Posts Tagged ‘Chinese contemporary photography

04
Apr
20

Exhibition: ‘A Lasting Memento: John Thomson’s Photographs Along the River Min’ at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Salem MA

Exhibition dates: 1st June 2019 – 17th May 2020

Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) has closed until further notice due to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic

#MuseumFromHome

 

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'The Island Pagoda' 1873

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
The Island Pagoda
1873
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

 

Greetings from Australia.

Since we can’t go travelling ourselves at the moment let us travel, virtually, through time – back to the 19th century – and space, to journey with Scottish-born travel photographer up the River Min to the Chinese city of Fuzhou (Foochow). Let us wonder at these European colonial photographs, reflections of pagoda, bucolic landscapes, Eastern temples, Western churches and dangerous rapids. Thomson “portrayed a halcyon land, with romanticised vistas that reference the ethereal atmosphere of Chinese paintings and the sweeping panoramas of European paintings.”

Let us luxuriate, then, in these stunning carbon prints – their rich colour, their stillness – as lasting mementos of a vanished land, as memory objects reanimated in our imagination, so that we can travel beyond our current confinement.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Peabody Essex Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

As far as travel souvenirs go, few can beat John Thomson’s leather-bound photo album Foochow and the River Min. From 1870 to 1871, the Scottish-born photographer traveled 160 miles up the River Min to document the area in and around the city of Fuzhou (Foochow), an important centre of international trade and one of the most picturesque provinces in China. Thomson sold his book by advance subscription to the foreign residents of Fuzhou – tea planters, merchants, missionaries and government officials 0 who wanted a way to share their experiences with friends and family back home.

Fewer than 10 of the original 46 copies of this album survived, and the Peabody Essex Museum is privileged to own two of them. A Lasting Memento: John Thomson’s Photographs Along the River Min presents this rare collection of photographs for the first time at PEM. The exhibition also features 10 works by contemporary Chinese photographer Luo Dan.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'A Lasting Memento: John Thomson's Photographs Along the River Min' at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Salem MA 

 

Installation view of the exhibition A Lasting Memento: John Thomson’s Photographs Along the River Min at the Peabody Essex Museum (PEM), Salem MA

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Foochow and the River Min' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Foochow and the River Min
1870-1871
Leather-bound photo album
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Pagoda Island' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Pagoda Island
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Yuen-Fu Rapid' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Yuen-Fu Rapid
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Yen Ping Rapid' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Yen Ping Rapid
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Rocks in the Rapids' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Rocks in the Rapids
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'A Reach of the Min' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
A Reach of the Min
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'A Rapid Boat' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
A Rapid Boat
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

 

Photographic Journeys Past and Present Show China in a New Light

The Peabody Essex Museum (PEM) presents a voyage into 19th-century China through one of PEM’s photographic treasures, John Thomson’s rare album Foochow and the River Min. More than forty striking landscapes, city views, and portrait studies will be on view, captured by Thomson as he travelled in the Fujian province in Southeast China from 1870 to 1871. These prints are complemented by a selection of photographs by contemporary artist Luo Dan, who was inspired by Thomson to undertake his own journey in southwestern China in 2010. A Lasting Memento: John Thomson’s Photographs Along the River Min is on view at PEM from June 1, 2019 through May 17, 2020.

From 1870 to 1871, Scottish-born photographer John Thomson traveled 160 miles up the River Min to document the area in and around the city of Fuzhou (Foochow), one of the most picturesque regions in China. Thomson gathered eighty photographs from this voyage into an album titled Foochow and the River Min which was sold by advance subscription to the foreign residents of Fuzhou – tea planters, merchants, missionaries and government officials – who wanted a way to share their experiences with friends and family back home. Of the 46 copies originally published, fewer than 10 survive today and PEM is privileged to own two of them, both of which are featured in the exhibition.

“Many people have a conception of China as very industrialised and modern, even sterile, but these photographs complicate that notion and reveal the country’s incredible beauty and geographic diversity,” says Sarah Kennel, PEM’s Byrne Family Curator of Photography. “The roots of China’s rapid modernisation go back to the 19th-century and are part of a larger history of maritime culture, trade, and globalisation that are also entwined with PEM’s origin story. This exhibition affirms how photography can bring us back to another place in time and can change the way we see the world.”

Thomson was a renowned photographer, focusing on fine art, landscape, and architectural photos, and was often credited with being one of the first photographers to use pictures in conjunction with journalistic commentary. Foochow and the River Min is accompanied by introductory text, presenting a pictorial journey featuring the character of the growing city of Fuzhou, the beauty of the landscapes surrounding the River Min, as well as Thomson’s studies of the people he encountered there.

 

Documenting Eastern culture

Thomson is considered one of the first photographers to document East and South Asia. Born in Scotland, he learned photography while still in school, working as an apprentice to a maker of optical and scientific instruments. In 1862, he joined his older brother William, also a photographer and watchmaker, in Singapore, where they established a studio. Thomson spent the next several years photographing throughout Asia, including Cambodia, India, and Thailand. By 1866, he had joined the Royal Ethnological Society of London, was elected a Fellow member of the Royal Geographic Society, and styled himself as an expert on Eastern cultures. In 1868, he established a studio in Hong Kong, a burgeoning centre of photography and trade. For the next four years, Thomson traveled and photographed throughout China before returning in 1872 to Britain, where he remained until his death in 1921.

