Biennale of Sydney 2010 – Wang Quinsong @ AGNSW

Biennale of Sydney 2010 – Wang Quinsong @ AGNSW

The Art Gallery of NSW

Wang Qingsong, the enfant terrible of contemporary Chinese art photography, stages grand, kitschy tableaux that call to mind traditional Chinese scrolls, allegorical Renaissance paintings, Socialist public sculptures and more.

Commenting on the massive changes and the effects of globalization happening in China, his works hover provocatively between Fiction and Reality. Parodying the Chinese miracle, the artist interprets the feeling of  the Silent Majority who mainly suffer from the side-effects in a Society that has changed too quickly.

Wang Qingsong’s elaborate, often parodic staged photographs riff on everything from art history to corporate logos to Communist propaganda. Sexy, ironic and always over-the-top, the photographs critique China’s new consumer culture, its growing materialism and wastefulness, while simultaneously revelling in its newfound decadence.

Many of Qingsong’s best works are amusing self-portraits, in which the artist positions himself in such a way as to force the viewer to question the direction in which our collective culture is turning.


His face is animated, with piercing eyes, high cheekbones, and a haircut designed to draw attention. 2 years ago he  combed his thick, gray-flecked hair upward in imitation of the flame-shaped heads of the cartoon mascots for the Summer Olympics, while last year he shaved his head with an electric razor, leaving random strands to sprout from the top. “I’ve experimented with different hairstyles ever since I became an artist,” says Wang, as if it were just another outlet for his creativity.



In this work, a huge wall, that stands about 14 meters high and 40 meters across, was created. Wang fixed over 600 pieces of paper (110x90cm each) writing characters in traditional Chinese ink brush style and felt tip pen and magic marker, a random selection of slogans and phrases from the advertisements that bombard us here every day.

These ads included both domestic and international information about companies and famous brands, such as the lease of houses, education programs, restaurants, foot massage, etc. Altogether, around 2000 varieties of products and services appeared on this huge wall to show off the allure of this mass advertising campaign that surrounds us.

“Competition” focuses on the power of ads and the misconceptions that ads can create. For this photo work, Wang 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 not unlike 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.

Without even being able to understand English, the inundation of advertising these famous brands in China give people the impression that they can easily follow what the words say, despite their lack of English skills!

Red Red Wall of China @ Art Gallery Qld 2008 / photo by Jeff Hulme

billboard 2004



Iron Man” is a term that exists in the Chinese lexicon and is used to describe a particular life attitude. An “Iron Man” can confront and overcome life’s obstacles, without fear or trepidation, and continue forward. An “Iron Man” is someone unafraid to face and to bear life’s vicissitudes. Of course I am using this attitude and this “Iron Man” title with much irony and skepticism

Born in 1966 in Daqing in Heilongjiang Province, he moved in 1969 with his family to Jingzhou in Hubei Province, where his father found work in the oil fields. “My family lived here and there, so I never had a feeling of location,” he says. After his father was killed in an accident, in 1981, Wang worked for eight years drilling in the fields, all the while trying to gain admission to one of China’s prestigious art academies. His decision to become an artist was almost accidental. One day, walking home from the oil fields, he found a drawing of an old man who reminded him of his father. He copied the work repeatedly, impressed by its realism. Finally, after five attempts, he was admitted to the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts, known for its oil-painting program.

He moved to Beijing in 1993. “I thought of Beijing as such a cultured city, with people visiting museums and being really interested in what they saw,” he says. But it turned out his meager savings would last him only two months. So he settled in a village at the edge of town, unable to afford even a mattress. After a year, with assistance from his brothers and sisters, he moved into the Yuanmingyuan artist’s colony, a collection of rundown neighborhoods near the old Summer Palace where many of the leading artists of the post-Tiananmen Square era had set up shop.

In the city’s mid-’90s experimental atmosphere, Wang struggled to establish himself as a painter. His first series, “Dysphasia” (1996), portrayed people flailing to get out of plastic wrapping, and then “Competition” (2004) depicted naked bodies wrestling on the ground. These works communicated Wang’s frustration with society at a time when there was little hope for change.

Wang participated in his first exhibition, organized by the prominent Beijing critic Li Xianting, in 1996. As a result, the dealer Ludovic Bois of the Chinese Contemporary gallery in London visited his studio and offered him his first solo show. Bois paid him a few thousand dollars up front for all the paintings in the exhibition, but sold only one.

“My mother doubted that I was a good artist, and where I came from it was impossible for anyone to believe that you could travel to a foreign city,” says Wang. At this time his mother was dying in a hospital back home. “So I took a photograph of myself with scenery behind me,” he recalls, “so my mother could finally see that her son had become a good artist who had shown overseas, and she told all the other patients in her ward.”

