Practices of China’s leading artists unveiled in 2013 photography book – excerpt and giveaway

Through portraits by German-born photographer Thomas Fuesser, Short Cuts allows readers to peer behind gallery walls and into the lives of China’s leading artists.

Fuesser has been documenting China’s artists since 1993. Short Cuts: Artists in China Vol. 1, a 528 page album that will be officially released in April 2013, holds Fuesser’s intimate shots of his subjects in everyday situations, from working in their studios to cooking in the kitchen.

Feng Mengbo. © Thomas Fuesser.

Feng Mengbo. © Thomas Fuesser.

Read the essay from the book by editor Rosa Maria Falvo, republished with the permission of the author, and then head to the bottom of the page to find out how to win your very own pre-release copy of Short Cuts: Artists from China!

The artists portrayed in the book are

Says Fuesser in a video trailer for Short Cuts, “The new project [Short Cuts] I am doing is like a reflection on what I have done [since] 1993. I followed them [the Chinese artists] one year now, but we decided to do something special for the book.”

Published by Skira, the first edition, which is edited by Rosa Maria Falvo and has contributions by Lorenz Helbling, Shen Qilan and Jean Loh, is the first in a planned set of two or three volumes.

Wu Shanzhuan and Inga S Thorsdottir. © Thomas Fuesser.

Wu Shanzhuan and Inga S Thorsdottir. © Thomas Fuesser.

Below we publish the essay from the book by editor Rosa Maria Falvo. (After the essay, keep reading to find out how to win a copy of Short Cuts!)

From the Inside


Almost twenty years ago, in Andrew Solomon’s candid report on China’s art scene for the New York Times’ magazine (19 December 1993), Shanghai born painter and art scholar Xu Hong was quoted as saying, ‘People speak all the time of mixing Western and Eastern influences, as though it were like mixing red and blue ink to paint pictures in purple. They do not think of what it means to understand these two cultures and to try to incorporate their different ways of thought.’ While neither Thomas Fuesser nor Lorenz Helbling are naturally attracted to the limelight, even today, their lives have been independently and inextricably linked to those seeking that limelight and bringing these worlds together. Dissolving the borders between cultures and art practices, between artists and photographers, and even between the public and the gallery space, is what appears to inform their imaginations. Fuesser is no doubt interested in those subtle but fertile ‘interior’ spaces, explored in the process of making art, which courageous artists of all kinds deal with everyday. Perhaps this is the common thread that links otherwise disparate perspectives and experiences, and remains constant in these images as much as in his migratory soul between Europe and Asia.

Sun Xun. © Thomas Fuesser.

Sun Xun. © Thomas Fuesser.

Inspired by Robert Altman’s acclaimed film about an ensemble of relationships and circumstances in Los Angeles, Fuesser has put together his own mosaic of artists living in China. We see loosely knit, intimate and parallel flashes of their faces and ideas juxtaposed with their artworks and their busy, even frenetic, lives. And Fuesser demonstrates an intuitive feel for their individual journeys. Of course, Altman was concerned with the shadowy social tapestry of middle class America in the 1990s. But Fuesser’s subjects today are also elusive, in that, as outsiders, whether culturally or otherwise, we can only begin to understand them through a kind of artistic ‘interpreter’, as it were; someone on the inside, who shares their world. The overall effect is less about narrative and more about mood. Each image implies cooperation and these artists are clearly comfortable with their photographer. While they are the conspicuous protagonists, even in their absence, we can feel the pulsating Chinese metropolis that surrounds them, feeding them a context for their work. Fuesser emphasises the ‘stillness’ of our privileged moments with them. Their concentration, efforts and, in some cases, dismay, is ours vicariously, for the few minutes that we allow ourselves to enter into their world. We can feel Lui Wei’s improvisation, Zhang Ding’s versatility, and Sun Xun’s meticulousness. Zhang Peili’s overwhelming screens and Chris Gill’s burgeoning canvases frame their subjects and makers perfectly. Fuesser sees all of this, in an instant, but there is a mutually creative drive to his approach, a deep empathy and connection, that makes this project transcendent. In this sense, the imagery here was made collaboratively.

