Cheng Ran 程然

Cheng Ran
Angel For The Millenium, 2012

Cheng Ran, the video artist melding underground stories with experimental DJ scores

When the Hangzhou-based artist Cheng Ran embarked on an art career at the China Academy of Art, he dropped out of painting two years in. The artist Yang Fudong changed Cheng’s course after casting him in his five-part film Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest (2003–07). Through the experience, Cheng realized that film was art, and he worked under Yang to learn the craft. He bought a small, cheap second-hand camera on online retailer Taobao and began making his own films that captured Chinese youth culture and angst. In 2016, he completed a three-month residency at the New Museum in New York that resulted in his trilogy, Diary of a Madman. This June, the artist presented a collaborative performance with DJ Shao Yanpeng at the Sydney Opera House, and he was recently named one of two recipients of a $100,000 prize for the inaugural Nomura Emerging Artist Awards. Document sat with Cheng to discuss his experience in New York, the state of contemporary art in China, and why he’s so attracted to the underground.

Ann Binlot—You did a three-month residency at the New Museum. What was it like to be in New York?

Cheng Ran—For New York, actually, it was my first time here. I think that’s why they chose me. I did 15 vignettes that are all about different places in New York, but nothing famous—some abandoned hospitals and places that are hard to get in. I did research; there are a lot of hospitals on islands in New York. It’s really a personal history of New York.

Ann—When you were growing up in China, where did you see New York in pop culture, and how did it compare to your actual experience there?

Ran—My favorite TV drama in China is about one really famous musician in the ՚90s. He has really big dreams to play solo somewhere, but when he arrives in New York, it’s totally different than he imagined. There is no place for him. He has to wash dishes to keep alive, living in a basement, so his dream is totally broken, and he becomes a worker. After a few years he becomes a very successful businessman. Famous words [in] TV drama: If you love someone, you send him to New York because it’s heaven. If you hate someone, you send them to New York because it’s hell.

Text by
Ann Binlot

July 5, 2019

Read more in LANVIN

Diary of a Madman/ While We Still Have Bodies