Already Wang was exploring the power of photography, and he soon gave up painting. “There were so many changes taking place all across China, and you couldn’t paint anything that could match this reality,” he says. His first photographs were colorful self-portraits created with Photoshop, showing the artist brandishing both Chinese emblems and logos from international companies that had by then invaded his country.

Over the Past Few Years, His Productions Have Become Ambitious increasingly, the field of composition has enlarged to more people envelops, assistants and technicians, an array of lights, make-up and wardrobe and more a sophisticated props. In a context WHERE Everything Is Hurried and fast, in Wang Qingsong engagés That projects require time and interaction. By creating microcosms, It Seems That the artist invites spectators to stop and decode the multiple small Stories Told in the whole epic.

Time is important for everybody. These works and Making Them Requires viewing time. His portraits are animated with narratives, stories and people in the fixed photographic poses. In a photograph Every little detail matters and Wang Qingsong’s large, scale pictures Have The Rare quality to hold the gaze of viewers Inviting Them to gradually explore the scenes to catch the manifold poses, the single episodes.

“I have been working with photography for over ten years. My photo-works talk about a lot of interaction between native/national traditions with modern tastes, development and new innovations which break through our old frame of mind of cultures. My works sometime challenge the issue of modern versus traditional provoking people to keep concentrating on memories and new occurrences of stories in this modern world”

Wang attributes his interest in staged photography to the propaganda he grew up with during the Cultural Revolution. “When I was about 17 years old—it was 1983, long after the Cultural Revolution, so people began to speak the truth—a journalist admitted that the photograph he shot on the occasion of China getting the atom bomb was staged,” he recalls. “That was totally a big surprise for me.” Realizing that the images he had seen in the newspapers during his childhood were fabricated, Wang decided to take a different approach to his photography. “It is staged,” he explains, “but it has some truth.”

Follow Me , 2003

“Follow Me”, 20x300cm, 2003

“Follow Me” is the first English language-teaching program introduced by CCTV in 1982.

This English-training series had sixty units, which were repeatedly shown for twelve years. It had 10 million viewers and sold over 30 million textbooks, setting a Guinness record for foreigners learning English. Many Chinese people got a glimpse of the western lifestyle from “Follow Me.” Farmers, workers, soldiers and students, even monks at Lama Temple, enjoyed the program as a window to learn what foreigners eat and wear and how they live. Many people consider “Follow Me” as the Bible for learning oral English. , photograph, 180x90cm, 1998

On a huge four-meter wide and eight-meter long blackboard that I set up in Beijing Film Studio in 2003, many Chinese and English terms and sentences about changes in Chinese history and culture selected from English-training textbooks were scribbled in chalk.

Dream of Migrants, 2005

“from one place to another, mostly from countryside to big cities to look for jobs. This group of people is called unauthorized flow of population. They are referred to as elements of social instability. They are of special identity and marked with demean features as dirty, unstable and dangerous.

Dream of Migrants, 170x400cm, 2005

In Beijing, there are nearly 3 million such people. They all hold a dream and look for opportunities when they flow from their hometown to big cities. They bring stimulus for urban development but also bring forth a lot of unstable factors, such as their children have no nice schooling and the families have no stable housing. They used to be driven here and there due to lack of money and honor. Many people take them as vibrant force but most people regard them as social virus. This derogatory terms sometimes is mixed up with “Tramp, loafers, gangsters, rascals…”

 Skyscraper video, 2008

This short video piece was created from January 1, 2008 to February 4, 2008. The installation for this work took about 20 days, employing over 30 scaffolding workers per day to build the structure. During these 35 constructing days, I had to ask for the departure of all workers from the scenario when the shooting took place. Therefore it took much longer time though this video is only five minutes long.

The installation is about 35 meters tall, with a diameter of 40 meters. The scaffolds bars are painted with gold colors so that they look shiny under the sunshine.


In this work “Skyscraper”, I hope to express the feeling of a very strange and sad feeling for this monster-looking building, representing the dramatic developing stage in China. China has been growing at breakneck speed but what is not always noticed, like Wang’s process behind his photos, is the immediate effect and sacrifices of millions of displaced and anonymous people.

The end of the film shows fireworks exploding from the top of the skyscraper in a jubilant but dark celebration as we listen to three women sing a Chinese version of “Silent Night, Holy Night.”

Dormitory, 2009

Dormitory, shown at the architecture biennale, by Chinese photographer Wang Qingsong, is a huge picture showing dozens of people trying to find intimacy while they are living on top of each other in cage like minimal spaces


Temporary Ward, 2008

During His stay in England, he got inspiration from The Notion of theater as a cathartic experience for audiences. The location was the starting point to explore the subject of pain and healing (an Investigation he HAD Already in mind) juxtaposing the physical That people receive treatment in hospitals to the Associated emotional healing to theater, art and culture. Were invited 300 local volunteers to take part in a photographic shoot at Northern Stage and Transmitted live onto screens Throughout the theater.

