The Topology of Image: Chinese photographer Cai Dongdong – artist profile

Klein Sun Gallery presents a solo exhibition of mixed-media installation from artist Cai Dongdong.

The Chinese artist creates installations with found and archival photography, and found objects, fragmenting realities and opening up a window to lost memories.

Cai Dongdong, 'Showers', 2016. Gelatin silver print in artist's frame. 20 11/16 x 20 11/16 inches (52.5 × 52.5 cm) © Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Cai Dongdong, ‘Showers’, 2016. Gelatin silver print in artist’s frame. 52.5 x 52.5 cm. © Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Cai Dongdong‘s work is a “topology of image”. With a strong foundation in photography and image production theory, his images use photography as their key inspiration. His photographs become the reference point around which his multimedia installations take shape, often using works from masters such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore and Lewis Wickes Hine.

Cai Dongdong, 'The Mountain Cutters', 2017. Gelatin silver print, stones, wood. 201/2x217/8x221/4inches(52×55.5×56.5cm) © Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Cai Dongdong, ‘The Mountain Cutters’, 2017. Gelatin silver print, stones, wood. 52 x 55.5 x 56.5 cm. © Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Photography Autocracy

Cai has a tendency to select images depicting China before he was born, “not a full reconstruction of the old times, but a paradoxical coexistence of the past and the current”. As the press release for the current show “Photography Autocracy” at Klein Sun Gallery explains,

When you start a conversation with Cai’s work, you will gradually realize its subtle compatibility away from the world that the work is seemingly set up in – this is when the utopia of the past is breached. To Cai, images nowadays subconsciously exert an autocratic control over people’s mind the same way that he applies a variety of artistic techniques to make all the images in his work “act against their will”.

Cai Dongdong, 'The Memory', 2017, Gelatin silver print, chair, 100×55×90cm.© Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery. 

Cai Dongdong, ‘The Memory’, 2017, gelatin silver print, chair, 100 x 55 x 90 cm.© Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

His current show serves as a manifestation of his considerations about the photographer’s occupation, as he playfully experiments with and displays images he has collected, which are in some way associated with photography: cameras, tripods, photographic paper or lenses.

Cai Dongdong, 'Splashing Woman', 2016. Handmade color photo, knitting in artist's frame. 37×54cm. © Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Cai Dongdong, ‘Splashing Woman’, 2016, handmade colour photo, knitting in artist’s frame, 37 x 54 cm. © Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

The Idea of Collectivism

Key works consider the idea of collectivism, a central concept in the Chinese communist ideology. Collectivism is not directly promoted currently in China; however, the influence has been everlasting and still impacts many aspects of society, and this is felt through many of the works.

The display of sometimes random seeming objects within handmade wooden display boxes are reminiscent of early surrealist work by Max Ernst, who added three-dimensional objects to canvases in an attempt to create irrational and unnerving compositions.

Installation.

Cai Dongdong, “Photography Autocracy”, installation view at Klein Sun Gallery, 2017. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

As the gallery explains,

While Ernst’s volumetric objects are supplements to his canvas, Cai’s application of alien objects together with his hand-made wood compartments and frames share equal importance with the images in his narrative. All these elements join hands with the photographs to make Cai’s work a nostalgic piece of history that links us to the present as well.

Installation.

Cai Dongdong, “Photography Autocracy”, installation view at Klein Sun Gallery, 2017. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Cai Dongdong, 'Aiming at the Camera', 2017. Gelatin silver print, camera, wood. 120×56×50cm © Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery

Cai Dongdong, ‘Aiming at the Camera’, 2017, gelatin silver print, camera, wood, 120 x 56 x50 cm. © Cai Dongdong. Image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery.

Fragmented, photographic realities

Born in Tianshui, Gansu, in 1978, Chinese artist Cai Dongdong’s practice historically explores images from both the East and West, often uniting these ideas within the medium of photography. The images he produces can be described as surrealist “half-fragmented realities” or “photo-sculptures”, from the archive or the ready-made, able to provoke unusual scenarios and reactions from the viewer. At a young age, Cai Dongdong joined the People’s Liberation Army and became a portrait photographer for enlisted soldiers, comprising his formal photographic training. On his return to Beijing, he opened up his own studio.

Solo exhibitions include presentations at the Klein Sun Gallery (New York); Charles Chu Reading Room, Connecticut; Gallery 55, Shanghai, China; Mattias Kuper Galleries, Stuttgart, Germany; UNIDEE Art Foundation, Biella, Italy (2011); and Taikang Space, Beijing, China (2010). He has been included in group exhibitions internationally in Switzerland, China, Germany and America. As Klein Sun Gallery states,

Although Cai Dongdong no longer takes photographs himself, he still calls himself a ‘photographer’; through the use of archival, found photography, and installation.

Anna Jamieson

1996

“Cai Dongdong: Photography Autocracy” is on view from 30 November 2017 to 6 January 2018 at Klein Sun Gallery, 525 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011.

Related Topics: Chinese artistsinstallationsculpturegallery showsevents in New York

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