An exhibition showcasing contemporary photographers from China.
Curated by Professor Wang Bin and Professor Jinghan Xu
Chinese Space of Life
With the raging of the plague in 2020, China, which has 1.4 billion population catches the attention of the world again.
Nowadays, information communication and public transportation is more convenient, more and more foreigners know about China. What are the impressions of China around the world? Besides the splendid Forbidden City, magnificent appearance of the Great Wall, fast life speed of metropolitan of Beijing and Shanghai, the typical eastern style of Suzhou and Hangzhou from Chinese official platforms and tourists, what is the real life of Chinese is concerned by Chinese and foreigners?
With the “spatial turn” in cultural studies, more and more visual artists focus on the subject of space. Chinese famous director Jia Zhangke’s film A touch of Sin，which won the Golden Palm nomination award at Cannes in 2013 focuses on the social and spiritual reality and issues of China. One of the key scenes of the film is bath center, which is a virtual space constructed by a green bamboo forest wallpaper. It is not only his paying respect to Hongkong director Hu Jinquan’s Chinese martial arts film A touch of Zen, but also symbolizes the implied “rule of the jungle” of modern society. The mysterious bamboo forest, which are full of mood of Zen and bloodshed is the classic film scene of Eastern film aesthetic. It is not only the rural garden of writers and poets, but also the Jianghu of gangsters, thieves and rangers. The symbolic restatement of space reminds us that it is a good strategy to explore the reality of China.
All the image exhibited in the show of Chinese space of Life share documentary Characteristics, it shows the current status and trace of modern Chinese. Besides the visible image world, does photography could penetrate more deep observation of the spiritual world of Chinese？It is worth further thinking.
For decades，a group of Chinese photographers depicted different China with strong flavor of Chinese life with their cameras to the world. We selected 7 different photographic projects focusing on space. All the images share social and culture sense of space. they cover topics of power, religion, lifestyle and consumerism. We try to delineate the image of the life and collective consciousness of China, as well as people of different nations and nationalities to understand and know more about each other with sympathy by way of image around the world.
Curators statement by Xu Jinghan and Wang Bin
The Sun Also Rises (2008-2013) by Cheng Wenjun
The history of Chinese sculpture and civilization not only has a long history, but also develops simultaneously. Before 20th century, empowers and sages did not erect statues of themselves. For the last two thousand years, statues of people have typically been placed in or in front of tombs of emperors as martyrs and guardians.
In the mid-nineteenth century, a statue of a French general was erected at the French concession in Shanghai. After that, Chinese began to accept this method and began to erect statues of celebrities in public spaces. The number of statues is limited, even in the early days of the founding of New China, there were only about 100 academic sculptors in China. For that reason, famous sculptors are even rarer.
From 1967 to 1969, thousands of statues of leaders appeared in various parts of China. This was due to the worshiping of leaders during the Cultural Revolution along with the fact that the copyright was no longer observed at that time and also the statues or molds could be copied at people’s will. sculptors are also happy to do like that even though in the end they didn’t know the amount of copies of their works and the city in which they were copied.
Entering the era of Deng Xiaoping, Chinese government officials and sculptors began to use the term “urban sculpture” after returning from an investigation in Europe. At the same time, a large number of Mao Zedong statues were demolished. Deng Xiaoping opposed the cult of personality. In 1997, I began to pay attention to and investigate this history of sculpture. It took 20 years to find more than 180 remaining statues of Mao Zedong in 127 cities and towns in China.
Now, the image of Mao Zedong accompanies everything Chinese. In 1999, two years after Deng Xiaoping's death, China issued a new version of the Renminbi currency. The banknote patterns of different denominations were all Mao Zedong's portrait. In recent years, a new version banknote of Renminbi has been issued again, and it is still Mao's portrait.
Atrium (2019) by Li Linlin
With the progress of economy, the demands of our shopping activities have gradually shifted from sheer physical demands to even the demands on the quality of shopping spaces environment, which has provided opportunities for the construction of commercial architecture. The consequential architecture attaches more importance to the environmental quality and consumers’ emotional requirements, as well as features creating an atmosphere to be experienced and a kind of sensational, surprising, unforgettable and pleasant shopping experience and lifestyle based upon the interrelations between growing commercial space, commercial activities and personnel, making an interactive shopping experience and commercial atmosphere where consumers can participate. Promoting consumption has already become a social trend. Commercial atrium spaces are not built in current architectural structures simply because of their architectural demands. Such architecture bears more relevant elements in the field of consumption and has been disconnected from specific functions.
Saunas (2008-2011) by Li Qianjin
After I finished my study in Beijing Film Academy in July 2008, I returned to my hometown, a little city where I live and work. Then I began to make the Sauna series project.
When I first start my project, I did not fully understand all significance contained in the photography objects. With the progress of shooting and interacting with them by eye contact in so many summer evenings (and more nights subsequent), then I felt extravagant and frivolous, strange and stately, exaggeration and lure which were “objective presented” with 4×5 large format camera. For the content was far beyond my imagination I developed the original spontaneous shooting into a series project. Eventually, I spent more than four years, as well as used nearly 1000 piece of film plates for the project. Finally, I took pictures of more than 100 “sauna”, “Turkish” bathhouses in more than 10 cities. Due to the particularity of the subject, I had to worked in midnight and dawn.