The image Took Several days to setup and a full day to shoot. The making process included finding Hundreds of doctor and nurse outfits, qualified make up artists, recruiting volunteers and plenty more to be arranged from the big logistics down to tiny details.

When Confronting with Wang Qingsong’s works, That We May Argue creating large-scale productions in China is cheaper Easier and But in this piece-produced collaboration from abroad-more Significant is the answer of enthusiastic volunteers. As documented on the Theatre’s blog, Almost 600 people from Edinburgh to London, “Some as young as 3 months, others as 76, applied to take part in the project.

Here it is delineated in more complex relationship Between the spectacle and the spectator. The human group participates to a theatralization of Pain Where the audience is Transformed into a live crowd waiting to be healed, or Perhaps in an auditorium waiting for a performance to begin. Within the picture the artist living in the center seats reading a paper, waiting just like the others do.

During the years, Wang Qingsong’s role in His photographs has shifted from observer to participant and Between Different scenarios. His appearance here Seems to allude to a sort of director signature (reminding us of Alfred Hitchcock cameos) claiming the author / subject liaison.

Nevertheless there are risks in China in staging photographs on this scale. Though government censorship has relaxed in recent years, nude photographs can still be denounced as pornography, which is illegal. More important, simply gathering together a large group of people requires governmental clearance, to ensure that no political agendas are being promoted. Wang tends to circumvent this rule by setting up shoots in out-of-the-way locations.

In the fall of 2006, however, Wang ran into trouble with the authorities as he was setting up his mammoth production The Blood of the World. For this photograph he created an epic battle scene involving 200 actors, 4 horses, 1 tank, and 2 jeeps.

The set, built inside a huge hangar on the outskirts of Beijing normally used for agricultural hydroponics, was more than 3,000 feet long and included 35-foot-tall hills, deep holes, and smoldering fires. The final work was a medley of war scenes from famous paintings, such as Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, and well-known news photographs, like Eddie Adams’s 1968 photo of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing a Vietcong prisoner in Saigon. Many of the scores of actors were naked and draped across the landscape as dead bodies. It was a particularly cold day in November when the shoot took place.

The next morning, much to Wang’s dismay, a news item appeared in a Beijing paper accusing him of staging a pornographic event. Former president Jiang Zemin saw the report and ordered the mayor of Beijing to investigate. Wang, who was called in for questioning, was released after three days, but his negatives were seized and have not been returned to him. The Blood of the World was never printed.

“I want to forget about this incident,” Wang says now, three years later, “but sometimes it still looms large in my life and my dreams.” He continues, “If I hadn’t given them the negatives, they would have found more excuses to detain me, and I would have had much more trouble.” Since then he has not used nudity in his photographs, but he has not backed down from offering visual commentary on his society.

In The Glory of Hope (2007) the artist and his family stand facing a bleak horizon. Behind them, interlocking rings, the symbol of the Olympic games, are carved deeply in the mud, filled with dirty water

In the diptych U.N. Party (2007) he provided a humorous before-and-after look at an international soirée. The first image shows more than 1,300 partying diplomats circulating around two tables in the shape of the letters U and N. The second focuses on the debris they left behind.

Everyone appears full of aspiration and seems satisfied with the achievements of reform and rapid development, which are expressed in the Chinese slogan, “One change a year, one big change in three years, and one unidentifiable transformation in five years.” Capitalism has “modernized” our formerly agricultural country. .. This rich contemporary China provides me with a huge resource for artistic inspiration. To sing highly of this new, sweeter-than-honey life of glory, I use theatrical techniques and let the camera narrate true and understandable contemporary stories.

China has been open to the outside world for the last two decades and enthusiastic about inviting foreign experts in economy, technology, architecture and culture to give support and guidance in Chinese open-up program.

These foreign specialists help create many opportunities and bring many advanced thoughts for China. However, they manufacture many uncertain and disturbing ideas. Due to such a quick inflow and outflow of advanced concepts, Chinese people are confused about what are right and what are wrong sometimes.

China Mansion, 2003

“China Mansion”, is a scroll photograph that situates the scene in a Chinese styled home. I put my “China Mansion” in a much wider sense, like an old Chinese saying, “Without home, without nation”.

In this five-scene photograph, I invite foreign guests in art, including honorable figures in paintings by Ingre, Courbet, Monet, Gauguin, Yves Klein, Jones, Bouchee, Rembrandt, Rubens, Renoir, Man Ray and etc. They are specially invited guests in my “China Mansion”, a private night club.

I want to make them communicate with each other across centuries and cultures and create certain relationships between themselves as well as communicate with China. Such relationships portend uncertain, humorous and confusing hues.


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