The Gao Brothers’ photography exhibit at Hua Gallery, London, re-imagines China in the wake of Cultural Revolution.
From 5 June to 18 September 2013, London’s Hua Gallery of contemporary Chinese art is showing the photographs of Gao Zhen and Gao Qiang, which overtly politicise nakedness and pose a full frontal challenge to the corruption which followed China’s Cultural Revolution.
Hua Gallery, London, is hosting an exhibit by the Gao Brothers, Gao Zhen and Gao Qiang, titled “Between Spiritual and Material Spaces: the Photographic World of the Gao Brothers“, which will remain on view until 18 September 2013. According to the Gao Brothers’ website, the Hua Gallery show “features a series of artworks created from 2000 to 2008, which focuses on the relationships between the individual and the spiritual and material spaces we live in.”
The politics of nakedness
Essential to the Gao Brothers’ political vision is the portrayal of embodiment. The individual expressiveness of naked human figures is often set in relief against a ruined, urban backdrop of unfinished architectural designs, structures which were abandoned due to a lack of funding, poor financial planning, or political corruption. For the Gao Brothers, the nude form acts as a counterpoint to the stark logic of administrative control, as they say in an interview with The Independent,
The abandoned building is a unique site in China… There are many reasons as to why the buildings remain unfinished. Some are the result of limited funds, funds that were moved for other use, or even because a corrupt official took the funds illegally… We use the building as a symbol on a larger scale to represent China’s uncompleted national urban development.
Re-thinking place and time
Photography, as the Gao Brothers use it, is equally an instrument of documentary realism and of lyrical imagination. A New World of Nuclear Cloud Shape (2008) foregrounds militaristic ideology, showcasing entrapment, isolation, and loneliness. However, there is also a register of hope signaled through the hybridisation of the image’s subject-matter: people adorning a nuclear mushroom cloud in the form of a tree. As described in the Londonist:
The tree is populated with religious iconography and couples embracing. It’s an attempt to convert something destructive into a message for peace and tolerance.
China’s art critical legacy
Working with a variety of media, the Gao brothers’ have been making art together since the early 1980s; the exhibit at Hua Gallery continues their critical examinations of China’s political landscape. As the press release states, “their art […] questions the role of the individual within society.” Social issues such as urban development and China’s population problem are explored in Sense of Space – Wake (2000), in which naked bodies are placed on display in such a way that they overtly contrast with conventional notions of utility and design. As noted in the Londonist:
the people in this photograph are separated from their neighbours by partitions, leaving them with no opportunity to connect, despite physical proximity.
Set against surrounding structures that symbolise corruption and immobility, nude bodies counter the urban environment. In the words of the press release, the Gao brothers’ use nakedness to evoke
pure and uncontaminated states of mind, leading the viewer to penetrate the vulnerability of human beings and to explore between spiritual and material spaces.
- A cultural revolution: UCCA’s “ON/OFF” young China artists exhibition – picture feast – March 2013 – a comprehensive survey of over 200 Chinese artists working today
- Contemporary Chinese artist Chen Yu in world of clones – video – January 2013 – Chinese artist Chen Yu delivers insight into his method of screenprinting
- 3 young Chinese artists awarded prizes at inaugural Caochangdi Photospring – May 2010 – Zhang Xiao, Wang Huan and Huang Xiaoliang continue the renegade spirit of Chinese photography
- Hugs in Hong Kong by artists formerly branded national criminals – interview Gao Brothers – the brothers are dole out cuddles in the name of peace, thankfully fully clothed
- Picasso of China or voice of dissent: Who is Ai Weiwei? Profile – September 2009 – The master of counter-cultural revolution critique, Ai’s art marketing makes to the Gao Brothers looks like amateurs
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