October 21, 2004
Vol. 24 No. 3

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    Chinese video, photographic images evoke a country’s transformation

    By Jennifer Carnig
    News Office

    Sheng Qi, Memories (Me), 2000

    Somewhere between Confucius and Mao, between farmhouse and penthouse, between communism and consumerism, lies China in the 21st century. As equally confusing as it is captivating, today’s China—like much of the modern world—is difficult to make sense of, but that does not mean artists are not trying.

    In “Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China,” the newest installation at the University’s Smart Museum of Art, 60 of China’s contemporary artists attempt to capture the ever-changing face of modern China. The result is 130 works—many by artists who are for the first time exhibiting in the United States—that are captivating and even shocking. But they have to be, explained curator Wu Hung, the Harrie A. Vanderstappen Distinguished Service Professor in Art History. All of the works have been created since the mid-1990s, so each piece is in some way a response to the unprecedented economic, societal and cultural changes taking place in China.

    “Artists are always the most sensitive to social change,” Wu said. “I think in China, with what’s happening there right now, that is even more the case. The country is going through a major transformation, and so this work reflects that reality. Every piece has a real message and social meaning behind it.”

    The exhibition, co-organized with the International Center of Photography and co-presented in Chicago with the Museum of Contemporary Art, is arranged into four thematic sections. The works about “History and Memory” and “Reimagining the Body” are displayed at the Smart Museum, and the works about “People and Place” and “Performing the Self” are displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

    The pairing of the Smart with the MCA is a very exciting development, said Wu. “It creates a kind of wonderful dynamism. Plus, fewer people in the art community travel to the South Side, so we’re really encouraging movement and showing people what we have to offer here.”

    Both museums’ installations include photography, video and mixed media, and both present a variety of individual responses to the shift in China from feudal to postmodern, highlighting both the excitement and anxiety that accompanies that shift.

    Pieces include a collection of eight images of drowning faces trapped by glass under water, which are mounted on the floor for viewers to walk across; animation of a dancing peepshow tattoo that goes from naughty and funny to quite dark; a photo of a brilliantly colored but dead bird, lying in the Forbidden City; and a photo essay of an androgynous being walking in the nude on the Great Wall.

    The exhibition, which will run through Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005, was presented earlier this year in New York. From here, it will travel to Seattle, London, Berlin and Santa Barbara. To catch it while it is in Chicago, visit the Smart Museum at 5550 S. Greenwood Ave. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., or Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

    Call (773) 702-0200 or visit http://www.smartmuseum.uchicago.edu for more information.

    The Museum of Contemporary Art is at 220 E. Chicago Ave. and is open Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Wednesday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, and $6 for students and seniors. Call (312) 280-2660 or visit http://www.mcachicago.org for further information.