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"Zhuyi! Contemporary Chinese Photography"
2007-03-15 until 2007-09-23
Artium - Basque Museum of Contemporary Art
Vitoria-Gasteiz, , ES Spain

ARTIUM, Centre-Museum of Contemporary Art, presents the exhibition “Zhuyi! Contemporary Chinese Photography” (North Gallery, from March 15 to September 23), an extensive exhibition of the works of the new generations of Chinese artists who bear witness to the rapid social and economic transformation of this so-called “Asian giant”. The exhibition brings together 150 works of 30 photographers, all of them born after 1960, concerned about questions such as the recovery of their cultural memory, their individual and collective identity in a changing society, the degradation of nature and urban landscapes under the pressure of economic development, as well as other effects caused by this phenomenon, the interest in fashion and the unstoppable consumerism.

Since the arts began to develop following the opening-up of the Chinese regime, photography has become one of the preferred working media of the new Chinese artists. And since ten Chinese artists made their "debut" at the 1993 Venice biennial, the West has become aware of a rapid penetration in the art system with a growing demand in the market and in exhibition spaces. “Zhùyi! Contemporary photography in China” is a joint production of ARTIUM and the Palau de la Virreina (Barcelona), with the curator Susana Iturrioz.

“Zhùyi! Contemporary photography in China" is possibly the largest exhibition of contemporary Chinese art ever held in Spain. The most literal translation of the expression “zhùyi!”, taken from Mandarin Chinese, is “Watch out!”. Following two of the possible interpretations of this expression, the exhibition attempts both to draw our attention to the growing interest of new Chinese artists in the western art system and to reveal the issues in which they were focusing their attention at this time of a difficult transition between strict communism to a more open society, especially in the realm of economics and, in a different way, in social aspects.

The controlled opening-up of the Communist regime after the death of Mao in 1976 provided an opportunity for Chinese artists to evolve from the dictates of socialist realism to new forms of expression. The new Chinese art underwent several transformations, with different levels of liberty, in the late seventies ("Star Group"), in the mid eighties ("New wave") and in the early nineties (with the precedent of the extremely brief exhibition in 1989 “China/Avant-Garde”, closed by the police) until the events of Tiananmen Square, which represented a step backwards. It was from that moment when a new generation of artists discovered the possibilities offered by photography as a means of expression, narration and experimentation.

The exhibition produced by ARTIUM and the Palau de la Virreina presents the work of 33 of these artists, who were born after 1960 and who live and work in China. Many of these artists have adopted photography as a parallel medium or following their work as “performers”, as is the case of Zhang Huan and Wang Jin, while others, the majority, are trained painters, such as Wang Quingsong and Miao Xiaochun.

“Zhùyi!” contains one hundred and fifty photographs of these artists taken since 1994 to the present day. During this time, China, the most highly populated and one of the most extensive countries in the world, a military and economic power, has undergone a major transformation in its social and production structures. It is these changes, precisely, that are reflected in the works of these artists , tackling common subjects through the use of very personal aesthetic formulas: age-old history, identity, the individual in the new urban context, the degradation of nature in the interests of development and the novelty of the consumer society in a country which until only a few years ago was closed in on itself.

In this way, the memory of a distant past is present in the works of Miao Xiaochun, who uses the Chinese scholar with his traditional costumes and headdresses and the Great Wall of China as symbols, or those of Hong Lei, who alludes to the tyranny of the emperor over his concubines in the Forbidden City. Allusions to the more recent history of the country appear in the photographs of the duo Shao Yinong & Muchen, who return to the places where assemblies were held during the cultural Revolution, today converted into inhospitable or simply abandoned warehouses and stables.

In search of identity, these photographers (Hong Lei, Lin Tianmiao) take self-portraits characterised as alien figures and with diffused, ambiguous faces. The exhibition acquires a more critical tone when art portrays individuals in a context they do not accept: the isolation and contempt of intellectuals compared to the search for success and quick money (Yang Fudong, Wan Quingsong) and the brutal urban development (Zhang Dali, Yang Zhengzhong)

The effects on the country's natural environment and social structure are some of the first consequences of the rapid economic growth of China. Many of these photographers turn their gaze towards nature, alerting their fellow citizens to the fact that there is something beyond the iron, concrete and glass structures (Can Xing) or by painting (and photographing afterwards) traditional Chinese motifs, representing the four seasons, on the faces of several people. Lastly, the exhibition testifies to the way the country has been possessed by consumer fever, converting products which until a few years ago were completely unknown, such as cars, cosmetics and designer clothes, among others, into icons of a new way of life which, nevertheless, apparently does not guarantee happiness: the rapid change from the traditional Chinese lifestyle to western modes may produce a vacuum.

Lin Tianmiao
Focus No.26
Multimedia and Photograph,
150x 180cm, 2003

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