By Hang Li

The text is a combination of No.99 The big collector’s interim review; Feng Mengbo’s lecture staged by YiXi at the 1st of January, 2019 and Feng’s three versions of proposals written for ‘For the Time Being’ project.

Q: What is the initial motivation for you to do a programme based on WeChat?

When I started to build up my WeChat programme ‘The Big Collector Feng Mengbo’, I considered it as a channel to share my collections and the story behind them. This is not a place to ‘exhibit’ my own works of art. Naming the programme ‘A collector Feng Mengbo’ is too mundane and boring. I decided to use the title ‘The big collector’ — it’s a bit cheeky but more powerful.

After a few posts, surprisingly, many of my friends liked the programme and encouraged me to keep posting. That’s the main engine motivating me to keep managing this official account on WeChat, as a slightly serious way of playing, as well as a playful way of working.

In the text of this programme, I call myself ‘the collector’ instead of ‘I’. The third-person narration sounds more objective and sometimes humorous. This is also a way to detach me in this programme from the identity of ‘Feng Mengbo’ as an (new media/ digital/ Chinese or else) artist in a broader sense. Now, the collector aims to post 300 posts — one for each day — in 365 days, which means, he can take only one day off per week during the whole year. Updating on this account has almost become his full-time job now.

The way how I run this WeChat programme is a mixture of:

  • Running a 1 square meter space and changing the object displayed in it every day;
  • Completing a 300-piece puzzle and gradually figuring out what the project is going to be like when it is finished;
  • Writing a Wikipedia of my own collection and stories, as well as running a one-person editorial office.

Q: In your WeChat programme, you choose to combine photography with text. Is it because of the modality of WeChat as a ‘social media’ platform?

Partly but that is not the core of my chosen form for this programme: I LOVE literature.

I dreamt of becoming a writer once, well, as an amateur. I think literature is the highest and most prestigious form of art. Compared to language (taking the very narrow definition of it) and literature, drawing as well as the ubiquitous new media, appear to be ‘low.’ Although I became an artist ‘unfortunately’, I still hope to write about my collections, and so I take writing seriously. This programme is to get my hands dirty, maybe my next work will be a novel lol. (The collector claims the novel will have zero animation — sounds quite dry and dull doesn’t it?)

Q:It sounds like WeChat as a host doesn’t influence much of the form and process of this programme? It mainly provides a site for your tentative practices, providing you with a ‘playground’ to write things down?

It has influenced the process a lot.

I’m very aware of the reason behind using digital media in art creation. If a concept can be expressed without interaction, I will choose to work without interaction; If the conventional media is sufficient for work, I will not use ‘new’ media; If I create something with ‘new’ media, the reason behind it should be clear and sufficient, and the work should use the chosen media well enough.

In ‘The Big Collector Feng Mengbo,’ WeChat defines essentially how I work and what I’m working on. For example, formatting becomes the main job now for me. Also, the tone of my writing in this programme is positioned precisely between vernacular language and biography. I think about the whole programme as not a unidirectional dissemination/distribution. Developing it on WeChat means essentially, it is communication.

Every day after posting, I repost the content in my ‘Moment’ (it’s a place in WeChat to share things with your ‘friends’ — the same as how you share in Instagram or Facebook through posts). Sometimes, my friends will have a discussion under my post. For example, under the No.91 Full Metal Jacket (2018), my friends commented about the aesthetics, details, militaries and weapons. A military fan has discussed a LOT about Mi helmet and the width of the rubber band on it — what’s the rubber band made from? How do they cut it? Is it resilient enough to hold something with it?

I mean, it’s all about emotions, sharing and communication. This programme is a way for me to transform my memories through photography and text, while sharing it with people and enjoying the unpredictable encounters and comments. This whole process, because of social media, is so convenient. That is what social media provides to us, as well as to art creation.

Q: Talking about emotion, would you like to tell us more about what you think the relationship is between emotion, memory, photography and social media?

There’re many posts in my programme about emotion — personal emotion — which takes a static, physical form as an object. For example, this is my certificates of awards in Grade 1 in primary school. It’s much different from what it is now! (fig.1) The previous, old version looks amazingly authentic and severe. Sharing the photo of it is not simply to share the object, it is to narrate the story and transmit the feelings behind it. It holds our collective memory. Or, even if you don’t have that memory, by looking at it on social media, you may share similar feelings to me.

Sometimes, having this kind of programme on social media also sparks exchange. My classmate in primary school sent me an essay I wrote in Grade 1, called ‘A Reflection after Reading a Newspaper’ — it’s cool, isn’t it? (fig.2) He also found my transcripts — kind of scary — my entire transcript from Grade 3 in middle school is there.

Figure 1. No.6 The Certificate of Award: Merit Student, Extracted from the WeChat Program ‘The Big Collector Feng Mengbo’

Figure 2. No.53 A Reflection after Reading a Newspaper, Extracted from the WeChat Program ‘The Big Collector Feng Mengbo’

There’re many similar stories around emotion, memory and communication in my programme. When I write about the stories behind the collections, emotion is the main subject. Some emotions are communicated by words; some through photos. My way of photographing is quite neutral and objective, but it is right through those photos that people can feel a sense of memory and story behind them. The way that I communicate the feeling of nostalgia is different from using filters. Photography for me in this programme is a means of communicating the object and the emotion, without being rendered overtly.

Q: As you will show ‘The Big Collector Feng Mengbo’ on Snapchat just for For the Time Being, what is your plan to extend or change your programme on Wechat?

In For the Time Being, I will test the posting of photo-streamings without texts as an interpretation. This is partly because of the powerlessness of language facing cultural differences — the potential audiences may speak different languages and have different collective memories. But also, I do think the photo-streaming itself is enough to communicate the feeling of time, memory, identity and nostalgia to my audiences. Specifically, my photographs/photo-performance in this project will go beyond being objective in form, and will become the main way to communicate my personal feelings and emotions.

The way I imagine the photo-performance will be a hybrid between filming and photographing, but perhaps more intimate since I’ll use a mobile-phone camera to produce the videos/photos. The collections to be shown in For the Time Being are selected to express my understanding of memory, objects and photography. I can’t tell more about this project for now, but there are some playful things on this topic.

Q: For example?

I used Gameboy to produce photos of my son and Bruce Lee and exhibited them in a show a few years ago. The tools and pictures are all a part of my collection and were turned into a posting in my WeChat programmed named ‘No. 77 Game-boy’ (fig.3-6).

Figure 3-6. No.77 Game-boy, Extracted from the WeChat Program ‘The Big Collector Feng Mengbo’