The exhibition follows Thomson’s journey up the River Min, from the city of Fuzhou to Nanping. “Thomson’s extraordinary gifts as a photographer are evident in his compositions, including his famous view of the floating island pagoda,” says Kennel. “You can look at these as merely beautiful pictures, but if you unlock them a little bit they tell the story of an important moment of economic trade, cultural exchange, and political tension.”

Among the works on view are an extraordinary series on the Yuen Fu monastery, tucked high up a steep, rocky ravine. A strain of wistful romanticism is present, particularly in landscape photographs that incorporate a solitary figure.

In order to make his negatives, Thomson used the wet-collodion process. This required him to set up a large camera on a tripod and prepare the photographic plate on the spot by dipping it into light-sensitive chemicals in a makeshift darkroom, putting it in a plate holder and making the exposure within five minutes. He experimented with these processes while traveling by boat or ascending very steep hills and traversing rough terrain with a coterie of Chinese employees who not only hauled his equipment but also sometimes carried Thomson himself. Missionary and business colleagues helped facilitate introductions and provide access to unique locations so that Thomson could make his landscapes and portraits. The albums were printed using the carbon process, which imbues them with a rich, purplish tonality.

 

Inspired by Thomson

Contemporary Chinese photographer Luo Dan’s work focuses on the impact of modernisation and globalisation in China. Inspired by Thomson’s example, Luo traveled to the remote Nu River Valley in southwestern China, where he lived with and photographed the Lisu and Nu Christian ethnic minority communities for nearly two years, using the same hand-made wet-collodion process that Thomson had employed some 150 years earlier. Luo was especially interested in what he perceived as the villagers’ connection to local cultural traditions. A Lasting Memento features 10 works by Luo that reflect on and reverberate with the spirit and enterprise of Thomson’s 19th-century project.

Press release from the Peabody Essex Museum website

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Foochow Church' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Foochow Church
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Foochow and the River Min (Yuen Fu monastery)' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Foochow and the River Min (Yuen Fu monastery)
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Right Shoulder of Cave' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Right Shoulder of Cave (view from the building above looking down to the left)
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'A Small Temple at Ku-Shan' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
A Small Temple at Ku-Shan
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Road to the Plantation' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Road to the Plantation
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

 

“In an eerie parallel to today, the late 1800’s represented an international inflection point, with rampant Western industrialisation spurring expansive global trade, cultural exchange and attendant political tension. The invention of photography in 1839 enabled our earliest photographs of faraway lands and exotic cultures, most often brought back by wealthy amateurs (many of those images are held in the rich archives of the PEM.) Not so with John Thomson, a renowned professional photographer who garnered capital through pre-paid subscriptions to his album “Foochow and the River Min.” Thomson photographed the project on a two-year journey, traveling 160 miles up the River Min, from the city of Fuzhou (Foochow) to Nanping, considered one of the most picturesque regions in China.

In this scenic southeast region of China, a new British tea trade was flourishing. Thomson’s album catered to the interests of foreign tea planters, merchants, missionaries and governmental officials. These ex-patriots clamoured to share with their European family and friends Thomson’s skilfully crafted documentary photographs of the Chinese land and people who shaped their new lives. Interestingly, Thomson did not photograph much industry or commerce. Rather, he portrayed a halcyon land, with romanticised vistas that reference the ethereal atmosphere of Chinese paintings and the sweeping panoramas of European paintings. …

Thomson’s carbon prints are technically awe-inspiring. Utilising the cumbersome wet-plate collodion method of creating negatives on large, delicate glass plates that must be exposed while still wet in a hefty view camera on a tripod, Thomson then created his photographic prints on paper with the tricky but stable carbon method in his studio. I imagine this undertaking bore similarities to Hannibal crossing the Alps and that Thomson must have been a robust and determined 33 year-old. Perhaps he was also a perfectionist, because Thomson’s prints from the 1870’s are impeccably pristine. Come see, it is uncanny.”

Elin Spring. “Images of China, Then & Now” on the What Will You Remember? website [Online] Cited 29/03/2020

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Part of Lower Bridge' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Part of Lower Bridge
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'A Military Mandarin' (detail) 1873

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
A Military Mandarin (detail)
1873
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives, 1972

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Hired Labourers' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Hired Labourers
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921) 'Mode of Dressing the Hair' 1870-1871

 

John Thomson (Scottish, 1837-1921)
Mode of Dressing the Hair
1870-1871
Carbon print
Gift of the Estate of Mrs. Anthony Rives
© Peabody Essex Museum
Photography by Ken Sawyer

 

 

John Thomson

John Thomson (14 June 1837 – 29 September 1921) was a pioneering Scottish photographer, geographer, and traveller. He was one of the first photographers to travel to the Far East, documenting the people, landscapes and artefacts of eastern cultures. Upon returning home, his work among the street people of London cemented his reputation, and is regarded as a classic instance of social documentary which laid the foundations for photojournalism. He went on to become a portrait photographer of High Society in Mayfair, gaining the Royal Warrant in 1881. …

 

Travels in China

After a year in Britain, Thomson again felt the desire to return to the Far East. He returned to Singapore in July 1867, before moving to Saigon for three months and finally settling in Hong Kong in 1868. He established a studio in the Commercial Bank building, and spent the next four years photographing the people of China and recording the diversity of Chinese culture.

