Interview with Cai Dongdong, One Way Art Gallery (Beijing) | PHOTOFAIRS

Interview with Cai Dongdong, One Way Art Gallery (Beijing)

Cai Dongdong, born in 1978 in Tianshui, China, joined the People’s Liberation Army at a young age as a portrait photographer for enlisted soldiers. Dongdong will be presenting work in the Staged program at PHOTOFAIRS | Shanghahi. Staged explores the relationship between photography and other art forms such as installation art, sculpture, video and painting. This curated initiative spotlights artists of particular relevance within the contemporary photography arena in the form of chapters placed throughout the fair space. 

© CAI DONGDONG,The Thousand-face Door (detail), 2018. Courtesy of One Way Art Gallery (Beijing)

You will exhibit a cutting-edge new commission at the fair. Could you explain the work in your own words?

One of the works of the exhibition project is "The Thousand-Face Door" and the other one is "The Theft", these two pieces are combined to showcase. "The Thousand-Face Door" is composed of a curtain of ancient gates and 1,090 Chinese one-inch portrait photos. These portraits originated from my collection for many years, their time span is about 1910-1990, which is close to the whole 20th century. The 20th century is also the most varied and changeable century in Chinese society, it has experienced the baptism of different ideologies in different periods, and ideology directly affects people's appearance and demeanor. From the photos on this curtain, we can see the changes in people's appearance in each period. You can see the other piece of work "The Theft" through the curtain. "The Theft" is a work that was triggered by a Wanted Order. I have received a Wanted Order to kill a person at the camera shop, the sales clerk was killed and three cameras and one lens were snatched. A photo of the three cameras and the lens was attached to the Wanted Order. I found the three cameras and lens of the same model in various ways. "The Thousand-Face Door" and "The Theft" are put together to show the unknown purpose behind the image production to the audience, which includes violence and power.


Why did you choose the traditional Chinese door as the main structure? What significance does it have to you? 

This door was bought from the Gaobeidian ancient furniture market in Beijing. Looking at its structure and size, it can definitely be the door made before the middle of the 20th century. This piece is about the image of the Chinese people, people pass through the door and come, so the structure and features of the door are in line with this work. Also, it must be large enough to accommodate more Chinese portraits. After the liberation, most of the people’s doors did not have Chinese characteristics, and they all became narrow doors.


What is the significance of the beads being replaced with ID cards?

The curtains reflect the very important social and political forms of China. Many things seem to be invisible through a curtain. For example, Reign Behind The Curtain, and there is a small curtain in front of the emperor’s hat, so that you can’t see what he thinks.

© CAI DONGDONG, The Thousand-face Door (back view). 2018. Courtesy of One Way Art Gallery (Beijing)

When you created the work did you intend it to be an experiential work - for viewers to walk through the doorway, to observe it from afar - or both?

The combination of the two, even if it viewers do not cross through this door, the structurality it presents will affect the audience's psychology.


Why is it important that this work is shown at a public site such as PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai? 

This work is a passage and is open. The display environment it needs should be open, wide, and interactive with the audience.


What impressions do you hope to inspire in those who see this work?

In the rich and varied image ocean, how to find out the clues and contexts, how to deal with our experience correctly. I hope this aspect will inspire the audience.


What do you most enjoy about exhibiting at PHOTOFAIRS Shanghai? What are you most looking forward to? 

I hope to see more works beyond photography itself.


The Staged exhibition explores the relationship between photography and other art forms such as installation art, sculpture, video and painting. It features works by various artists and each work is featured at different points throughout the fair space. How do you feel about being part of the Staged exhibition this year? 

Photography has its own unique aesthetic language, but it seems to be a matter of experience. How to expand forward? Other types of art seem to have such problems too. If they can be combined, the expressiveness of the works will be more abundant and stereo.

See all the artists taking part in Staged here.