“Coastline”, the award-winning photography series by Chinese emerging artist Zhang Xiao, examines the rapid changes occurring in the coastal cities of China. Xiao’s work was on show at Blindspot Gallery in Hong Kong in March 2012. Art Radar takes a closer look at the exhibition and artwork.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No. 2', 2009.

Blindspot Gallery presented seventeen pieces from “Coastline“, which is an ongoing series comprising of more than 240 photographs. All of the images were taken in coastal cities in China, which are the most developed areas of the country. They capture seaside landscapes, the activities of the cities’ inhabitants and visitors, as well as the changes in China caused by its economic reform in the past thirty years. Mimi Gradel, Director of Blindspot Gallery, finds the series insightful for Hong Kong audiences as well as anyone who is interested in China’s development.

It is an interesting time now to put up a show like this in Hong Kong, when the differences and disputes between local Hong Kong and mainland Chinese people [have never been] more severe.

Installation view of the March 2012 exhibition "Coastline", a series by Chinese photographer Zhang Xiao, in Hong Kong's Blindspot Gallery.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No. 12', 2009.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No. 246', 2011.

For each image, Zhang captures the natural landscape, artificial objects and characters, resulting in depictions that often appear surrealistic.

The series [is made up of] surreal and humorous images that capture precisely the absurd landscapes that are a result of consumerism and westernisation in today’s China. Each image has a story to tell. Most audience members spend a considerable amount of time studying each image and find them all very appealing…. Many people think that the images are digitally manipulated, and they are very surprised when they find out that [the] images are taken in real life, on film, without any touching up.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No. 3', 2009.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No. 241', 2011.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No. 59', 2009.

The artist’s time as a news photographer for the China Morning Post has had a strong influence on both his artistic style and his creative approach. Rather than emphasising the individuality of each location, the artist says that his focus is to capture the rapid changes in these regions,

I did not take the initiative to discover the local features of each place. I would walk around the city with a map when I first arrived, then I would walk randomly without a map and photograph anything that I found interesting. I would try not to be too deliberate and purposeful. This process allows for a natural reflection of the characteristics of a location…. When people appear and combine with the environment, this makes a scene extremely interesting.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No.14', 2009.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No. 26', 2009.

Zhang Xiao, 'Coastline No. 223', 2011.

Zhang Xiao was born in 1981, he previously worked as a news photographer and became a freelance photographer in 2009. He was awarded the Prix HSBC pour Photographie in 2011 and The Photography Talent Awards in 2010 with the “Coastline” series. His previous work is concerned mostly with his hometown of Chongqing in China.


Related Topics: Chinese artists, emerging artist, photography

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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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