Thomson traveled extensively throughout China, from the southern trading ports of Hong Kong and Canton to the cities of Peking and Shanghai, to the Great Wall in the north, and deep into central China. From 1870 to 1871 he visited the Fukien region, travelling up the Min River by boat with the American Protestant missionary Reverend Justus Doolittle, and then visited Amoy and Swatow.

He went on to visit the island of Formosa (modern-day Taiwan) with the missionary Dr James Laidlaw Maxwell, landing first in Takao in early April 1871. The pair visited the capital, Taiwanfu (now Tainan), before travelling on to the aboriginal villages on the west plains of the island. After leaving Formosa, Thomson spent the next three months travelling 3,000 miles up the Yangtze River, reaching Hupeh and Szechuan.

Thomson’s travels in China were often perilous, as he visited remote, almost unpopulated regions far inland. Most of the people he encountered had never seen a Westerner or camera before. His expeditions were also especially challenging because he had to transport his bulky wooden camera, many large, fragile glass plates, and potentially explosive chemicals. He photographed in a wide variety of conditions and often had to improvise because chemicals were difficult to acquire. His subject matter varied enormously: from humble beggars and street people to Mandarins, Princes and senior government officials; from remote monasteries to Imperial Palaces; from simple rural villages to magnificent landscapes.

Thomson returned to England in 1872

See the full Wikipedia website entry

 

Luo Dan (Chinese, b. 1968) 'Simple Song No. 4 (Yang Du Lei and Her Sister Yang Hua Lin, WaWa Village)' 2010

 

Luo Dan (Chinese, b. 1968)
Simple Song No. 4 (Yang Du Lei and Her Sister Yang Hua Lin, WaWa Village)
2010
Inkjet print from collodion negatives
© Luo Dan, Courtesy of M97 Gallery

 

Luo Dan (Chinese, b. 1968) 'Simple Song No. 7 (Jin Ma Wei, Lao Mu Deng Village)' 2010

 

Luo Dan (Chinese, b. 1968)
Simple Song No. 7 (Jin Ma Wei, Lao Mu Deng Village)
2010
Inkjet print from collodion negatives
© Luo Dan, Courtesy of M97 Gallery

 

 

Luo Dan

Luo Dan was born in Chongqing, China, in 1968 and graduated from the Sichuan Fine Art Academy in 1992. He currently lives and works in Chengdu, China.

On another trip, Luo Dan found a remote village, in the Nu River valley in the western part of Yunnan Provence that still remained authentic to a simple agricultural life. This was a predominantly Christian village, the Lisu (a Chinese minority nationality), who were converted to Christianity by missionaries many years before. Luo Dan was attracted to their lifestyle and beliefs.

Luo Dan returned to photograph the villagers with a wooden box camera that he had found in Shandong. The camera was really a museum piece with a lens from 1900 that was slightly soft in its focus. Luo Dan decided to use a wet plate collodion process. This process was first used in the 1850s, using glass plates to make a negative. The process required the photographic material to be coated, sensitised, exposed and developed within the span of about fifteen minutes, necessitating a portable darkroom for use in the field. Luo Dan converted a minivan to a travelling darkroom.

Luo himself says,

“As photography grew ever more technologically complete, it drifted ever farther from its earliest starting point. External factors entered in, and its purity was gradually lost. …

The collodian process is from the earliest times of photography and although laborious, produces remarkable detail and a sense of timelessness that comes from the historic nature of the process. This area is very remote and has almost been forgotten by the modern world. In his photographs, titled “Simple Song”, Luo Dan wishes to show something of the human condition that goes beyond the preoccupations of modern China; materialism, urban development and economic growth. China’s economic achievements are remarkable but on other levels there are many gaps and voids in human experience due to this rapid development. Luo Dan’s work holds a mirror to show that there is an alternate view, one that may have a more spiritual value.

Luo Dan photographs his subjects with a very clear, steady gaze with an awareness of placement and composition. The collodion process makes very slow exposures and the subject must hold the position for up to a minute depending on the light. Often the images are slightly soft due to the movement of the subject or the surroundings. There is also a limited depth of field at times that selectively isolates the subject in front of the softer focus of the background.

His interest in this place and its people has some reference to anthropology in his scrutiny, however the photographs are so much more than an anthropological or ethnographic study by an outsider. The photographs document the lives of the Lisu people through their daily activities, their possessions and traditional costumes. The people are often posed in their Sunday best. They have a timelessness, a ‘difficult to place’ sense of being from the past but also the present and the future. The villagers could continue with this traditional lifestyle for many years to come. There is some concern however, that China’s demand for power will result in dams for hydropower, forever changing this region. Luo Dan stayed in the villages for about twelve months while making this series and he keeps returning.

