Colossal Images Dissect China’s Past and Present

Behold
The Photo Blog
Aug. 9 2013 11:16 AM

Colossal Images Dissect China’s Past and Present

Follow me,120x300cm,2003
Follow Me, 2003. "At least on the surface, China is communicating well with the rest of the world," Qingsong said. "However, when I look at myself, I see a 'backward' guy, still failing to speak English. Such thoughts inspired me to create the photograph."

Wang Qingsong

Wang Qingsong challenges his country and the world with large-scale photographs that are theatrical, political, and humorous. They tackle a range of issues facing contemporary China, from education and international politics to religion and consumption. 

“Most of my artworks discuss the ongoing stories in this dramatic society. I am like a photojournalist capturing the contradictions that we encounter in the transforming China,” Wang said via email.

Though the issues he addresses are often timely, the photographs have little in common with photos one might find in a newspaper’s coverage of daily events.

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“Considering that the news he can see on TV or read in the newspapers are just a partial vision of the truth, he needs to construct his own reality, his own vision of a situation to show their different dimensions and facets,” said Jeremie Thircuir via email, whose publishing house, Thircuir Books, has released a monograph of Wang’s work. 

Temple
Temple, 2011.

Wang Qingsong

Follow Him, Wang Qingsong,2010
Follow Him, 2010. Wang says the photograph is about education in China, where "knowledge is taught but not learnt by many people who fail to understand the real meanings."

Wang Qingsong

Wang’s photographs are each massive undertakings. They require months of preparation, giant spaces, and sometimes hundreds of models to produce. Wang said all the shoots are done in a day, and since 2000 he hasn’t used any digital manipulation. The final, physical products are often massive themselves. A print of his 2010 photograph, The History of Monuments, for instance, measures nearly 138 feet across.

“You could of course go back to the tradition of [the] Chinese scroll, the idea of [a] piece bigger than what the mind can capture in one glance,” Thircuir said. “There is a spatial and temporal dimension in these works. By looking at them, the narrative develops. At the same time, he's also using very Western classical structures of representation, and the overscaled photographs trends initiated by the likes of Gursky.”

But not everyone in China is a fan of his work. According to the New York Times, Wang has been questioned by police, and on at least one occasion, he was forced to turn over his negatives.

“Politically, I think he is surely one of the most critical artists in China,” Thircuir said.

dormitory
Dormitory, 2005. Wang says the photograph is about Beijing's population of migrant workers and reflects "the inherent conflict the floating population experiences when their dreams are in conflict with reality."

Wang Qingsong

past_present_and_future
Past, Present and Future, 2001. Wang says he finds that urban state sculpture iconography can often best reveal Chinese history and ideals. "However, I alter the sculptures, posing implicit doubt on what we have achieved and what we are expecting," Wang says. "With such 'doubt,' I portray myself as a bystander in the photograph."

Wang Qingsong

But although many of his interests relate to China, Wang’s messages often transcend any one specific culture. In his most iconic photograph, Follow Me, Wang poses alone at a desk in front of a blackboard cluttered with hundreds of pieces of information from various disciplines in different languages.

According to Thircuir, Wang’s work has become darker over the years, a transition that can be seen in the differences between the kitsch and colorful approach to 2000’s Night Revels of Lao Li and the bleaker vision of 2011’s Goddess.

Wang has also produced video art, and moving forward, Thircuir said Wang has expressed interest in venturing into cinema. When he first became interested in video a few years ago, Thircuir said, Wang enrolled at the Beijing Film Academy to “get the basics.”

“I think this tells a lot about the man: his humility and simplicity, but also his determination and ability to start again from scratch, [despite] his current position in the art world,” Thircuir said.

competition
Competition, 2004. Wang constructed a giant wall for this photograph and covered it with advertisements. "On my gigantic wall, I make the fight for advertising as fierce as a struggle for military power, with inevitable casualties on the battlefield," he says.

Wang Qingsong

un_party
UN Party, 2007. "In the left panel of this work, over 1,300 people sat around U and N shaped tables and enjoyed cheap fast-food while entertaining heated discussions and expecting a bright future," Wang says. "However, in the right panel, all that remains are leftovers and a scene of chaos. The clouds of smoke overshadowing the black secretive place represent gloomy fantasy."

Wang Qingsong

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