The Creators Project: You’re so punk rock. Your new graphic book is about the Chinese punk scene you came up in during the 1970’s. While we’re waiting for the book to be translated, can you tell us a little about what it was like?
Peng Lei: The first time I came in contact with punk rock was in high school. At that time, young people in China were all getting turned on to it. Everyone was going crazy for it; there was so much energy. Besides, lots of girls in high school liked punk rock a lot. So I formed my first band primarily to get their attention.
When did visual art also sneak into your life?
In college my major was film, so after graduation I started to do animation, from big projects to small ones. My band released our first LP in high school, and it got popular pretty fast. So from very earlier on, the worlds of music and visual art overlapped in exciting ways for me. From 2004 to 2006, I made my first short film, which was called Peking Monster; and it was the first science fiction film in China. Then I made another movie called The Panda Candy, which was part documentary, part romance.
Part of the allure of your films, music, and visual art is that they seem to come from a place that is at once familiar, freakish, cute, and challenging for the viewer think about. Is that intentional, or just what you’re naturally drawn to?
Let's talk about The Panda Candy first. I made it in 2006. The main idea was that during that time, there were lots of girls in relationships with girls in China. It suddenly became trendy to be bisexual, and I thought they were all influenced by a TV show called “Super Girls.” I was curious whether these girls were really into girls or just in it for the trend. So I decided to investigate and made the answers to my questions into The Panda Candy. Actually this one was kind of a semi-documentary film. We tried to find women who would openly answer questions about their sexual orientation. When their answers seemed genuine, we would ask them for permission to record their lives.
Peking Monster seems to almost exist within its own genre. How did you arrive at the unique technologies you used to make it?
During that time in China most filmmakers were known for making very high tech movies, and that was the trend. But I’ve always been really rebellious, so I decided to make this film using stop motion animation. We made all these clay and rubber models by ourselves, then took pictures of them, moved them, and combined them in the end as a whole film.
You’re constantly reinventing yourself. Why does your style change so significantly from project to project?
Well, the first three albums were punk, but later when we were doing the fourth one, we lost our drummer, so we started making beats on the computer. So now we’re more electronic or dance music. I like to go with the flow when it comes to making art and not be constrained by old ideas.
What do you think about the future of art in China?
The Chinese government recently realized that investing in creative industries is much cheaper than subsidizing oil and coal. So they started to give money to young people to encourage them do the creative projects that might turn profitable. However, in China, the government still puts limitations on those of us who are “too” creative. For example we had some music performances that were shut down by the government because we were doing punk music, which those politicians thought was evil or something. So I would say there is still a long way to go before I can say that China is a country that supports its artists.
The same weird toothy cartoon characters reappear in your paintings and graphic books. Where do they come from?
Most of these ideas are from my childhood. When I was a child, I used to watch Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. Then I started to imagine what they would be like if they grew up in China. Then I used those characters as models, and created new Chinese stories based on those characters, like with them playing Mahjong and drinking…stuff I watched the adults around me do while I was growing up.
How do you imagine the future?
When I was a child, I always imagined that in the future there would be lots of robbers, but it turned out that that factor has not changed significantly at all. But I can't overstate what a strong influence the science fiction about the future from my childhood has had on my music, movies, and art.
If you could have access to any new technology in your work, what would it be?