The wet-plate process necessitates a very hands-on approach by the photographer. It reaches back to the basic fundamentals of photography; the effect of light on silver halide crystals that results in an image. Luo Dan’s photographs show the collodian process through the peeling and painterly edges of the prints, the marks and imperfections and the incredible detail of the collodion. The final works are the result of scanning the glass plates and printing the works to a larger scale on Ilford gold silk fibre paper. They are incredibly beautiful and capture a moment in time with great sensitivity. For some photographers who use this process it becomes all about the technique, however this is not the case. Luo Dan uses the wet-plate collodion technique as a way to return to a handcrafted skill of the past that mirrors the primitive tools and farming methods of the villagers. He is an alchemist in the way he creates ‘magic’ with his wooden box, glass and chemicals. The immediacy of the technique enables the villages to share this magic in the making of the glass plates. He is an authentic cultural observer.

In his words, “I travelled a long road, saw a lot of things, and in the end realised that all differences are actually similarities. And so I stopped, and looked in a single place for something unchanging, tried to figure out why this place had the power to stand still in time.”

Anonymous text from the China Photo Education website [Online] Cited 31/03/2020

 

Luo Dan (Chinese, b. 1968) 'Simple Song No. 28 (Sha Yi Hai with His Crossbow, Shi Di Village)' 2010

 

Luo Dan (Chinese, b. 1968)
Simple Song No. 28 (Sha Yi Hai with His Crossbow, Shi Di Village)
2010
Inkjet print from collodion negatives
© Luo Dan, Courtesy of M97 Gallery

 

Luo Dan (Chinese, b. 1968) 'Simple Song No. 62 (Door)' 2012

 

Luo Dan (Chinese, b. 1968)
Simple Song No. 62 (Door)
2012
Inkjet print from collodion negatives
© Luo Dan, Courtesy of M97 Gallery

 

 

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17
Jan
20

Review: ‘Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China’ at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 22nd June 2019 – 27th January 2020

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

 

Writing the body politic / broken

Ho hum, ho hum.

The exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria is an extension of the 2008 exhibition Body Language: Contemporary Chinese Photography with many of the same photographs being shown again, with new additions to the collection.

Nothing much seems to have changed in the last 12 years. Contemporary Chinese photography still concentrates on limited narratives based around the performing body, the body positioned in time and space in relation to history, memory, tradition, culture and consumerism. What the “turning points” are in the title of this exhibition remains unclear. Turning points for who? The art, the artists, the stories they tell, or the restrictive nature of contemporary Chinese culture.

Certain things remain constant: an emphasis on the performing body, (its) theatrical style, (in) elaborate tableaux, contemporary consumer society, urban reconstruction, and tradition and change. The body is usually isolated against contextless backgrounds, free floating, paired with a rather stilted iconography derived from Chinese culture – coins, calligraphy, statues, spirits, tattoos as traditional historical painting, calligraphy, buildings, revolution – focusing on “the dismantling of tradition during a period of rampant consumerism and modernisation.”

Even while these artists apparently possess, “an urgent desire to explore individual and social identity in a time of unprecedented change … that reflect the tensions in Chinese society as the processes of social change meet traditional culture and expectations head-on”, no/body mentions the elephant in the room – the repressive and aggressive nature of the Chinese government, it’s suppression of dissent both internally and externally, its appalling human rights record and its expansionist policy in the South China Sea. The paradox is that while, “Hai Bo’s paired portraits illustrate the cultural shifts that have occurred over forty years as people in China have become increasingly able to show their individuality”, that individuality is closely controlled by the State. Step out of line, as many artists have found to their peril, and you are soon done for.

No mention here of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, the current democracy protests in Hong Kong, or the recently released report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) which contains a damning essay on China’s “global threat” to human rights. No other government “flexes its political muscles with such vigour and determination to undermine the international human rights standards and institutions that could hold it to account.” The HRW report cites a slew of violations ranging from the mass detention of Uyghur Muslims in the far-western autonomous region of Xinjiang, to increased censorship, to the use of technologies for mass surveillance and social control. Nothing to see here!

The work of most of the artists in this exhibition seems insular, inward looking – chained to the country’s past and present, memory and history, culture and its re/constitution. Addressing its constitution through supplication. Addressing the representation of institutional power in socialist regimes through images with heroic overtones. It’s almost as if these artists are painting symbols, painting a monosyllabic mythology of how their country was and is now with no turning point in sight. Parsing on ancient and modern to no great effect.

The only two artists who really lay it on the line, who confront the dragon, are Rong Rong’s photographs of a performance by artist Zhang Huan titled 12 square metres (1994, below) in which the artist sat naked, smeared in honey and fish oil in a local public toilet for an hour before cleansing himself in a polluted pond; and Sheng Qi’s Memories (Mother), Memories (Me) and Memories (Mao) (2000, below) in which the artist was deeply affected by the changed political climate following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and uses his disfigurement “as the backdrop for a series of self-portraits that juxtapose his past and present.”

