Chinese photographer Wang Guofeng captures socialism in North Korea – Schoeni video interview

To celebrate its twentieth year, Hong Kong-based Schoeni Art Gallery has profiled ten of its leading represented artists in a compelling series of video interviews.

Chinese photographer Wang Guofeng, who talks on his unique “creative language” and experiences in North Korea, is among those profiled. In the video, Guofeng discusses his interest in past and current socialist power structures and the influence of the associated ideologies on local people and architecture.

Wang Guofeng studied fine arts in Mongolia and later graduated from the painting department of China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA), Beijing’s leading art university. A short introduction to the video provides an insight into his career history: how, for example, “his CAFA painter training allowed him to go beyond the limits of professional photography.” He says later in the interview,

The way I took photographs was that for whatever artistic creations, they are not just an expression of content. As an artist, I contemplate the logic of art itself, and the creation of language, the uniqueness of the language.

Art Radar has covered other videos in this Schoeni Art Gallery interview series. Click here to view them all.

Architecture as political statement

When Guofeng photographed the twentieth century socialist structures that are the subject of some of his recent artworks, he focused on the buildings themselves. As Guofeng says,

I took away the people and the cars, which were the disturbing elements of the visual architecture. […] As the buildings were built under a collective ideology of that decade, it showed the power of the people.

In his practice, Guofeng uses a large format camera, usually with a long lens, to take multiple shots over a set period of time. He then stitches the separate images together to create an “extremely big” high resolution photograph. “The size was to show the details and to let the audience to have a way to read and feel the spirit and the politics behind the architecture,” he says.

'Utopia No.8, A part of All-Russian Exhibition Centre', 2008, 100 x 104 cm, C-print. Image from chinaphotoeducation.com.

Wang Guofeng, ‘Utopia No.8, A part of All-Russian Exhibition Centre’, 2008, 100 x 104 cm, C-print. Image from chinaphotoeducation.com.

Art Radar has covered other videos in this Schoeni Art Gallery interview series. Click here to view them all.

In his series “North Korea 2012”, he moves beyond architecture; a mass of people becomes a symbol of socialist power. As with his earlier photographs of architecture, no detail is left out: the viewer can pick out individuals clapping their hands together or looking directly at the camera in each panoramic scene.

Capturing socialism in North Korea

In April 2012, thousands of North Koreans gathered in Kim Il-sung Square for what the country’s government hoped would be one of the biggest celebrations in human history: the 100th birthday of North Korea’s founding father, Kim Il-sung. Having already visited North Korea in 2011 to photograph local architecture, Guofeng was granted access to the event as a photographer. Through his documentation of the ceremony, he provides a rare glimpse into the country’s socialist ideals.

Guofeng was strictly supervised when taking photographs. In the video interview, he explains how he had to “line up for safety check three hours before the shooting. They checked the camera back and forth and disassembled it to take out the lens, and then checked the photo….” Despite his request for a special angle and position, he was placed in the international press area. “It was hard for me to find an ideal place for me to shoot. I could only carry out my idea under this situation,” he says.

Wang Guofeng, 'North Korea No.5', 2012. Image courtesy of Schoeni Art Gallery.

Wang Guofeng, ‘North Korea No.5’, 2012. Image courtesy of Schoeni Art Gallery.

For the artist, the North Korean experience brought back childhood memories of life under a similarly restrictive government. In the video, he mentions a special interest in socialist political history. He stresses the importance of a project that captures rare scenes of life in what, as he says, “is so far one of the most original socialist countries. … You cannot see such a scene any more, not even in China.”

Art Radar has covered other videos in this Schoeni Art Gallery interview series. Click here to view them all.

More on Wang Guofeng

Wang Guofeng was born in Liaoning, a northeastern Chinese province. He has lived in Beijing, China since 1998 where he works as an independent artist since finishing his degree in painting from CAFA.

Most recently, he exhibited work at the “La Ansiedad de la Imagen” (Image Anxiety), a collective show at the PhotoEspaña (2012) in Madrid, Spain. He participated in the 6th Shanghai Biennale (2006), has held several solo exhibitions, including shows at SPACE HONGJEE (Seoul, South Korea, 2010) and the Imperial Academy of Arts and Sciences (Moscow, Russia, 2007), and his work has been involved in group exhibitions worldwide.

This article was written by a participant in our art writing diploma programme. Do you want to write for Art Radar, too? Click here to find out more about our Diploma in Art Journalism & Writing.

CR/KN/JC

Related Topics: photography, Chinese artists, themes and subjects – buildings, historical art, nationalism, political, social

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Chinese photographer Wang Guofeng captures socialism in North Korea – Schoeni video interview — 1 Comment

  1. Can you please email contact address and telephone number of Mr.Wang Guofeng. I wish to make contact.
    Best regards

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