"Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China"
ICP International Center of Photography
Asia Society and Museum
June 11-September 5, 2004
Curated by Wu Hung and Christopher Phillips
review by Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China
In this 21st Century, in grappling with China's rapid economical advancement to overtake the West, urbanisation may have discarded the country's youth but these young artists have not discarded their inspiration to create a collection of beautiful and subversive critiques of the direction China is taking. Showing at both the International Center of Photography (ICP) and Asia Society and Museum, each exhibition serves to display the reconstruction of the individual body in a state of what would be perceived as political and cultural demolition. The camera lens in this exhibition, though distinctively Chinese in its purview, becomes the springboard for speculation over a world's collective memory. In the past, photography was an essential governmental tool for propaganda in maintaining that everyone remembered the same thing. With technology growing ever so sophisticated, the use of multimedia installations has become a medium through which memory can be re-edited, excavated and superimposed, even fictionalised to render the personal body boundless and unbinding in light of such accelerated transitions. In doing so, the process of mediation bridges ancient repression with present and growing isolation.
The posture of the body or body part in every photographic and video installation is an overshadowing metaphor for China's obsession with the larger body politic. Technology sets the stage for theatrical vignettes by which the artists re-invent the self by ironicising legendary works of art, i.e. inscribing one's self-portrait onto a historically symbolic one.
To an even more intense degree, some artists resorted to self-mutilation and sadomasochism, using their bodies as metaphors to draw parallels between self-infliction and social infliction. One such picture, by artist, Sheng Qi, was used as the cover photograph for the event, which portrays his injured hand long healed, holding within his palm a small black and white passport photograph of himself as a boy. He had cut his little finger in protest to the ending of the democracy movement in 1989. But what the photograph shows is not so much the missing absence of a body element. It does not detract from what has remained living and intact, which is what this particular exhibition aims to bring across, a breathing testament to what cannot be repressed or effaced, let alone erased.
New York, July 26th, 2004