These are the photographs that I will remember. The others, stolid, prosaic, are lost.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the National Gallery of Victoria for allowing me to publish the images in the posting. All installation images are by Dr Marcus Bunyan and proceed in a clockwise direction around the exhibition. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Cang Xin (Chinese, b. 1967) Six photographs from the Communication series (1996-2006)

 

Cang Xin (Chinese, 1967) 'Communication' 1996-2006ommunication 1999-b

 

Cang Xin (Chinese, 1967)
Communication
1996-2006
Type C photograph ed. 10/10
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Cang Xin (Chinese, 1967) 'Communication' 1996-2006ommunication 1999-b

 

Cang Xin (Chinese, 1967)
Communication
1996-2006
Type C photograph ed. 10/10
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Cang Xin is a celebrated performance artist who uses photography as an adjunct to his practice. In these photographs he is documenting a ritualistic performance in which he licks various objects that have a symbolic resonance for him. Each object has a link to China and its history, although those meanings remain intentionally obscured and subjective. The artist literally experiences the objects through a sense of taste and a physical action; the intimate act of licking becomes a gesture of communication or communion with the past.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing at left, Qiu Zhijie (Chinese, b. 1969) Tattoo no. 7 (1994); at second left, Rong Rong (Chinese, b. 1968) East Village Beijing no. 15 (1994); and at middle right, Zhang Huan (Chinese, b. 1965) Shanghai family tree (2001)

 

Qiu Zhijie (Chinese, b. 1969) 'Tattoo no. 7' 1994

 

Qiu Zhijie (Chinese, b. 1969)
Tattoo no. 7
1994
From the Tattoo series 1994
Type C photograph, ed. 8/10
101.6 x 76.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

In his Tattoo series, Qui Zhijie overlays self-portraits with drawings, images and objects, such as the coins shown here. Discussing this series, he writes, ‘The Tattoo series focuses on the problematic relationship between an image and its background … In this series the two find common ground. The substance of the subject, the weight of the person, and the physicality of the figure all dissolve … This series is a response to the futility and drowning of the individual brought about by the onslaught of the Chinese media culture which began to develop during the 1990s’.

 

Rong Rong (Chinese, b. 1968) 'East Village Beijing no. 15' 1994

 

Rong Rong (Chinese, b. 1968)
East Village Beijing no. 15
1994
Gelatin silver photograph, coloured dyes
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016

 

 

Rong Rong is well known for his images that show the lives and activities of the avant-garde Beijing East Village artistic community during the 1990s. This photograph is one of a series created to document a famous performance by fellow artist Zhang Huan, during which Zhang covered his naked body with honey and fish oil and sat on a stool in a public toilet, allowing flies to swarm over his body. Rong Rong’s photographs, made throughout the performance, form a crucial record of this performative action that was intended to comment on the squalid conditions in which the artists were living.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Zhang Huan (Chinese, b. 1965) Shanghai family tree (2001)

 

Zhang Huan (Chinese, b. 1965) 'Shanghai family tree' 2001

 

Zhang Huan (Chinese, b. 1965)
Shanghai family tree
2001
Type C photographs ed. 25/25
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased with funds donated by Jason Yeap and Min Lee Wong, 2008
© Zhang Huan Studio

 

 

The faces of the two young men and the young woman in Zhang Huan’s suite of nine photographs are used like the blank pages in a book carrying an increasingly oppressive weight of words. The Chinese characters inscribed on their faces gradually obliterate their features and identities. In the final photograph, the trio are shown in front of a new housing development in Shanghai. Their features are totally obscured, suggesting a parallel between the loss of personal identity and the rapid pace of development that is rendering the city unrecognisable.

In 1999 the internationally renowned Chinese performance and video artist, sculptor and photographer Zhang Huan wrote of his distinctive approach to his practice: ‘The body is the only direct way through which I come to know society and society comes to know me. The body is proof of identity. The body is language’. The complex tangle of history and tradition that can override the individual appears as a theme in much of Zhang Huan’s avant-garde performances and photographs and, as seen in this work, is frequently expressed through the use of language. In Shanghai family tree Zhang Huan (to the left) poses with a man and woman, their faces becoming increasingly obscured by Chinese characters. This work seems to suggest the importance of language which, while it can overwhelm the individual, undoubtedly also helps define a person’s relationship to society.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing two photographs from Zhuang Hui’s One and Thirty series (1996)

 

Zhuang Hui (Chinese, b. 1963) 'Untitled' 1996

 

Zhuang Hui (Chinese, b. 1963)
Untitled
1996
From the One and Thirty
Type C photograph, ed. 3/3
61.0 x 51.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh in honour of Tony Ellwood, Director NGV, 2018
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

The series title of these photographs, One and Thirty, is didactic. There are ‘thirty’ portraits in the sequence and ‘one’ figure who appears in each image, the ever-smiling figure of the artist. Each photograph shows Zhuang Hui posed with an individual he has selected as the representative of a particular vocational or social group. In one of the works shown here Zhuang is photographed seated beside an older man holding a baby on his knee, a classic doting grandfather; in the other image he is photographed with a smartly dressed, young professional woman.

 

Wang Qingsong (Chinese, b. 1966) 'Standard family' 1996

 

Wang Qingsong (Chinese, b. 1966)
Standard family
1996
Type C photograph, ed. 8/30
48.2 x 124.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2017
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Wang Jinsong’s Standard family project investigates contemporary Chinese culture and the effects of the one-child policy, which was introduced in China in the 1970s as a means of curbing population growth. Without any clear agenda or critical stance, Wang invited families to participate in photo shoots where the parents invariably elected to pose flanking their lone child. When the images are repeated and presented in a grid, the ‘standard’ nature of the family unit becomes evident, allowing for a reading of generic poses and expressions across the various families, and inviting speculation and commentary on the effects of collectivism when imposed on social structures.