I was committed to recording and representing the manifestation of consumption for desire and desire of consumption penetrate in lights and shadows of nightlife to become ambiguous zombie-like active scene. I tried to grasp its unique color, as well as control its unique space perspective. Finally, I tried to dissect Chinese consumer culture under the unique perspective of the landscape.
Space of Power（2005-2007) by Qu Yan
Qu Yan’s photographic projects Space of Power, Space of Religion, Space of Life and Space of Mythmaking had raised sharp social issues of current situation of China. Space of Power is the start of his efforts focusing on social issues of China. Space of Religion, Space of Life and Space of Mythmaking show his more in-depth study and natural evolution from the reality of logic relationships. The terrible situation and contradiction of country medical system shown by photos in Space of Life have proved the power hegemony and people’s loss of chance to speak, as well as their indifference of divinity and soul. It also proves how belief is distorted and deformed in Space of Religion and Space of Mythmaking. All this absurd presence is the portraiture of the current situation of the severe social issues and reality of China.
All power should be limited, Qu Yan has photographed various space of office from luxury offices to shabby offices in his project of Space of Power. It is also the presence of privatizing of authority. Power is a very sharp and sensitive issue in China, it has close relationship with the loss of restriction and over inflation. The presence of power in his works embodies the complex of social contradiction.
View of Ciaos (2011-2017) by Wei Dong
View of Ciaos is a Photo Portfolio project carried for 7 years. It includes 66 pieces of photography taken in China during Wei Dong’s travels. It includes architectures and lifestyle of cities in China with decades even hundred-year history of turmoil. With dense composition, it shows the trace of human activities with the long-time transformation of society, as well as the observation and thoughts on the East Asian order.
Ancestral Halls (2016-2017) by Wu Dengcai
In the process of searching for roots of the Wu family in Jiangkou, I gradually developed the idea of photographing ancestral halls.
The Wu family of Jiangkou lived in a small place called Huitou for many generations before the town of Longgang was established. Legend says that their ancestors was fisherman from Yueqing. Once, their small fishing boats was blown to Aojiang from Yueqing Bay by strong winds. Jiangkou and Yueqing Bay were separated by three huge rivers, which their ancestors could not get across and return to their home. They ended up staying in Jiangkou, finally, the Wu family breed there until today. For the time now, we cannot trace the exact origin of our ancestors. The Wu family of Jiangkou presently belongs to the Wu’s Ancestral Hall in Sanshiqiao in town of Qianku.
My hometown Longgang is part of a larger region called “Jiangnanyang”. It is an economically well-developed society with many immigrants from outside the province. Its strong clan culture had led to one of the most densely distributed and largest group of ancestral structures within the city of Wenzhou. For the past 30 years in particular, many of the ancestral halls in this region have been redesigned and renovated with splendid decoration, expanded scales and high costs. With the completion of a new ancestral hall, the inauguration has become a sort of spectacle with gifted money from neighboring clans. Naturally, I began my project within Jiangnanyang area and slowly expanded to the entire region of Wenzhou.
In southern China, ancestral halls are common public spaces for local residents. Out of the many halls that are dazzling to eyes, I attempted to select one with unique architectural style or historical significance behind their existence. By carefully considering their uniqueness of appearance, architectural structure, decoration and functions, I would like to choose samples that are able to provide a full glimpse of the culture of ancestral halls in Wenzhou that can reflect both the historical heritage as well as the contemporary development of the establishments. During the process of my project, I purposely de-emphasize the aesthetic aspects of works and attempt to focus on the objective attributes of my subjects. Neutral tones of the pictures were used to present the details in a calm, unbiased and accurate manner.
Visit the Web Celebrated Sites (2018-2020) by Zou Jingyao
As a word know universally, “online sensation” has been used in almost every aspect of our life. Originally, it means “gaining sudden popularity” on the internet, and now it refers to popular and novel stuffs, including but not restricted to cities, tourist attractions and food. As people’s interest focusing on taking a snap at internet famous sites grows, internet famous exhibitions have become an important means to attract public attention and gain media concern.
Internet famous exhibition is also called flash mob exhibitions. Born overseas, it is a type of immersive exhibition held for recreational aims. By using Macron-colored installations, mirrors, and balloons combined with VR, projecting and other new media tools, it creates a fantasy world consisting of sound, light and electricity. This kind of exhibition is mostly held in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, as well as occasionally makes its way into other big cities. Most often, it is held in large comprehensive shopping malls located in key business zones, on squares where there is a large visitor flow or at business streets. Visitors who come in an endless stream is usually driven by one purpose: take a snap shoot and share it on social medias.
I began to show concern for the phenomenon of “visiting the web celebrated sites” in 2018. Until present, I have collected information on internet-famous exhibitions through various channels and recorded more than 30 exhibitions in Beijing, Shanghai and other major cities in the form of picture, video or sound. Moreover, l also viewed many other exhibitions on social media platforms.