Walsh Gallery

Placed in China


Dates: Dec 9 2005 - Jan 7 2006

Opening Reception: Dec 9 2005

"Placed in China" - First Survey of Chinese Experimental Photography in a Chicago Gallery

Chicago, IL; Walsh Gallery will exhibit "Placed in China," work from nine historical trendsetters of Chinese experimental photography. "Placed in China" is a performance-based survey of contemporary experimental Chinese photography. All the photographers use either the implied movement of themselves or others in space as a source of inspiration. The artists, all well-established in China and abroad are RongRong & i n r i, Ma Liuming, Miao Xiaochun, Song Dong, the Gao Brothers, Hong Hao, Hong Lei, and Wang Wei. The opening will be Friday, December 9 from 5 to 9 pm.

Since artists were unable to use or create images of themselves during the cultural revolution, many contemporary Chinese artists use performance photography as a means of self-discovery. "Placed in China" examines these photographers' search for who they are and how they fit into a rapidly changing society.

Chinese photography as a fine art form has really only been around since the early 1990s. Although there is a long history of photography in China, it served more a social and political function than a documentary and artistic one.

This all changed when Rong Rong, one of the founders of Chinese photography, used his camera in Beijing's "East Village" in the early 1990s. He began to document the beginning of performance art by such now-legendary figures as Ma Liuming and Zhang Huan.

This exhibit includes photo collaborations between Rong Rong and his Japanese wife i n r i. RongRong and i n r i have created documents of their own nude performances within varied Chinese landscapes.

Ma Liuming is one of the earliest Chinese performance artists. In his recent photographic explorations, Mr. Ma poses nude before audiences around the world and invites the audience to come up and take a photo with him. In these performances, Ma Liuming becomes Fen-Ma Liuming, his alternate feminized persona. The results, printed in huge contact sheet format, resemble film stills in which the audience members engage in both mundane and bizarre acts like taking their clothes off or fondling the artist.


In October, Song Dong did a performance in Times Square called "Writing the Diary with Water", in which he did just that using a calligraphy brush on the sidewalk. The words vanished after a few seconds, revealing the fruitlessness of the gesture and, with it, the limits of memory itself. His video works played overhead on the huge astrovision monitor. On view at Walsh Gallery will be the original "Writing the Diary with Water" photography work.

Miao Xiaochun creates large-scale photos challenging the way we look at photography. Looking at his glimpses of daily life in Beijing, the viewer feels slightly discombobulated. Something isn't quite right. Mr. Miao takes 60 to 70 large-format photographs, and fuses them together in Photoshop as one image. The effect is that wherever you look in the picture, everything is equally in focus. Also, he hides a fiberglass figure patterned after himself in each one. The figure is clothed in traditional court clothing. The gesture of placing such a figure in contemporary life in China is a performance in its own right.

In the photo installation series "1/30th of a Second Underwater," Wang Wei has taken pictures of himself as he holds his breath under water in a large glass bowl. The effect is both comical and disturbing. Is he drowning, or just clowning? The 8 large-scale transparencies are mounted under acrylic, and are meant to be walked upon.

Hong Lei infuses representations of traditional Chinese paintings with a variety of odd objects. In his portrait of a bamboo leaf, the plant (traditionally revered for its great beauty) is seen adorned with suspended dead flies. In another photo, "I Dreamt that I Became Lost in a Scroll Painting," there is an image of mountains and water. It isn't hard to imagine these mountains as a source of inspiration for an ink painting, except for one thing … the addition of cherubic nude figures who, while swimming, are holding up a bubble the size of a house.

It is tempting to describe Hong Hao as a pack rat. He became famous for taking thousands of mundane objects and systematically organizing them in neat rows on a black background. Although there is no figure in these photos, the process of a man's hand organizing junk is keenly felt. On view will be a series the artist created using rows of coins from around the world.

The Gao Brothers (Gao Zhen and Gao Qiang) make photo collaborations that combine humor with social and political commentary. In one photo, Gao Zhen wears red gloves and stands in Tiananmen Square; his head exactly eclipses Mao's portrait. He raises his hands in a "so what?" pose while two policemen look on.

All of the artists in "Placed in China" have international reputations. In particular, all are included in the groundbreaking exhibition "Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China," curated by Wu Hung and Christopher Phillips. The traveling exhibition was in Chicago in 2004, is currently in London, and will travel to Berlin and Santa Barbara by the end of 2006.

In addition to "Placed in China," Carrie Notari and Pradip Malde have shows in the gallery's project rooms. Since 1991, Ms. Notari has been creating "containers," small glass jars of photographs and sifted earth sealed with beeswax. One of the project rooms has an installation of these vessels.

The other project room has new photographs by Pradip Malde from his "Disappearance" series. In the artist's words: We do not see a pattern to this appearance, or its disappearance. We simply know it is there. And we sense that when it appears, even for a few moments, it brings our lives together.