 

Wang Qingsong (Chinese, b. 1966) 'Standard family' 1996 (detail)

 

Wang Qingsong (Chinese, b. 1966)
Standard family (detail)
1996
Type C photograph, ed. 8/30
48.2 x 124.4 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2017
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Qiu Zhijie’s Standard Pose series (1996-98)

 

Qiu Zhijie (Chinese b. 1969) 'Fine series A' 1996-98

 

Qiu Zhijie (Chinese b. 1969)
Fine series A
1996-98
From the Standard Pose series 1996-98
Type C photograph, ed. 9/10
58.0 x 61.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

In common with many photographers working in China in the 1990s, Qiu Zhijie uses the performing body in his images. Throughout his career he has combined performance, video and photography to create works that explore ideas of history, individuality and identity in contemporary China. The four photographs from the Standard Pose series reference propaganda images produced during the Cultural Revolution and consider the failure of the future that they promised. Photographed in a simple studio setting and wearing contemporary clothes, the models, with their overly dramatic poses and facial expressions, appear comical rather than heroic.

 

Qiu Zhijie (Chinese b. 1969) 'Fine series C' 1996-98

 

Qiu Zhijie (Chinese b. 1969)
Fine series C
1996-98
From the Standard Pose series 1996-98
Type C photograph, ed. 9/10
58.0 x 61.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Qiu Zhijie (Chinese b. 1969) 'Fine series D' 1996-98

 

Qiu Zhijie (Chinese b. 1969)
Fine series D
1996-98
From the Standard Pose series 1996-98
Type C photograph, ed. 9/10
58.0 x 61.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China explores the work of established and emerging photo-artists working in a time of rapid social and economic change.

In the 1990s, Chinese photography became one of the most dynamic and exciting areas in contemporary international art. Artists in China increasingly began to use photography to not only to document their lives but to question and challenge the status quo. The ‘first generation’ of contemporary Chinese artists included here – those born in the 1960s – examined the societal impact of the Cultural Revolution, and reflected on their own and their families’ personal experiences. The next generation of photographers, born in the 1980s and later, bring not only different life experience, having come of age in the twenty-first century, but are actively engaged with the global community in ways that were not possible in previous decades.

The works included in this exhibition offer commentaries on individuality and identity, cultural change, the transformation of Chinese cities, and the impact of consumerism and globalisation on contemporary society.

The National Gallery of Victoria began to collect contemporary Chinese photography in 2004, and in 2008 presented the exhibition Body Language: Contemporary Chinese Photography. Since that time the Gallery has continued to build this aspect of the collection.

More recently, in 2016 and 2017, the NGV photography collection was transformed through the generosity of Larry Warsh. An American collector, publisher and founder of AW Asia, a private organisation and exhibition space in New York, Warsh presented a suite of twenty-nine contemporary Chinese photographs as a gift to the Gallery. His donation comprises works by some of the most important Chinese photographic artists working in the 1990s and early 2000s, including Hong Lei, Rong Rong and Wang Qingsong. Warsh’s presentation effectively doubled the NGV’s holdings of contemporary Chinese photography, and this exhibition, which includes a number of works from this important gift, was made possible because of his generosity.

Text from the National Gallery of Victoria website [Online] Cited 23/12/2019

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing at left, Wang Qingsong’s City walls (2002); at second left bottom Zhang Dali 2001 42A (2001) from the Demolition and Dialogue series; at centre, Chi Peng’s Apollo in transit (2005); at centre right, Yang Yongliang’s Eclipse (2008); and at right Huang Yan’s Chinese landscape – Tattoo (1999)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Wang Qingsong’s City walls (2002)

 

 

Wang Jinsong’s photograph shows aspects of the architecture and history of Beijing, drawing attention to the abandonment of time-honoured buildings, homes and ways of living. City walls comprises a grid of 360 images of buildings in Beijing. The great majority of the photographs are of generic concrete constructions, printed in a grey monotone. Interspersed among these are richly coloured images showing traditional architecture. The placement of the photographs in a grid creates an immediate visual link to the idiosyncratic brick construction of the older buildings, which are rapidly being replaced by new, uniform reinforced concrete structures.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing at top, Weng Fen’s On the wall: Guangzhou (4) (2002) and at bottom, Zhang Dali’s 2001 42A (2001)

 

Zhang Dali (Chinese, b. 1963) '2001 42A' 2001

 

Zhang Dali (Chinese, b. 1963)
2001 42A
2001
from the Demolition and dialogue series
type C photograph
63.5 × 114.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

This photograph, showing a partially demolished wall emblazoned with a large-scale painted outline of the artist’s head and his pseudonym, AK-47, brings together several aspects of the practice of multidisciplinary artist Zhang Dali. Zhang went into self-imposed exile from China in 1989 and when he returned to Beijing six years later, he found his home was in the midst of rapid change. Zhang wanted to protest the loss of traditional buildings, document the ruined remnants before they were swept away, and convey his sense of the loss of history and identity that was a consequence of those changes.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Chi Peng’s Apollo in transit (2005)

 

 

Chi Peng’s works often contain naked figures spiriting or running through ‘history’, while refusing any start or ending of their visual narrative. Unravelling like a traditional Chinese scroll, the red brick wall surrounding the Forbidden City extends the length of this digitally altered panoramic image. The artist has inserted repeat images of himself running left to right alongside the wall, in front of a variety of onlookers. A metaphor for East / West relations, this theatrical image brings together potent symbols of traditional and contemporary life in China.

