories that I wrote and felt more absorbed and challenged than simply writing. But soon my focus shifted to documenting reality rather than creating fiction. Now my primary interest is in questioning the boundary between reality and fiction by making projects blurring these notions. I believe this is essential to our understanding of truth.

3. What kinds of topics have your films?

My current project, titled Oriental Silk, follows the personal narrative of Mr. Wong, the shop owner of the first silk importing company in Los Angeles, USA. The story reflects on the family legacy of first-generation Chinese immigrants realizing the American dream, the rise and fall of a once legendary shop closely connected to the entertainment industry in Hollywood, as well as Mr.Wong’s own relationship with the shop and his family.

Presented as a 2-channel video installation, the piece portrays Mr Wong’s state of being inside Oriental Silk – a shop that serves as a museum for worshipping traditional craftsmanship and cultural value that is largely undermined in contemporary China. The notion of holding on to the past and appreciating traditional culture is meditated through his memories of the family legacy, his criticism of the throw-away society, his interaction with customers, and simply, his existence in the shop that he holds dear to his heart.

For more projects I encourage viewers to check out my website:

4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?

I really work more with videos than films. Depending on the nature of the project, sometimes it’s more like a free fall, sometimes I’m a control freak. But generally speaking, I believe that I have a quite unique style in the way I see things, portray them with camera lens, edit with certain pace that is appropriate for the subject-matter, and etc. It has become part of my creative principles and philosophy from years of practice. Essentially, it has to do with how I view my relationship with the world. For instance, I don’t necessarily differentiate the importance of a person or an object, for they both can serve as media to convey messages. I almost always have people in my videos, but almost never have them in my photos, but I don’t think these two media communicate completely different topics. In both types of work, I express the complicated experience of being an international and to wrestle with the notion of a disembodied identity.

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.

Currently I mostly use my Canon 6D. It’s important that I use a full-frame camera for both video and photo. I have used higher-quality video cameras for different projects. Usually it also depends on the budget.

6. These days digital technology is dominating also video as a medium. In which way the digital aspect is entering the creation of your videos, technologically and/or conceptually?
I have always shot digital and I have always loved it. When I shot some 8mm films for fun, they looked overly artistic to my taste. Even though this may sound completely obnoxious, I think film is dying and we should treat it like antique, or something beautiful to look at in a museum. That’s why I like Morgan Fisher’s work.

7. How do you finance your films?
Grant, fellowship, scholarship, money that I made from day job, freelance work, savings. It’s also extremely helpful to be assisted by other filmmakers and artist friends. No one wants to think about where to get the money, but it has to come from somewhere.

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team?
if you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

I mostly work individually, but for some projects I received grant to hire assistants. For me personally, I don’t have preference on one way or another, as long as I have enough freedom in how I want to achieve the goal. Sometimes the freedom is realized by working alone, sometimes it’s supported by sufficient funding, in which case you have a team to work with you.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?

I used to think it’s other artists and teachers. I have a long list of people whom I will forever thank. Yet recently I have come to realize that I am the lasting influence on my art, because I drive myself to create and reflect. It doesn’t mean that I think I am the most important factor in my art, on the contrary, I feel very humble about it. I hate to say that I hate egoistic art and self-absorbed artists, but I really do. The point is that we are fully responsible for what we make and how we make it, and every influence shedding light on our creation is, in the end, a reflection on ourselves.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?

I would like to work freely between documentary and video art across different platforms. I like to think video as an object, a time-based sculpture, a space between moments – a meditation through life. I don’t want to be limited by one medium. I would like to expand it and integrate it with the philosophy of art and life that I pursue.

Can works of yours viewed online besides on the CologneOFF platform? Where?
List some links & resources

My website: