Seven pioneering photographers from four countries engage with nuances of time and place.
Tokyo’s Hara Museum of Contemporary Art is exhibiting a selection of photographs from Deutsche Bank’s collection of over 60,000 works until 11 January 2016. Art Radar highlights seven Asian photographers from the Collection’s first ever showcase of international photography.
“Time Present: Photography from the Deutsche Bank Collection” (PDF download) features approximately 60 works by 40 international contemporary photographers, spanning four decades from 1970 to 2010, selected and curated from “one of the most important collections of contemporary art on paper in the world”. According to the press release, the unifying theme for the exhibition is the elasticity of time.
Inspired by T.S. Eliot’s renowned poem Burnt Norton (from “Four Quartets”, 1935), the exhibition portrays the relationship between photography – the capturing of a moment – and time, and how photographers are able to bend its rules of linearity.
Art Radar looks at seven photographers from East Asia and their exhibited works.
1. Yeondoo Jung (South Korea)
Seoul-based Yeondoo Jung (b. 1969, Jinju) trained in sculpture in Korea and London before turning to photography and, more recently, to video art. His style of photography often employs elements of the surreal and fantasy by using sculpture, digital manipulation, props and painting to create synthetic scenes that are nonetheless “real” – evidence of those invisible imagined and remembered worlds that exist in our minds. As Michael Connor says in ArtAsiaPacific of Jung’s series “Handmade Memories” (2008),
Jung plays the role of a productive, empathetic listener, imagining the context from which his subjects speak. Jung takes his role one step further, rendering this mental image in a lavishly detailed physical form, giving the viewer a sense of emotional connection with each subject. For all of the skill, labour and capital invested in creating his synthetic worlds, Jung’s real talent may be as a documentarian.
In his series “Locations”, Jung stages settings for his photographs, which lie in the space between the “real” and the imagined. In doing so, he questions the idea of reality: “the idea of what’s real and what’s not real has become meaningless.” In these representations, as in life, it is never clear what is real and what is constructed – and, it may be argued, it is irrelevant to try to separate the two.
2. Zhu Jia (China)
Although known more for his video art, Zhu Jia (b. 1963, Beijing) also works with still photography and film images, and was originally trained as a painter. In his conceptual video Zero, Zhu strings together a series of fragmented images, true to his style of favouring conceptual art over conventional narrative. The stills portray a woman in various artificial, manipulated moments. Deliberately awkward, performative and self-conscious, the images move slowly, without any obvious sequence or conclusion, creating a sense of disconnect from the character as well as time. As Friedhelm Hütte writes in the exhibition catalogue, the scenes are reminiscent of the virtual reality we live in today:
[It is] a critical commentary on the questionable magic of the photographic image, and on the standardised flood of images in our late capitalist, product-based mass society.
Zhu has exhibited at “Mobile M+: Moving Images” (Hong Kong, 2015), the Shanghai Biennale (2008), Istanbul Biennial (2007), Venice Biennale (2003), and the Museum of Modern Art (New York, 2002) among many others.
3. Miwa Yanagi (Japan)
Known for her unconventional portrayal of women, gender and feminism, Miwa Yanagi (b. 1967, Kobe) twists the ideal of femininity to raise pertinent questions and probe imaginations. The series “My Grandmothers” engages with time through digital manipulation to create artificially aged portraits. On her website, Yanagi explains:
The series […] visualises the self-perceived notions of several young women when asked to imagine what type of woman they themselves might become fifty years later. Borrowing from these models’ ideas, these works are not only images of my own fictitious grandmothers, for they also stand as collaborative portraits of the ideal elderly woman.
Her work explores stereotypes and roles of women, conceptions of the self, and aging in contemporary Japan. She lives and works in Kyoto.
4. Liu Zheng (China)
A former photojournalist, Liu Zheng’s (b. 1969, Hebei Province) images retain a certain candidness reminiscent of press photography, yet they actually contain elements of staged and false realities within them. His work is referred to as a “biography” of contemporary China, divorcing the photography from propaganda and utilising it instead as a tool against forgetting. Liu’s visual language comprises dramatised characterisations and performative elements portraying Chinese people and culture. However, they lean towards a dark side, depicting eccentric subjects that are sometimes cold, hopeless and almost absurd. Liu Zheng also challenges the idea of photography as memory-keeper, recreating historical scenes from the collective memory of the Chinese people.
Liu Zheng has exhibited widely and his work belongs to collections at the MoMA, Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, among others.
5. Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao (Taiwan)
Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao (b. 1977) is a Taiwanese fine art photographer based in New York. He creates large, detailed panoramic cityscapes by combining multiple exposures shot over a period of time. In his earlier work, such as the series “Habitat 7”, Liao attempted to depict urban life and the ethnic diversity along New York’s number 7 subway line. Living in a city that has been extensively photographed, he sought a new way of portraying New York; as Jeanette D. Moses says, “although Liao’s view of the city is immaculate, it is also completely impossible.” Liao’s work shows the city as a “constantly changing organism”, achieving width and consequently depth, by stitching together several images with technical precision and painstaking, time-consuming editing.
Liao’s work is held by Queen’s Museum New York, Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Fine Art Houston and many others. Three monographs of his work have been published, the most recent being Jeff Chien-Hsing Liao: New York (Aperture, October 2014), which compiles a decade of his work.
6. Tokihiro Sato (Japan)
Tokihiro Sato’s (b. 1957, Yamagata) photography is chiefly concerned with the exploration of light and its interaction with other entities and spaces. He uses exposures of several hours, along with mirrors or flashlights to create and capture designs of illusion and illumination. In the series “Photo Respirations” (also known as “breath graphs”), one can see dancing flashes of light above or around a surface, often reminiscent of fireflies that give the impression of motion and aliveness to the still image. According to curator Takuo Komatsuzaki,
Sato’s photographs give us a strong feeling of space, depth, and, through the artist’s process of applying light, even a sense of time.
Sato was originally trained as a sculptor, with a BFA and MFA from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. His work is held in collections around the world, including the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Museum of Modern Art Japan, LACMA, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Hara Museum of Art.
7. Hiroshi Sugimoto (Japan)
In the series “Theatres”, Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948, Tokyo) also employs large format long exposure cameras to photograph cinemas, compressing the entire duration of a movie into a single image, thus collapsing time. The movie screen therefore appears as a glowing blank rectangle, with the brightness varying according to the genre of the movie – lighter for optimistic films, darker for sad and occult films. In our consumer culture, depicting an empty screen carries a political implication of its own, alluding to invisibility and lack of (original) content.
A photographer never makes an actual subject; they just steal the image from the world. [Photography is] a time machine, in a way, to preserve the memory, to preserve time.
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