Glorious Life --- Artist Statement 2005

Glorious Life --- Artist Statement

Wang Qingsong, January 2005

As economic development has taken top priority in its national policies, China has changed. Everyone seems to be satisfied with and proud of the achievements of reform and rapid development, as epitomized in the slogan, "One change a year, one big change in three years, and one unidentifiable transformation in five years". This economic program brings forth a lot of social as well as psychological changes to this agricultural country. To praise this “glorious life sweeter than honey”, I use stage theatrics to narrate the glorious and ongoing stories in China. 

My art works talk about the changes China has been experiencing over the last five decades. China witnesses dramatic changes in urban landscape and many foreign ideas sneaking in with a big ransom. "Another Battle" Series (2001) is influenced by the snapshots of patriotism and heroism extolled in the old movies which praise heroes’ bravery to safeguard the motherland. Nowadays, economic reform and modern reconstruction are exactly like a new battle which is engulfed with a lot of social contradictions with the inflow of foreign companies, cultures and concepts.

To keep track of my reflection upon our past in light of the current times, I find urban monuments best reveal our history and ideals. However I think people have lost belief in what has been held in deep respect before. Therefore, I portray myself as an old veteran, a businessman and a participant in the triptych work entitled "Past, Present, and Future" (2001). These three roles are mutually contradictory which express my reflections upon the history of the past, reconstruction of the present and aspiration of the future.

The economy is highly boosted by the influx of farmers into cities who are attracted to the cityscape and lifestyle. This influx creates a large migrant population. In Beijing, over 3 million people out of 16 million are from other countryside regions and allured by opportunities and risks in urban cities. Even if they get into the city, they can only find jobs as construction workers, babysitters, street vendors, not highly respected and often endangered as being checked by the local government. Therefore their living situation is precarious. They dream to have a nice and warm home and steady life where nobody can intervene humiliatingly. Therefore being one of the migrant people, I personally experienced the same sentiment as the migrant workers in the cities and felt in an urge to address such issues of the floating population in China.

In 2002, I photographed "Art Express", “Port” and “Sentry Post”, a second attempt with migrant workers. They all shot in a valley area on the borderland between Beijing and Hebei province. Hebei province is the entry point for many migrant workers to find jobs in Beijing. This buffer zone used to be very popular because of the Grand Canal that served as a transportation waterway in the past. Songzhuang County nearby Hebei province lives over 300 artists due to cheap rent and a large community of artists. They are driven by an ideal that one-day their art works can be seen by important curators and collectors. Therefore, in “Art Express”, I invited models to act out all roles of migrating people to squeeze into the two big express buses that will take them into a lot of important art shows in the world, such as Venice Biennale, Documenta, Sao Paulo Biennale, Istanbul Biennial and etc clearly marked on the signpost in the front. I am the ticket collector to arrange them stand in line. This dream of getting involved into western mainstream art needs to be reconsidered because the heavy smoke signifies the huge price to pay.

In “Port ”, I created a scene with a huge iron boat where a lot of people are standing in solemnity and disillusion. On the other shore, people seem to see a dreamland with clear sky, white clouds and forest which will release them from suffering on this shore. People look ahead while being surrounded by heavy dark smoke portending an unpredictable future. They are not sure whether to escape from the city or get into the city. The contradiction in mind intensifies the confusion of these migrant workers. I played the role of a captain in this chaos to direct people get aboard.

Another story is staged in “Sentry Post” where “refugees” try to push through the sentry post made of cans of foreign brands. I, wounded with bandage on head and legs and crippled but holding a firing grenade, guard on close alert to prevent them from getting into this side, the ideal city. I am the only opponent to stop them from breaking through this barricade since nobody knows if this side is sunshine or thunderstorm tomorrow .

These three works express people’s desire for a better future which is so hard to realize in reality. One has to tread on thin ice to achieve unpredictable future dreams. These contradictions in mind of all people including migrant workers are clearly expressed with creating two opposing sides in each photograph.

