A man has just fallen through the floor, his legs dangling through a hole in the ceiling of the room below, startling the people below. His legs are a living appendage, a partial human chandelier, announced by the splattering of plaster on the conference table. How did it happen? What will happen next?
A group of people are skydiving, but without parachutes. They form a human sculpture redolent of a phantom ship commandeering the jet stream, surviving as a weightless, communal unit. They are confident in their gravity defying choreography, as if this was an everyday exercise.
These photographs are in the eye-opening show, Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography at the Katonah Museum of Art and celebrates the Chinese Year of the Dragon. The show has over 80 works created by young Chinese artists since 2000. The work is diverse; disturbing, contemplative and humorous.
There is a restlessness about these photographs. Guest curator Miles Barth explains in his well written catalogue that photography in China unofficially became an art form after the horrifying Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989, where amateur photographers covertly took over 25,000 photographs, bookmarking the informal beginning of the contemporary Chinese photography movement.
The thirty-six artists/photographers in this show were born between 1960 and 1981 and combine photography with painting, sculpture, and performance art. Manipulating images with digital technology allows for a mise-en-scene narrative (theatrical description) such as the first photograph described in this review called “Escapee Dropped through the Floor” by Liyu + Liubo. The stories here have their own fantastic version of reality while credibly suspending our belief for the moment.
The work is not without an a political agenda. “To Marry a Mule,” is a huge photograph that spans floor to ceiling and is of a performance piece by Wang Jin who is dressed as a bride groom and is taking a mule dressed in flowery pink, replete with stockings and makeup, as his bride. The performance was a protest by Wang, who, for eight years, was denied permission by the Chinese government to visit his wife who had immigrated to the United States (they eventually divorced).
Photographer Yang Yi created a series called “Uprooted.” “Uprooted #7, Old Town of Kaixian: Swimming Pool” is Yang’s recreation of a recurrent nightmare where he searches for friends and relatives but finds himself trapped underwater, his voice silenced. Kaixian was one of the villages that was destroyed by flooding in 2009 by Three Gorges Dam project. Yang took the photographs before the flooding and used digital techniques to recreate the scene underwater.
Among the photographers represented in Rising Dragon: Contemporary Chinese Photography are: Liyu + Liubo, Muge, O Zhang, Qui Zhijie, Rong Rong, Sun Ji, Tian Taiquan, Zhang Huan, and Zhang Xiao. In his introduction to the catalogue, Katonah Museum executive director Neil Watson says that the show reveals how Chinese photography has exploded onto the global art scene. “[The show] offers invaluable insights into China’s complex culture and rich history through the perspective of its artists. This is a China not reflected in news reports or even in personal travel experiences; it’s a China you haven’t seen before.
Two exhibits concurrent with Rising Dragon are Xu Bing: Square Word Calligraphy (March 25 – August 26) and for the younger set The Art of Grace Lin.
The exhibition will be on view until September 2, 2012. The Katonah Museum of Art is located at 134 Jay Street (Route 22) in Katonah, NY. For more information, visit www.katonahmuseum.org or call (914) 232‑9555.
Abby Luby, author of the recently published e-book Nuclear Romance, has been in the field of communications for over 20 years and a journalist just over 10. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications/Music from Indiana University and attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City.
She is a freelance journalist for The New York Daily News, a regularly featured art critic for the Stamford Advocate/Greenwich Time and for the past five years has written for The Hudson Valley Table, a quarterly food magazine. Ms. Luby has contributed several articles on art events, gallery openings and artists in the Hudson Valley region to Roll Magazine. www.abbylu.com