LONDON, ENGLAND.- The vivid responses of a new generation of Chinese photographers and video artists to the rapid cultural, political, social and economic changes taking place in China will be on view in a compelling and varied exhibition at the V&A this autumn.
'Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China' is the first comprehensive survey of Chinese photography and video from the past decade. As well as introducing an extraordinary body of work to a UK audience, the exhibition will provide remarkable insight into the dynamics of Chinese culture at the start of the 21st century.
Featuring 80 works by 40 artists, the exhibition reflects the energy of younger Chinese artists. The works, by both rising stars and established artists, are often monumental in scale and experimental in nature.
The exhibition has four thematic sections: History and Memory; Re-imagining the Body; People and Place; Performing the Self.
HISTORY AND MEMORY, the opening section, explores China's past. It features works which update themes from traditional Chinese art, and also explores China's turbulent recent history, such as events in Tiananmen Square.
Song Dong, a Beijing-based artist, lay for 40 minutes face-down in Tiananmen Square breathing onto the paving until a thin layer of ice formed beneath his mouth - a symbolic attempt to breathe new life into a place associated with political protest. The record of the event is presented as a large-scale light box 'Breathing Part 1 and Part 2' accompanied by an audio tape of the artist's breathing.
Liu Zheng captures a dark vision of his countrymen in a series of photographs informed by the work of August Sander and Diane Arbus.
PERFORMING THE SELF contains photographs and videos that reflect the urgent search for new forms of individual identity in a rapidly changing society.
In 'Night Revels of Lao Li' an imposing 31-foot photograph, Wang Qingsong reinterprets a famous 10th century scroll painting about a disillusioned government official, replacing him with Li Xianting, a well-known critic who was sacked from an official art magazine for championing experimental art.
RE-IMAGINING THE BODY looks at the striking ways in which Chinese artists have used the body as a vehicle for self-expression and social critique.
In Rong Rong's 'East Village, Beijing, No. 20' the photographer captures a celebrated performance entitled 'Twelve Square Metres' by Beijing-based performance artist Zhang Huan. The title refers to the size of the public toilet in which Zhang Huan, coated in honey, spent an hour, slowly becoming covered by flies. The performance enabled him, he said, to imagine his 'essential existence' reduced to the level of waste.
PEOPLE AND PLACE, the final section in the exhibition, explores ways in which photographers and video artists have responded to the dramatic changes taking place in the environment, and in particular the transformation of China's urban centres.
In 'Demolition: Forbidden City, Beijing' (1998), Zhang Dali captures the course of Beijing's massive urban transformation. A photographer and graffiti artist, Zhang spray paints an outline of his own head onto buildings scheduled for demolition. He knocks out the large head-shaped hole, through which can be glimpsed the roofs of the Forbidden City, dramatically contrasting the vanishing and emerging architecture of China's capital city.
The exhibition is curated by Wu Hung, the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago and Christopher Phillips, Curator, International Center of Photography, New York. The exhibition has been adapted for the V&A by Kate Best, Curator, Photographs.