Who’s involved in the development and fostering of a club scene? The first factors that come to mind are usually DJs, promoters, and venues. But the first person to decide whether you go to a party may, in fact, be the poster designer. And when you do attend a party, in addition to the music, the VJ performance that night can also determine your experience. Music is abstract, but visuals can let you understand a certain essence of the music through different ways. In Shanghai, where you can dance every night and the club scene is growing wildly, more and more visual artists are participating in the development of local, and even global, club scenes with their own unique perspectives and cutting-edge visual communication techniques. 

This December, we will focus on various visual artists based in Shanghai, and understand them from various angles such as aesthetics, technology, social impact and business practices. Because sometimes a stellar visual artist deserves to be the headliner. 

The communal spirit and advocation of cooperation is not only the pillar and lifeforce of club cultures around the world but also the visual artists active within the scene. Just like Jinkui Zhou, who we talked about in our previous installment, Beihai-bred artist ChillChill has collaborated with various members of Shanghai’s booming club scene and uses those relationships to fuel and inspire his work while bringing in his own social observations to create vivid virtual worlds. We were lucky enough to chat with the 29-year old Shanghai-based 3D animator about his journey to becoming a leading visionary for labels, producers and clubs as well as his penchant for dystopian cityscapes cluttered with the remnants of our ever-advancing society. 

Subtropical Asia: You used to study oil painting in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, What kind of opportunities led to your 3D artist career? How has your past academic experience influence your present work?

ChillChill: At that time, I felt that the flat, static language could not meet my creative needs, so I tried to use 3D software. I think my academic education allowed me to think about my own work through the logic and lens of art history. It was a very substantial period for me – a cultivation of critical thinking.

You have a strong and in-depth cooperation with musician Alex Wang and labels such as functionlab. Can you talk about how you communicate with music through visual elements and bring to life a party concept from the perspective of live VJ and MV production?

My VJ and MV work is actually output centered around my own work. I will have a context of my own creative system, and then the things I collaborated on during a specific period may be related to that theme. For example, when I was working with Alex, I paid more attention to the topics such as share bicycles and the share economy, so I wanted to meld his music with this topic for the collaboration. I think the creation process between visuals and music are still very different. Visuals will be lean more towards logic, and music may be more intuitive and perceptual, so we often do not aim at the theme of the content, but instead look for tangents or extensions of our ideas to convey a common emotion.

You once said that ALL is your favorite club in Shanghai, so what cooperation have you had with ALL Club? From the perspective of a visual artist, what does ALL represent?

My main cooperation with ALL Club is with the live performance of Alex Wang and some other VJ collborations. ALL to me is Shanghai’s most important club for visual arts. I think ALL is actually an incubator for new music and new art , and it is the birthplace of so-called subculture or new culture. It can provide a platform for the emerging artists to display their works.

Many of your works have symbols such as shared bicycles, delivery men, and LED signs found on the outskirts of urban areas. When these symbols are combined with the apocalyptic dystopian scene, what kind of experience do you want to create for the audience? And why are you interested in these visual symbols associated with the “low-end population”?

I think what I convey should be an aspect of contemporary society, a way of understanding the world. Why I am interested in this kind of things? I have asked myself this question too I think it may be because I grew up in this social class and background, so I think these things appear in my works to give me a sense of comfort.

Screenshot from <Mobike Sisyphus>

The recent popular “simulation theory”, that is, the reality we recognize is likely to be a whole set of preordained programs. This seems to be the connotation you want to express in your latest work “Brain in a Vat”. Do you agree with the “simulation theory”?

“Brain in a Vat” is a hypothesis proposed by Hilary Putnam in his “Rational Truth and History” in 1981. Simply put, if we can put the brain in a nutrient solution, everything the brain experiences is the neural signal provided to it, allowing the brain to distinguish whether it is in a real world or a simulated world. I think this is a good metaphor for today’s world, a real world you don’t know whether is real or a real world made for you by others, especially living in a place like mainland China. So I named my work asBrain in a Vat and then I interviewed several fictitious characters——including a deliveryman, a policeman, and so on. Then through these dialogues and images I was able to weave together a picture of our world today.


“Brain in a Vat” samples several chants related to the HK protests. As an artist living in mainland China, this is a bold and even risky move. Are you not afraid?

No. And I think you asked me if I am scared. There is a very strange motive behind that – a kind of self-censorship ny way of monitoring others. I think everyone who lives in this country has developed this sort of conditioning – it’s the most helpless part.

What do you think should be the relationship between the artist’s expression and political and social issues?

In my works, I often add some political elements, but it is not really politics. It is more like a seasoning, allowing the chef to make his food feel more comprehensive and rich, and even injecting a bit of humor. For me, political or social issues are like this in my art.

We have seen in your other interviews, you described: “3d is not a medium, but a thinking system that creates problems. “How to understand this sentence?

Many people have a habit of doing things, that is, first have a very clear concept, and then use tools, whether it is painting or 3D software, to realize the concept. For me, such a production method is boring. I want to work with tools to jointly generate a new theme and produce a new direction of thinking, so for me, 3D software is more of a system and way of thinking.

ChillChill’s studio

What do you think of human society in 100 years? Are you optimistic, pessimistic, or indifferent to the future of mankind?

It’s a bit unimaginable. I think that on the one hand, technology has brought progress, and on the other hand, it has brought more hidden control. Maybe 100 years later, humans will have more advanced technology, but a more boring life. Perhaps I am pessimistic in this way. But I don’t think this kind of optimistic or pessimistic taking sides makes much sense let’s just treat it as a joke.

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