In “Romantique”, one seems to walk into a euphoria land that is half the heaven of western religion and half a pastoral Chinese garden. There are cheap plastic leaves, fruits, flowers, and decorations. The little ponds in this paradise emit a light smoke created from dry ice. Viewers can imagine false happiness in this fabricated beautiful paradise. Models act out the figures in western masterpieces by Massacio, Velasquez, Botticelli, Raphael, and Matisse. Among them there are a Chinese golden Buddha, beautiful princesses, and livestock. A western tourist with a Chinese man and his little girl on the right highlight the potential conflicts of this complicated international dialogue. Seemingly people are very happy, peaceful, and without desire. But one can find that such communication is forced, manufactured, chaotic, and confusing—a fabricated prosperity and happiness, like any utopia that can’t be realized.

In 2004, I created some new works. “Commercial War” focuses on the power of ads and the misconceptions that ads can create. For this photo work, I constructed a chaotic backdrop where over 20 people are depicted in a frenzy of competition with some even fist fighting while jostling for ad positioning on a huge billboard advertisement; this struggle for the most optimal outdoor ad placement is perceived as inevitably bringing power and influence. The struggle for ad placement in public space in China is like a battlefield strewn with casualties after a pitched battle for power. Today one brand wins. The next day, its competitor will replace it with better positioning on public spaces. Every day, new ads go up, and old ones fall down, scattered in pieces, and discarded on the ground under newly erected billboard advertisements.

In this work, I constructed a huge wall, that stands about 14 meters high and 40 meters across, and I fixed over 600 pieces of paper (110x90cm each) on which I wrote in traditional Chinese ink brush style in some instances and in felt tip pen and magic marker in others, a random selection of slogans and phrases from the advertisements that bombard us here every day. These ads include both domestic and international information about companies and famous brands, such as the lease of houses, education programs, restaurants, foot massage, etc. Everything is advertised, from items as big as airplanes (BOEING) or as small as vinegar and condoms. I have also included some of the famous brands that proliferate in China, such as Shell, McDonald's, Durex, Starbuck's, along with a few of the anecdotes behind them and the misunderstandings. Altogether, I’ve hand-wrote around 3000 varieties of products and services on my wall to show off the allure of this mass advertising campaign that surrounds us.

In terms of visual form and content, this outdoor advertising onslaught makes reference to the big character posters (“Da zi bao”) posted by competing factions and littering city streets in China during the Cultural Revolution. In the past the streets were hung with posters in fights over political beliefs. Now the struggle is about financial power and business gains. Ads for items are like psoriasis found everywhere on our city streets. Commerce creates another war.

In “Billboard”, I continue my investigation of the power of ads and images. I reproduce a huge billboard that reads "Art Works of Wang Qingsong" in gigantic bold letters, in homage to the huge advertising signboards that line the second and third ring roads around Beijing. Life goes on, under the shadow of these huge billboards. We can see some passers-by reading these gigantic ads while others pay no attention at all. Instead, they play chess, buy vegetables, or otherwise carry on with their day-to-day activities. Do we recreate our lives to follow the images depicted in the ads?  How much power do these words exert on our mind and eye? I am interested in this physical and mental space that lies somewhere in between advertisements and reality.

"Archaeologist" was shot in a 3 meter and 8 meter big cave where 30 nude models lay down with bodies covered with mud. It seems that they are remains from a long time ago. The sign reads “the 4th Pit in 2008” hints at a future time. I act as the archaeologist and do the research on the remains of creatures. This photo expresses my reflections on what can be real and false in present-day times. In this commercial conflated society, I think the present-day human beings are dead in mind and soul whose remains need to be reexamined for earlier death in this desires-infiltrating society.

Overall, I hope my photographic works, like documentary photography, witness and emulate a variety of social phenomena in the course of the modern development to fulfill urbanization. By putting on stories, readers find my attitude towards social issues at current times.

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