 

Yongliang Yang (Chinese, b. 1980) 'Eclipse' 2008

 

Yongliang Yang (Chinese, b. 1980)
Eclipse
2008
From the On the quiet water, heavenly city series 2008
Inkjet print 73.0 x 200.0 cm (image) 81.6 x 208.2 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the Mering Corporation Pty Ltd through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2012
© Yang Yongliang

 

Yongliang Yang (Chinese, b. 1980) 'Eclipse' 2008 (detail)

 

Yongliang Yang (Chinese, b. 1980)
Eclipse (detail)
2008
From the On the quiet water, heavenly city series 2008
Inkjet print 73.0 x 200.0 cm (image) 81.6 x 208.2 cm (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Presented by the Mering Corporation Pty Ltd through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program, 2012
© Yang Yongliang

 

 

Yang Yongliang creates an optical illusion by combining elements of a traditional Chinese shānshuǐ (mountain-water) landscape painting with imagery from modern Shanghai life. From afar, the work appears to be a watercolour on paper, representing misty mountains and an ethereal sea stretching to the horizon. Upon closer inspection, the ghostly formations are revealed as digitally constructed collages of apartment blocks, buildings, construction sites and giant cranes. The built metropolis becomes indistinguishable from the natural landscape, highlighting the insidious modernisation, construction and environmental degradation characteristic of contemporary existence.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation views of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Huang Yan’s Chinese landscape – Tattoo No. 4 and Chinese landscape – Tattoo No. 1 (1999)

 

Huang Yan (Chinese, b. 1966) 'Chinese landscape - Tattoo (Number 1)' 1999, printed 2004

 

Huang Yan (Chinese, b. 1966)
Chinese landscape – Tattoo (Number 1)
1999, printed 2004
Type C photograph, ed. 2/12
80.1 x 108.0 cm irreg. (image and sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
© Huang Yan, courtesy of Red Gate Gallery, Beijing

 

 

Prior to commencing his photography practice in the 1990s, Huang Yan trained as a painter. His recent work combines the centuries-old, traditional style of landscape painting with new technology; the images are contemporary while also affirming traditional Chinese culture and values. The artist alludes to complex traditions in this ‘self-portrait’ in which his bare chest is painted with a traditional shānshuǐ (mountain-water) landscape painting. The title of the work implies permanence, yet the scenes painted on the body are ephemeral, suggesting the fragility of the natural environment and the transience of the body.

 

Hong Lei (Chinese, b. 1960) 'After Zhao Ji's loquat and birds (Song dynasty)' 1999

 

Hong Lei (Chinese, b. 1960)
After Zhao Ji’s loquat and birds (Song dynasty)
1999
Type C photograph, ed. 9/10
60.9 x 76.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Hong Lei (Chinese, b. 1960) 'Autumn in the Forbidden City' 1998

 

Hong Lei (Chinese, b. 1960)
Autumn in the Forbidden City
1998
Type C photograph, ed. 7/10
60.9 x 76.2 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing at centre, Wang Qingsong’s Preincarnation (2002) and at right, Shi Guowei’s Cactus garden (2016)

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing one image from Wang Qingsong’s Preincarnation (2002)

 

 

Wang Qingsong works in a theatrical style, constructing and photographing elaborate tableaux in which his models play the roles of characters from traditional Chinese stories and paintings, popular culture and Western historical painting. In the foreground of this work, men carry tools to vandalise or disassemble giant sacred ‘sculptures’ standing atop lotus thrones. The title suggests that the man has been reborn into the past, and upon arriving in Chinese pre-history, is set to destroy it in his relentless pursuit of materialism. This work alludes to China’s relationship with its early history, and the dismantling of tradition during a period of rampant consumerism and modernisation.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Shi Guowei’s Cactus garden (2016)

 

Shi Guowei (Chinese, b. 1977) 'Cactus garden' 2016

 

Shi Guowei (Chinese, b. 1977)
Cactus garden
2016
Gelatin silver photograph, colour dyes
Purchased NGV Foundation, 2017

 

 

Shi Guowei’s subtly coloured image is created through the application of layered pigment to the surface of the photograph. In some areas of the work, the colour is applied with lifelike precision, in others it registers as being ‘not quite right’. His palette recalls that of early colour photographs in which the colour fades or shifts over time, creating a nostalgic quality; however, it also creates an awareness of the artificiality inherent in the scene. Although the planting in this cactus garden is ‘naturalistic’, it is clearly a constructed landscape, and not the wild arid landscape it would seem at first glance.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing at top, Sheng Qi’s Memories (Mother), Memories (Me) and Memories (Mao) (2000)

 

 

Sheng Qi was a key member of the ’85 New Wave art movement in China that championed freedom of expression in the arts over state-approved Social Realism. He was deeply affected by the changed political climate following the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989, and responded in a physically direct and shocking way. He cut off the little finger of his left hand, buried it in a flowerpot, and went into self-imposed exile in Rome. When he returned to Beijing a decade later, he used his disfigured hand as the backdrop for a series of self-portraits that juxtapose his past and present.

