Ah, Week Number Three and Three More Great Speakers!
Photo © Xiao Quan, the writer San Mao Chengdu from early in Quan’s career, 1990
Well, actually four speakers if we count both members of Birdhead, the photo collaboration begun in 2004 by artists Ji Wieyu and Sang Tao (although their Web site is only in Chinese).
They had what group member Ryan Mellinger called “swagger” and used their cameras both to examine the social and the manmade landscapes of Shanghai and their own relationships to it.
They’d only just recently returned from Venice, where they were exhibiting their piece Song Poetry – Writing on the Wall along the Path to Bo Mountain at the Biennale.
They showed us Tang Poetry – On a Gate Tower at Yuzho, the work presented this year in the “Artist File 2011” exhibition at the National Art Center, Tokyo. They also brought along copies of their books. The first Xincun was shot during four seasons of 2006 and concerns itself with a type of state supported housing development popular in Shanghai about 20 years ago. Birdhead documented the life and architecture in this typical xincun (they grew up in a similar development), their interest sparked by the destruction of many such housing complexes because Shanghai needed the land to host the 2010 World’s Fair.
Birdhead’s second book—The End of the Mainland, another beefy image compilation—documents their own lives and the world around them. We’re now trying to get hold of their illusive partner/publisher/distributor so that we can all buy copies of the books to take home, even though they’ll add considerable kilos to our luggage.
Next, we were lucky enough to catch Shen Wei (an MFA SVA grad; I must say they turn up all over) before he went back to New York. He shared two of his projects, Almost Naked and his new self-portrait series I Miss You Already (he omitted his well received Chinese Sentiment because after almost a year of preparing the book and his recent show at New York’s Daniel Cooney Gallery, he needed a break). Brought up in a traditional and conservative Chinese family, Almost Naked was Shen’s first foray into the exploration of self-expression and identity. His current self-portrait images continue his examination of self-expression and investigation of the tensions extant in notions of boundaries and freedom. Shen was also gracious in taking time to critique everyone’s work; his comments and suggestions were on point and very helpful. And very much appreciated.
Photo © Abby Robinson, Jean Loh in his Beaugeste Gallery
The last speaker of the week was Jean Loh at his Beaugeste Gallery on Taikang Lu. Loh started with some background information on Chinese photography and segued into a discussion of the contemporary photography scene—its exhibitions, festivals, and increased presence in galleries, museums and in collections. Plus, he offered background information on the portraits in his current show Xiao Quan’s Encounter with Remarkable Women. Loh, whose stable is made up what he calls “veteran photographers” rather than young, new talent, also showed us some of Lu Guang’s powerful images from his series on pollution in China.
Photo © Lu Guang, Wuhai City, Inner Mongolia.
Caption: Most of the workers in the factories come from poor areas, they have no immunity protection. After ingesting pollutants into their lungs daily, they become sick after one or two years on the job.
The rest of the week was devoted to work and travel. Cassie and Leah went off to Beijing for the weekend. It was Leah’s first trip there and she jaunted off to see The Forbidden City, The Temple of Heaven and The Great Wall; Cassie, who’d been in Beijing before, spent her time seeing parts of the city she hadn’t experienced before.
I went to Beijing as well, to give a talk on contemporary trends in American photography at the Beijing Film Academy, to pay a visit to Three Shadows Photography Art Centre (where I did a residency in 2008) and to see friends. The rest of the crew—Eleanor, Phil, Ryan, Ivan, Christil and Jocelyn—stayed in Shanghai to explore, shoot and continue work on their projects.
It’s amazing to think that we now have only one more week—the time whizzes by so swiftly. Last year’s workshop was three weeks long and Eleanor and I continue to marvel that we managed to cram so much into an even shorter period of time. Fast as this workshop is going, we continue to be delighted (and relieved) that we have the luxury of an additional seven days this year.