Tag Archives: China

My Fictional Exhibition: CHINA NOW

“Most people are other people. Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”  This is a quote from Oscar Wilde.  Reading this I can not stop thinking about questions such as do we meet thousands of other people when we meet one individual, how much do other people influence us in the formation of our own identity and are we who we think we are or what other people perceive us to be.

Like the first few times that you look in the mirror and the period in which your body changes alongside with your facial features, you meet yourself, at least the physical self.

China is changing just like everybody else but a lot of the time she chooses to use the mirror inside the closet, concealing the view so others can not see her, adore her, judge her, hate her, feel indifferently…  She is looking at an old photograph and she is filled with bittersweet nostalgia.  She is not who she was back then and now she is just an acquaintance to her former self.  At times she is proud of where she is, the person she has become after all the tragedies and obstacles but she has enough sense of humor to mock her in a self-deprecating manner.

Under Mao’s rule, the Cultural Revolution of 1966 meant that only artwork that was supporting the socialist society was allowed to exist.  Artists whose work deemed to be too bourgeoisie or anti-socialist were persecuted and prevented from working.  The almost oxymoron of encouraging exploration of traditional methods whilst forbidding the return to traditional themes confused many.

It was only after Mao’s death that the period of state supported art ended.  This opened the doors for artists to reflect upon the new realities that China is now facing.

CHINA NOW exhibition focuses on the photographers from the post-cultural revolution China to reintroduce the country that is in hiding.  The Internet censorship becomes the closet doors that hold China and her mirror inside whilst the gallery space holds the flies on the wall that look at her.  Strangers catch a glimpse of China to reacquaint after a long period of silence.

The theme of identity is explored through the way an outsider may perceive one.  Tseng Kwong Chi’s self portraits pokes fun at the way Westerner’s perceived China in the 1980’s whilst Sun Ji’s decaying landscapes makes an introduction to nostalgia in reference to changing urbanscapes and what this may mean at an individual level.

Zhe Chen and Chi Peng deal with confusion of identity and consubstantiality.  Hong Hao’s still-lives allows the viewer to question if what we own is whom we are by accepting the viewer to peek into his belongings and Song Chao equally opens up by sharing his daily working life.

Yao Lu and Zhang Kechun highlight the impact of the rapid changes on the landscape as Wang Qingsong and Chen Jiagang explore the impact this has on society.

DISCLAIMER:  I do not own the copyright of these photographs and each image is labelled by the photographer alongside its title and year of production.


Sunday Picnic Anyone?

Often we look at photographs and move onto the next one like hungry ants on an unusually warm early spring Sunday picnic.  Thats what I did with the eye-catching book cover of the Prix Pictet Prize 2009 with the theme Earth.

The lead image of the “Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic)” by Nadav Kander, at first glance,  shows a group of youths enjoying a picnic at the banks of Yangtze River.  There are two tables: bigger table with one young man with three young women facing him and one smaller table with another young man looking directly at the camera.  He sits further away from the group and does not interact with the others.  There is also a boat with an older man facing the camera and further boats out in the distance.

The scene is towered by cylinders forming the base of a highway.  This structure can be followed all the way into the hazy distant pseudo-horizon.

The photographer describes that he used the river as a metaphor for constant change.  The 6500km long river has one in eighteen of the world’s population living along its bank.   Kander states that China “is a nation severing its roots, by destroying its past in the wake of the sheer force of moving forward at such an astounding and unnatural pace”.

With this background information about the series this work belongs to, I feel the essence of the photograph for me is the contrast between the body language of the two main male characters.  One is accepted and engaged by his peers and the other seemingly alienated. This acts as a metaphor of people’s attitudes to a rapidly changing culture and the battle between “moving forward” and losing one’s identity and values in the process.

While I was in Paris, I’ve seen another photograph that I believed was by the same photographer.  Little did I know that the photographer and the river photographed were different.  Kechun Zhang’s The Yellow River featured in the Photoquai exhibition also uses contrasting scenes of beautiful nature and the harsh human influences over it to highlight the dark side of booming China.

Sunday Picnic