Din Yi. © Thomas Fuesser.

Din Yi. © Thomas Fuesser.

Most photographers agree that a good portrait is one of the hardest pictures to achieve. There’s a sense of uncertainty, an awareness of the emotional evocation someone can offer, and a typically awkward prelude to shooting. Indeed, it seems that a dedicated photographer has the same kinds of dilemmas as a sculptor, painter or musician. Fuesser has followed these artists from their beginnings, taking an interest in them as people across the gamut of their lives; a commitment that is essentially coming from a place of understanding. And therein lies the catch: when you photograph an unknown artist, as opposed to a star for the cover of a big magazine, most of the images are likely to remain in a box. But this is what is meant by participating in the history of art. The journey is made up of all those who have carried the torch and contributed to a certain discourse or significant moment in time. An artist, great or small, emerges from a cultural humus, consisting of others who may never be recognised by critics or the larger market but are nonetheless indispensable to the process. Fuesser’s environmental approach to portraiture ensures these pictures have historical significance, while he plays an active role in animating the scene. If artists are a kind of litmus paper for society, then this wryly observant photographer has shown good instincts in defining his own artistic achievements in such a substantial body of work.

Cai Guo-Qiang. © Thomas Fuesser.

Cai Guo-Qiang. © Thomas Fuesser.

Ugo Mulas (1928-1973) famously concluded, ‘When I photograph painters, I often try to go beyond the mere reportage… what I’m interested in is to make clear the artist in connection with the results of their own works, that is to say, that I have tried to understand which of their attitudes is crucial to the final product.’ His brief but intense relationships in the art world produced compelling imagery that showed a certain complicity of mind. So if a good portrait is the result of a unique collaboration between photographer and subject, then we can safely say that the emotional reciprocity in Fuesser’s work is based on trust; a shared moment of exchange between one kind of artist and another. Even fleetingly, there is evidence of familiarity or rapport. In the case of Cai Guo-Qiang, the journalistic encounter itself provides the backdrop to a more confidential ‘recording’ of his personality. Here the reflexivity creates an engrossing set of portraits that ask more questions than they answer. But visual language is unwieldy and open to very subjective interpretation. And yet even in the context of its inherent variations, we get the feeling this person is a complex imaginative being. Which begs another question: who and what is an artist? Historically, taking pictures of them meant being an integral part of a passionate, improvised community; an intellectual hub, attracting kindred spirits ready to challenge and support each other’s assumptions and aspirations.

Zhang Ding. © Thomas Fuesser.

Zhang Ding. © Thomas Fuesser.

Fuesser is what you might call a creators’ photographer. And not just because his colleagues admire his work, but because they are his work. You can see their quick bursts of thinking, alongside the time it takes for their ideas to percolate, even while they’re doing something apparently unrelated, like cooking in their kitchen. Viewers are invited to witness the creative process, and how artists conceive their practice becomes a central theme. This photographer maintains that his work is ‘all about emotions, observing and personal and private access’. It is a slow, tentative process, but he has earned his status as an insider, empowering these artists to confide in him and invest in his efforts. Some shots have an experimental feel, such as the psychedelic red enveloping Zhang Ding, and others are ostensibly playful for the artist but metaphorically poignant for the photographer, such as the cover image by MadeIn Company, entitled Focus, with an aboriginal spear skewering a Hasselblad. Fuesser describes it as either ‘the murder of reality or the resistance of a lie’, depending on one’s perspective.

Ai Weiwei. © Thomas Fuesser.

Ai Weiwei. © Thomas Fuesser.

Sequentially these images convey a naturalness that comes from Fuesser’s own working method, coupled with a reverence for each artist’s adherence to their craft. We get a sense of the passage of time, but more specifically of the tenacity of artistic drive and the pressures of public personas. We can almost hear the street interjecting the silence of a studio or the moment when an artist is lost in thought. In his ongoing physiognomy of the creative essence of contemporary China, Fuesser seeks a balance between the internal world and the one outside. Happily, he has applied a contemplative style to his documentation. One that validates a similar intuition from another kind of artist and culture, over a century earlier: ‘It is not likely that posterity will fall in love with us, but not impossible that it may respect or sympathise; so a man would rather leave behind him the portrait of his spirit than a portrait of his face.’ (Robert Louis Stevenson, 1850-1894)


© Rosa Maria Falvo

We have one copy of Short Cuts: Artists in China to giveaway! To get your hands on a copy (before it is officially released!), leave a comment below telling us why you would love to add this book to your library and we will select a winner by random draw. Draw closes: Sunday 17 February 2013.


