Ahead of PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai 2018, we caught up with numerous artists who are taking part in PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai’s groundbreaking Insights exhibition, The Same but Also Changed. Curated by Victor Wang, this is a restaging of an original exhibition which was banned before it could be shown in Shanghai in 1999. A new generation of Chinese artists including Miao Ying, Shi Zheng and Yang Yuanyuan are set to exhibit alongside works by the original artists, including Xu Zhen. These artists discuss how the exhibition influenced and inspired them and tell us more about what they will present in the exhibition.
© MIAO YING, Content Aware, installation view, 2016. Courtesy of MadeIn Gallery (Shanghai)
What made you want to take part in this re-staged "The Same but Also Changed" exhibition at PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghai?
Xu Zhen: Around year 2000, the existence of Chinese contemporary art relied on artists-organized events.
Miao Ying: I think the re-staging of "The Same but Also Changed” almost 20 years later, is a perfect double entendre.
Shi Zheng: It would be interesting to bring my works to this exhibition ,which has remained silent for almost 20 years, and generate dialogs with the original artists in the show.
Yang Yuanyuan: I received the invitation to take part in this exhibition while participating in the residency program at Art in General supported by Asian Cultural Council in New York. In the past, I've been aware of the few exhibitions curated by Viktor Wang, however, we've never really met in life yet. I feel very honored that he would invite me to take part in this particular exhibition, also feeling thankful to AIKE Gallery who are helping me to install the exhibition (as I won't be back in China until October).
What effect do you think the original exhibition has had on Chinese photography?
Xu Zhen: Fortunately, it had no influence on Chinese photography and culture at that time. Contemporary art in that period was isolated from the mainstream Chinese culture; therefore, nowadays it exists as the only cultural category with the highest humanity in China.
Miao Ying: Consider what happened to it - it was very groundbreaking.
Shi Zheng: I was too young and didn’t get chance to see the original exhibition, but the artists who were involved in this unseen exhibition influenced and inspired me a lot when I started to study and create art in college, and of course today they still do.
Yang Yuanyuan: In 1999 the Chinese art system was completely different from now: it was 10 years after the 89 China Avant-Garde exhibition; 4 years after the disbanding of Beijing East Village; there were barely any galleries in China back then, 798 was still mostly a giant factory area with just a few scattered artists studios. Contemporary photography scene was still in its really early stage, thinking about such context, the fact that such a particular exhibition was going to happen (although it never really did) in the last year before a new millennium was definitely a very special event.
© XU ZHEN, Installation image. Courtesy of MadeIn Company (Shanghai)
How did the original exhibition influence your work?
Xu Zhen: It didn’t have any bad influence.
Miao Ying: I was in high school when it happened, later I heard about the exhibition and learned all about those artists’ works in college, in a class taught by artist Zhang Peili. I found this very inspiring.
Yang Yuanyuan: I was 10 years old in 1999, I remembered the tune of Faye Wong and the shock of seeing the dramatic sandstorm in my classroom around that year. To be honest, I wasn't aware of the exhibition until I received the invitation for this exhibition, but in the past few years I've been eager to learn more about the history of China in the 20th century (post 1911, pre-1949, post 1976) and of course, the history of Chinese art. Growing up in the fast-changing world of contemporary China and constantly reflecting about the temporal situation of the surroundings, I've learnt that it's really important to think about history and time on a larger scale, and I do believe that many of the problematic problems we are facing right now are because of people's overall ignorance of history. One of the central questions that I've always been concerned with is "What made us now?" This also reflects in my own practice: In my work, I've been keen on exploring intersections between the individual and the collective memories. Most of my projects begin with investigating various sources of archives and are closely related to particular local histories.
How do you feel Chinese photography has developed since 1999?
Xu Zhen: Chinese photography is developing slowly. On the one hand Chinese photography mostly focuses on the exploration of realist ideologies. But the overall control of these last 20 years is rather strict, so there isn’t much space for exploration or progress. On the other hand, with the financial crisis of 2008, the photography market is much reduced and a lot of artists started to paint.
© YANG YUANYUAN, Blue Window, Two Roses, 2016. Courtesy of AIKE Gallery
What do you hope your work contributes to the exhibition?
Miao Ying: I am honored to be showing with the pioneers. The work “Content-Aware, The Five Pillars of awareness: Reclaiming ownership of your mind, body and future” is made by using the “content aware” function from Photoshop. It is an auto-clone fill function in Photoshop. This is a very “passive” photograph, Photoshop is analyzing the information of the image and making what it think is the best photo for me. Maybe I can contribute my laziness…
Shi Zheng: I am always interested in the principle of digital image composition. For me, the images we see through a digital screen are actually shared by computer vision with human eyes. My work in this exhibition is the simulation of a virtual cloud created by algorithms, meanwhile light of the screen as a metaphor has been cast on the figure of generated graphics. Thus, for the whole exhibition, I wish to share new perspectives of making images as well as re-thinking photography in the digital space.
Yang Yuanyuan: I'm showing a selection of works from the project titled "Blue Window, Two Roses"(Chinese title "浪漫之旅"). This series was inspired by a particular type of "green screen photo studio" which is a kind of low budget photo studio, that have appeared in China over the past ten years. Two main elements of the store consist of a green background and a machine with an inserted camera. The customer can choose more than 10 000 types of background images; from worldwide tourist sites to photos of celebrities, from cartoon characters to 3D images of a hi-end estate. Facing their ideal locations on the screen, customers happily stand and pose in front of a green screen and get a photo taken as if they were really there. Images of world-famous tourist sites and scenes with European characteristics are the most popular choices among all types of backgrounds, whereas in reality, the same type of landscape has also become a common scene all over Mainland China in past ten years. These two types of constructed realities both reflect an ideal lifestyle that contemporary people of many different backgrounds yearn for. They are something resplendent yet unreal, shining like gold in giant bubbles.
© SHI ZHENG, Nimbus [2046 lux]. Courtesy of AIKE Gallery (Shanghai)