As an exhibitor of PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai 2019, Jiang Pengyi (represented by ShanghART Gallery, Shanghai, Beijing & Singapore) will be showcasing new works from his series ‘Foresight’, a project which exemplifies the artist’s impressive ability to experiment with photography. PHOTOFAIRS had the exciting opportunity to speak to Jiang for an in-depth interview about his works, including the intriguing concept and technique of ‘de-mediating’ that is apparent in his work, as well as his strong opinions about dropping the ‘rule book’ on photography to promote creativity. Jiang’s remarkable portfolio has been displayed across a multitude of renowned galleries, from Klein Sun Gallery in New York to ShanghART in Beijing, and was recently honoured as part of the group exhibition ‘40 Years of Chinese Contemporary Photography’ last year in Shenzhen.
“I gradually learned to accept uncontrollability which not only made the whole working process easier but also attracted me to grasp the unpredictability”
Your solo exhibition ‘Foresight’ at ShanghART Beijing is an ongoing project since 2014 focusing on the use of organic matter such as fruit and vegetables on negatives. How did this work develop and evolve over this period of time?
I have been working with film for a long time and I am not content that film can only be photographed through the lens. As early as 2000, I found that silver halide would drift and various shapes would appear after fixation. In the beginning, I was very eager to control the fixing results, therefore, I started various experiments intermittently which in a way constituted the motivation of my continuous creations. However, in the series of Foresight, I gradually learned to accept uncontrollability which not only made the whole working process easier but also attracted me to grasp the unpredictability. Of course, as the experiments progressed, I did become more and more able to control accidents technically, which made me think about the boundary of control in artistic creation. In terms of expression, each work in the Foresight series attempted to condense the long life into a single photo. In this sense, the decaying organic matter was also a celebration of life.
Could you explain the concept of ‘de-mediating’ in relation to your artwork?
"De-mediating" started from the Dark Addiction series. Back at that time, I wanted to shoot fireflies with a long exposure. But the effect was too romantic and light. So I thought of placing fireflies directly on the negative. For me, giving up the external tools and rules such as camera, lens and shooting technique means that I have to figure out all by myself how to use photosensitive material instead of following the instructions in the textbook. And by doing this, I also deliver my creation initiative to the chance which is entirely my intention. If you follow the textbook instructions or rules, you will never create your own things.
Foresight series involves an element of risk, experimentation and the inability to ‘foresee' the outcome of the images you produce. Can you explain more about the uncontrollable, mysterious nature of producing photos and the abstraction it results in?
I don't think the Foresight series is abstract. However, some people think my works becoming abstract from the Dark Addiction series. Maybe, they are abstract in form, but in fact, they are a series of events, observations and records of reality. They tell very specific stories and in those images, you can see the struggle between fireflies, race and movement, copulation and death. In short, you can see the process from the firm to the weak and finally the corruption of various organisms.
How would you explain the process of ‘painting with light’, as evident in your ‘Some Time’ series?
The process is a bit like activation of silver halide, the potential organism, by light.
Previous works of yours have covered a range of interesting topics across various mediums, such as your series Unregistered City (2008-2010), which analyses the rapid implications of urbanization in modern day China, capturing miniature buildings in destroyed landscapes as your subject. Can you tell us more about the creation of these environments, and how you decided to photograph them?
The microarchitectures in the Unregistered City series are not real sculptures or installations. The creation process of this series was divided into two parts. First, I took a photo of an environment as the background of the whole work. Usually, I would find the demolition site or building ruins. Then I added another photo of the architectural community. Sometimes, in order to make the buildings appear weaker, I would deliberately build the background such as using the abandoned bathtub to create a contrast between the buildings and the environment.