This exhibition features the work of three emerging Chinese photographers: Ren Hang, Zhang Kechun, and Zhang Jin. These three young artists were finalists in the 2011 and 2012 editions of the annual Three Shadows Photography Award. While their photographs present widely varied approaches to the medium both in terms of aesthetic and technique, taken together they present a fascinating glimpse into some of the latest trends in contemporary Chinese photography.
Within their epic series, we witness Zhang Kechun and Zhang Jin traveling to remote outlying areas of their massive motherland seeking out ties to traditional Chinese history. By capturing both the mundane and hauntingly beautiful which surround a very culturally significant river and trade route, their works offer a poignant commentary upon the contradictions surrounding the younger generation searching for historical and cultural connection in contemporary China.
The inspiration behind Zhang Kechun's series The River Rushes North is a novel of the same name by Zhang Chengzhi. Zhang Kechun was struck by the novel's powerful vividness and decided to take a walk along the river in order to find himself. He resolved to go and follow the river's pace with his courage and his only appropriate tool – a large-format camera. "Who is keeping watch over whom?" and "Who is wrapped within the flow of whom?" Zhang Kechun asks. "While we are alive, we all flow with the passage of time. But we are still here, and we may better consider the future after taking a thoughtful look at the past and the present," is his answer. He believes that in such a noisy world, perhaps there is nothing better than to sing a pure and simple ballad in praise of the river's original noble colour, its legendary past and present, and its inexhaustible movement from place to place…
Zhang Jin's A Season on the Silk Road shows his journey along the famed ancient trade route. As he states: "On the Silk Road there is silence, with springs flowing in the woods and mist. There are traces from ancient civilizations and explorations fit for a Seer. There is also nature and life which continue to exist everywhere regardless of the changes in dynasty or nation over time, with strength born from basic instinct. Like a pilgrim, I positioned myself in the landscape, villages and temples, to explore the spirituality of the inner self, to embrace ineffable adventures, and to revisit various accounts of the Silk Road found in classical records." He tries as much as possible to remove traces of time and history from his photographs. He hopes to place current time at a distance, in order to let the photography connect with the past of the ancient Silk Road, as well as hinting at its future.
On the other end of the spectrum, Ren Hang could not be less interested in history or tradition or some deeper meaning. His photographs present an absurd, glossy, sexy and vapid vision of how contemporary Chinese youth are idling away their time in closed, smoky rooms doing nothing of importance. His works are all untitled and seemingly entirely random and without a palpable narrative thread. When pried for further information about his process, he simply demurs that he just fools around taking silly pictures with his simple camera. He is extremely prolific in his production of both photography and poetry, shared via his blog, in which he muses about topics such as money, sex, memory, love, loss, and cigarettes, among others. Taken in contrast to the deeply historically rooted content of the other artists' photographs, we see the tensions surrounding how this generation chooses to identify and interpret its place and purpose in contemporary society.
Director of International Programmes,
Three Shadows Photography Art Centre
Ren Hang (b. 1986) was born in Jilin province, China. He is a photographer and poet currently living and working in Beijing. He has had many solo exhibitions around China and been widely exhibited in group shows both domestically and abroad. He has self-published two photo books and his work has also been featured in a number of books and magazines. He was a finalist for the 2011 Three Shadows Photography Award.
Zhang Jin (b. 1978) was born in Sichuan province, China.
He has B.S. and M.S. from the University of Science and Technology of China and a PhD from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. He was the winner of the 2012 Three Shadows Photography Award and his photography has been exhibited throughout China as well as most recently at Tokyo Photo 2012.
Zhang Kechun (b. 1980) was born in Sichuan province, China.
He is an independent photographer currently living and working in Chengdu. He was a finalist for the 2012 Three Shadows Photography Award.
Three Shadows Photography Centre
In June 2007 two leading photographers – RongRong, from China and Inri, from Japan – founded the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in Beijing's vibrant art district, Caochangdi. The Centre was the first non-profit art space dedicated exclusively to photography and lens-based media in China. The 4,600 square meter complex, designed by renowned artist Ai Weiwei, includes 880 square meters of gallery space, a café, bookshop, and a public art library of over 4,000 volumes. Through a rigorous schedule of exhibition programming, artists' residencies, and educational outreach, Three Shadows has succeeded in its goal of providing a platform for international exchange and fostering the continued development of the contemporary Chinese photography scene.
Thurs 28th February, 6pm - In this illustrated talk, artist and co-founder of Three Shadows Photography Centre Rong Rong, and Jillian Schultz, International Programme Director at Three Shadows, discussed the work of the gallery, their annual Photography Awards, Photo-Spring festival and the work of RongRong and Inri.
Three Shadows Photography Award
Since the premier edition in 2009, the annual Three Shadows Photography Award (TSPA) has showcased the latest in emerging Chinese photography talent for the past four years. There is no age limitation or geographic restriction and previous finalists have ranged in age from 16 to 60 years old, residing all over the globe. By spring, the tens of thousands of images submitted by hundreds of photographers living both domestically and abroad is culled down to a group of 20-30 finalists. The final selection of this overall winner of the 80,000RMB prize is determined through deliberation by an international panel of esteemed photography experts, which rotate with each edition of the award.
Aside from positively influencing emerging photographers by providing invaluable artistic guidance and professional constructive criticism, the platform for international exchange which the TSPA creates has broader implications as well, with finalists achieving further international attention in festivals and galleries. This exhibition at Street Level is another consequence of this.
Saturday 16th Feb: Jillian Schultz give a gallery talk on the work on show in the exhibition.
The Confucius Institute
The Institute at the University of Glasgow was opened by Scotland's First Minister, MSP Alex Salmond in October 2011. It is a partnership with Nankai University in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin and is supported by Hanban. It builds on long-standing research collaborations between the two universities and is strongly founded on research on China across the University of Glasgow in the social sciences, arts, and business, in particular through the activities of the Scottish Centre for China Research.
The overarching aim of the Confucius Institute is to promote understanding of contemporary China. Its specific goals are to increase the numbers of people in Scotland learning the Chinese language, to organise a wide range of public events, and to work with schools, cultural organisations and businesses to foster engagement with China.