2021 Photography World Overview – Part 2

With Chinese New Year soon upon us, we’ve invited notable voices in the photography industry – including collectors, curators, researchers, writers and critics – to share their favorite artists, exhibitions and books from 2021.

Click here to read 2021 Photography World Overview – Part 1

Yang Beichen, Contemporary Art and Photography Researcher, Curator

Artist of the Year
Wang Tuo

Wang Tuo’s solo exhibition Empty-handed into History is close to work, but his works are similar to different chapters, presenting his complicated thinking on identity, history, intellectual history, and geopolitics in the past few years. The writing of the image has been extended to the extreme, and a certain polyphonic rhetorical structure runs through it, causing dyslexia and at the same time creating an experience of the inherent visual speculative potential.

© Wang Tuo, Tungus, 2021. Single-channel 4K video, colour, sound, 66’00’’. Courtesy of the artist

Exhibition of the Year
Cao Fei: Staging the Era
March 12-June 6, 2021
UCCA Center for Contemporary Art

Staging the Era is not just a review, it is Cao Fei’s record and chant of China’s great changes in the past two decades. From the workers in the factories in the Pearl River Delta to the digital new humans living in the Renmin City to the socialist new people wandering in the Hongxia universe, the artist chose to stand side by side with the people of the times, in order to respond to the dramatic changes in society and the continuous iterative technological evolution.

© Installation View of Cao Fei: Staging the Era, 2021. Courtesy of UCCA Center for Contemporary Art

Book of the Year
Jiazazhi vol.1

The real magazine of Jiazazhi is no longer limited to photographic media but attempts to integrate diverse visual cultural criticism and creative writing or to embrace contemporary art completely. The selected artists range from Guo Fengyi to Apichatpong, and the image is taking a back seat. This change seems to release a signal: the intimate relationship between photography and publishing is gradually being repositioned as contemporary art or artistic thinking and practice.

​​Jiazazhi vol.1: 巫术修辞

Gao Chu, Historian of photography, Curator

Artist of the Year
TOP20 Artists Group

The Three Shadows +3 Photography Awards (and the Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival) and the 1839 Photography Awards caught my attention this year. In addition, the 10th-anniversary review of the project TOP20 focused on contemporary photography and cutting-edge photography organized by the Zhejiang Photographers Association and China Photography Magazine.

Based on the photography practice and creative status of about 100 of the TOP20 photographers in the past decade, Wu Zehua’s team from the China Academy of Art conducted a document collection and face-to-face interviews for nearly a year. The dozens of files and about 2,000 pages of documents of these photographers’ individual cases may show even more value in the future. But in any case, at the node of the 10th anniversary, a group of cutting-edge photographers gathered once again, challenging contemporary issues while being joyful and lively. The confusion and expectations that were asked when the project was established 10 years ago are still echoing today.

© Exhibition View of TOP20·2021 Chinese Cutting-edge Contemporary Photography, 2021. Courtesy of Wu Zehua

Exhibition and Book of the Year
The New Woman Behind the Camera
October 31, 2021-January 20, 2022
National Gallery of Art

The curator of the National Gallery of Art Nelson Andrea first approached me in March 2018. Since then, we have written more than 150 emails for academic discussions and work communication. She came to China to do the research in mid-September 2018, and we also met in Beijing and chatted for an afternoon.

This exhibition has been prepared for a long time, and it has experienced ups and downs due to the pandemic. But in any case, this is a meaningful exhibition around the history of women’s photography, showing the working status and career of female photographers worldwide from 1920 to 1950, and the complexity between their works and social reality. The catalogue of the exhibition with the same name is also an important text.

It is worth mentioning that this exhibition has made a concerted effort to include the female photography situation in Asia, especially female photographers in China. These efforts have produced results, but they also reflect the dilemma of China’s photography practice and photography history in line with international standards. At the same time, maybe because of the inconvenience of international travel, or the limited focus, this exhibition has hardly caused discussion in China. At the same time, I look forward to seeing a retrospective on the history of Chinese women’s photography in China as soon as possible.

© Some of the exhibited works of The New Women Behind the Lens. Courtesy of National Gallery of Art

Wang Huan, Writer, Art Critic, Curator

Artist of the Year
TOP20 Artists Group

Fortune-telling for big-name artists, writing romance novels for middle-aged women, defending for homeless people, what Liu Yu’s works show me is a creative force that does not necessarily originate from a specific problem awareness. The latest video installation If Narratives Become the Great Flood, is a very clever use of the word “flood”, a multi-ethnic common legend, to discuss how myths shape the transmission of all things.

© Liu Yu, If Narratives Become the Great Flood, 2021. Two Channel Sound / Video Installation, color, 3D foam carving, 12’38’’. Courtesy of the artist

Exhibition of the Year
Wang Tuo: Empty-handed into History
June 6-September 5, 2021
UCCA Center for Contemporary Art

The solo exhibition of artist Wang Tuo held by UCCA Center for Contemporary Art this year, Empty-handed into History almost contains the artist’s works in recent years. When the scholars, shamans, avengers and the fate of Guo Qingguang and Zhang Koukou are fixed together, we probably know that reality will become history and history will become a myth.

© Exhibition View of Wang Tuo: Empty-handed into History, 2021. Courtesy of UCCA Center for Contemporary Art

Book of the Year
Nokcheon by Chang-Dong Lee
Wuhan University Press

This book has been translated into Chinese this year. It contains a collection of novellas created by South Korean director Lee Chang-Dong more than 20 years ago before he made movies. Although this is not a photobook, I really feel that reading the work of photo creators is a very interesting thing. At the same time, sometimes I feel that people are actually trying to find reality in novels. Reading Chang-Dong Lee’s novels makes me feel that the heavy and despicable reality is indeed a necessary condition for novels. This is extremely absurd.

Nokcheon by Chang-Dong Lee

Ni Liang, Publisher, The founder of Imageless

Artist of the Year

This young photographer living in Guizhou always surprises people with his continuous photographic creations. Today, when the influence of direct photography is declining, 214 is one of the few adherents in this field. Director Xiong Xiaomo’s short documentary series The Man Who Takes Pictures has attracted more attention to 214’s creation and work. In 2021, Wuxiang also planned a cross-border art exhibition of 214 and three-dimensional stylist Zhang Mo, using photography and installation to create an “immersive” summer experience. I look forward to 214’s new creations and works very much.

© 214, 下河, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

Book of the Year
History of Life by Cai Dongdong

History of Life is the work of artist Cai Dongdong, which took six years to create. He selected 415 images from 600,000 old photos and edited them through careful review. This is also the most important photography book published by Imageless in 2021. The biggest impression of this work for me is that people have taken photography seriously in the past 100 years.I am honoured to be able to co-work this book with Cai Dongdong.

History of Life by Cai Dongdong