Related Topics: photography, portraiture, Chinese artists

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Practices of China’s leading artists unveiled in 2013 photography book – excerpt and giveaway — 23 Comments

  1. I’d love to have this book in my expanding library. Currently I’m at the stage of finding a research question for my dissertation on contemporary Chinese art, and a book like this might give me a new perspective on a way to look at the artists.
    Thank you for the opportunity!

  2. Thank you for this great collection of images and articles. I`m going to Beijing in a few weeks, and am looking foreword to contacting some Chinese contemporary artists and bringing their work back here to the NYC gallery scene, as well as bringing some of my western artists to China. With the art market finally showing signd of steady growth, I feel now is a good time to have an artistic cultural exchange.

  3. Thank you for taking the time to comment on this article, but unfortunately you’ve submitted after the prize draw deadline. Keep an eye on our website in March. We have another exciting book draw!

  4. It’s such a pleasure to hear your views on this publication, but unfortunately you’ve submitted after the prize draw deadline. Keep an eye on our website in March. We have another exciting book draw!

  5. It is a rare and exciting glimpse of the artists behind the art.

  6. i have been a photographer in Asia for the past 16 years. I’ve been privileged to observe and enjoy the rise of asian art, and my own work is now necessarily about fragmentation and re-construction, which is my altered ego after nearly 2 decades of life in Asia. Fuesser’s work is amazing, as is that of many of these contemporary chinese artists. I would love to have a release copy of this book!

  7. Thank you for entering, Esperanza. The winner will be drawn very soon!

  8. Looks like it will be a great resource for the students in my Contemporary Asian art course; I’ll get my library to purchase a copy too.

  9. Exciting! I would love to add this book to my collection of contemporary Chinese art texts. As a student and emerging scholar in the field, it’s important to have such valuable resources for continued research and scholarship.

  10. I have had a lifelong fascination with Chinese art. Early on, I had the good fortune to study their classical art with Grace Chow, from whom I learned a tremendous amount in terms of composition, brush handling and intent. I have had artist friends who were able to visit China and bring back contemporary art to share with me, I have seen the innovation occurring over the years. Considering that the middle class is the fermenting, bubbling source of the most innovative art, I am looking forward to seeing what this country which has a huge and growing middle class is producing to add to the world’s cultural heritage in Art. We don’t see too much of that art here in the US. The Chinese have such a wide and deep artistic heritage, extending over thousands of years, yet a very different culture from the US and Europe, that I expect to see them leading as the next art cultural center. It would be very interesting to see what is the current scene, if that is the intent of this book.

  11. I think its a wonderfull effort by Thomas Fuesser to bring Chineese artists and their methadology of art practice togather in one book, it will be really helpful for me now to introduce myself with Chineese art and these wonderful artist ‘s practice because i had to begin my research on Chinese artist and this book will significantly be one of the most important refference source for me to begin my research from .

  12. Most of what we hear and see about China has to do with economics, politics and social issues. Great to get a chance to learn about a whole other side of China!

  13. It is brilliant! Fingers crossed you win the copy we’re giving away.

  14. Thomas Fuesser’s idea for the book is brilliant. It’ll be a visual documentary of one of the most important periods in Chinese art history. Really looking forward to reading it.

  15. Thank you for entering! Stay tuned for our winner announcement.

  16. Fantastic article! I would love to add this book to my library indeed, please add me to your random raw.

  17. It makes me always so happy to watch the power of Chinese artists and the reflection of that power in their really great art products. The photobook of Thomas Fuesser will show that well, hopefully.

  18. We agree! We’ll let you know by email if you’ve won your very own copy.

  19. 20 years of watching Chinese artists should provide some great insights into their working methods and their ways of thinking

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