I've spent the last half of September in China, exploring the country and culture while exhibiting at the Pingyao International Photography Festival. The week long festival takes over the small ancient city of Pingyao, filling old factories and storage facilities with photographs and art works. Academic talks, lectures, and workshops are scattered throughout the week.
I went with some of my peers from Parsons to exhibit our show, titled Unfixed, which was curated by James Ramer. Primarily interested in dissecting the contemporary malleability of the photographic image, this exhibition exposed new realities through experimentation in material and concept.
In the days of analogue/chemical photography exposed photographic paper was first placed developer to bring the image into view. Then placed into a fixer, a stance used for setting the photographic image thus making it permanent. Thus silver halides fixed in place for all time. In the computational age the photographic image has shown itself to be increasing unstable in both its form and meaning. It is in essence UNFIXED. Images are more malleable than ever. They flow freely across the network with the potential to manifest on a variety of platforms in multiple forms Meaning shifts and bends according to context. The emerging artists in this exhibition seek to navigate these new realities. Their work thoughtfully questions current photographic conventions and cultural assertions. The work is critical and reflective exploring a range of contemporary issues from the acutely personal to the cultural and political.
James Ramer, 2017
Excerpts from the exhibition, along with information and the Chinese translation, can be found online, thanks to Pingyao's local government. See more here.
Our floor talk was a well attended English/Chinese discussion on Thursday, and sharing the work with larger audiences, really seeing their interaction with the work, is an extremely interesting experience as an artist. So often we create our work in our white boxes, never getting to see it interact with the public until it's 'finalized'.
The experience was surreal, especially given the frenzy my blonde hair created. It caused quite a stir in this little city, even during the international festival The culture shock of being filmed, photographed, and even touched wherever I went was intense. I became an object, a celebrity, based solely on the color of my hair. It was chaotic, and it's clear that this part of the experience changed my own understanding of my recent work. (Ethnocentrism is powerful, friends.) And looking forward, the importance of the visual image, particularly of a person's physical representation, is even more undeniable.
The festival itself was filled with many different types of photography with a focus on photojournalism. Our exhibition stood out as one of the few fine art / photography shows in the festival. In many of the lectures and talks that I attended, the speakers discussed China's relatively new relationship with photography, one that spans less time in popular and artistic culture than western countries.
Exhibiting here encouraged me to consider more deeply the multitude of cultural experiences that bring visual culture to where it is now, and understand visual culture in a more fluid and dynamic way rather than the linear timeline that I had been constructed. Obviously that's been a large part of my research, but seeing it and experiencing the power of physicality and visuals was quite different from reading statistics and polls on it. I'm still planning to primarily focus on United States politics and visual language moving forward, but this trip and exhibition has invited a new approach that will influence the next step in my political work.
As always, thanks for your support!