History and Memory

History and Memory

The works in this section explore in different ways the legacy of China’s past. Some take up themes from the rich heritage of Chinese art, while others offer new interpretations of various famous historical sites. The Great Wall of China and the Forbidden City in particular have inspired many experimental artists to create works that engage in a provocative visual dialogue with these monuments and reflect the artists’ historical visions and aesthetic goals. Others have recreated the lives of simple Chinese people by presenting collections of private photographs and memorabilia which, in some cases, span several decades. The endurance of the past is also manifested in historical events that remain stored in the collective memory and have inspired many works. Artists such as Sheng Qi and Xing Danwen link the present with the past by evoking episodes that establish a relationship between private memories and the national psyche. The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), a time of traumatic political upheavals that many artists experienced as children, occupies a prominent place in some of the works here. And many of the art projects of the 1990s were directly inspired by the artists’ memories of the student demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in June 1989.

Quotes from the catalogue, accompanying the exhibition: Wu Hung, Christopher Phillips, Between Past and Future. New Photography and Video from China, Steidl et al. 2004

Curator Wu Hung about Sheng Qi’s series 'Memories'

“…Sheng Qi’s interest lies in the historicity and vulnerability of printed images – and hence the existence and impermanence of the history and memory that they preserve. A series of photographs by Sheng represents his mutilated hand holding tiny photographs of Mao, his mother, and himself as a young boy (CAT.21-23). While his damaged body (he cut off one of his fingers in 1989) commemorates the June Fourth Movement*, the black-and-white photos are remains of a more distant past associated with his childhood.”

*On 4 June 1989, the student occupation of Tiananmen Square was bloodily ended – and with it the contemporaneous movement for democracy

Sheng Qi on 'Memories (Me)'

The record of my left hand records Me from 1965 to the present.

The imperfect left hand + old photos ... is me.

This is the collection of my memories, all the images of my life.

The imperfect left hand + old photos ... is me.

Xing Danwen about 'Born With the Cultural Revolution'

“In my friend’s apartment there were a lot of pictures of Mao. For our generation Mao was our grandfather, an icon who filled us with respect and love. In 1995, after a period of intense cultural transition, China started to open up about a lot of issues and we were all quite confused. My friend had contradictory feelings about how she lived, her expectations, her future. The images behind her date from the Cultural Revolution and suggest that her identity has been formed against the backdrop of that history. My friend was born in 1966 at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution and was also from X’ian… Under Mao, there was no separation between the private world of the individual, the family, and the body and the public political realm. The body of the woman in the photograph becomes a landscape within the context of political images.” Xing Danwen

The artists of the exhibition:

Cang Xin, Gao Qian + Gao Zhen, Hai Bo, Hong Lei, Hong Lei, Liu Zheng, Fen-Ma Liuming, Sheng Qi, Song Dong, Sui Jianguo + Zhan Wang + Yu Fan (Three Man United Studio), Wang Gongxin, Wang Qingsong, Weng Fen, Xing Danwen, Yang Zhenzhong, Zhao Shaoruo.