 

Sheng Qi (Chinese, b. 1965) 'Memories (Me)' 2000, printed 2004

 

Sheng Qi (Chinese, b. 1965)
Memories (Me)
2000, printed 2004
Type C photograph, ed. 2/5
119.1 x 80.5 cm irreg. (image) 126.9 x 86.9 cm irreg. (sheet)
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased, 2004
© Sheng Qi, courtesy of Red Gate Gallery, Beijing

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing at left, Wang Qingsong’s Another battle no. 3 (2001) and at right, Hong Hao’s My things no. 2 (2001-02)

 

Zhuang Hui (Chinese, b. 1963) 'Untitled' 1996

 

Wang Qingsong (Chinese, b. 1966)
Another battle no. 3
2001
Type C photograph, ed. 1/20
100.0 x 66.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Wang Qingsong

 

 

Wang Qingsong works in a theatrical style, constructing and photographing elaborate tableaux in which his models play the roles of characters from traditional Chinese stories and paintings, contemporary life, popular culture, and Western historical painting. In this work he shows a wounded soldier, trapped behind the battlelines, caught between gunfire and razor wire that is littered with soft-drink cans, one of the most common forms of litter found globally. In this highly theatrical image Wang has taken imagery from popular cinema and used it to highlight the challenges presented by Western-style consumerism.

 

Hong Hao (Chinese, b. 1965) 'My things no. 2' 2001-02

 

Hong Hao (Chinese, b. 1965)
My things no. 2
2001-02
Type C photograph, ed. 6/15
59.6 x 101.6 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Completely filled from edge to edge with ordinary, domestic objects, this image is a visual archive of things used by the artist in everyday life. Describing his creative process, Hong Hao writes, ‘Day by day, I put my daily consumed objects into a scanner piece by piece, like keeping a visual diary. After scanning the original objects, I’ll save them in digital forms and categorise these digital files into different folders [on] my PC, in order to make a collage of them later on. This task, like a yogi’s daily practice, has become a habit in my day-to-day life as well as a tool to observe the human condition in contemporary consumer society’.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Wang Jinsong’s One hundred signs of demolition #1980 (1998)

 

Wang Jinsong (Chinese, 1963) 'One hundred signs of demolition #1980' 1998

 

Wang Jinsong (Chinese, 1963)
One hundred signs of demolition #1980
1998
Type C photograph ed. 22/30
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

Wang Jinsong (Chinese, 1963) 'One hundred signs of demolition #1995' 1998

 

Wang Jinsong (Chinese, 1963)
One hundred signs of demolition #1995
1998
Type C photograph ed. 22/30
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

The two photographs from the series One Hundred Signs of Demolition show the Chinese character ‘chai’, meaning ‘demolition’, that is commonly painted on the walls of buildings earmarked for destruction. For Wang Jinsong it has become a symbol of the inexorable push for urban reconstruction. In his photographs ‘chai’ came to stand for the loss of the ancient city, where buildings were once on a domestic scale and constructed to facilitate interaction in communal space, and their replacement with more socially isolating multistorey tower blocks.

 

Wang Qingsong (Chinese, b. 1966) 'Last supper' 1997

 

Wang Qingsong (Chinese, b. 1966)
Last supper
1997
Type C photograph, ed. 3/20
30.5 x 100.0 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Last supper was one of a number of photographs commissioned for the exhibition Christian Dior and Chinese Artists that opened at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA), Beijing, in 2008. The work references the iconography of Western paintings of Christian subjects, in particular depictions of the Last Supper; however, in place of the twelve disciples Wang presents fashion models, and the simple meal traditionally depicted in Western art has been replaced with a feast of digitally enhanced, oversized, unnaturally perfect fruit and vegetables. The result is an image of affluence and excess.

 

Hai Bo (Chinese, b. 1962) 'I am Chairman Mao's Red Guard' 2000

 

Hai Bo (Chinese, b. 1962)
I am Chairman Mao’s Red Guard
2000
Type C photograph, ed. 9/18
40.6 x 60.9 cm
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

Hai Bo’s paired portraits illustrate the cultural shifts that have occurred over forty years as people in China have become increasingly able to show their individuality. In this image, a photograph of a young woman proudly wearing the uniform of the student paramilitary movement, known as the Red Guard, and holding Mao’s Quotations from Chairman Mao Zedong (commonly known as the Little Red Book) is shown counterpointed by a contemporary picture of the same person, now a smiling middle-aged woman wearing a floral dress. Such a garment would have been unthinkable – and unattainable – forty years earlier.

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Installation view of the exhibition 'Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China' at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

 

Installation view of the exhibition Turning Points: Contemporary Photography from China at the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne showing Hai Bo’s Wood horse (1999)

 

Hai Bo (Chinese, 1962) 'Wood horse' 1999

 

Hai Bo (Chinese, 1962)
Wood horse
1999
Gelatin silver photograph ed. 16/20
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Gift of Larry Warsh, 2016
© Courtesy of the artist

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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