Wang Qingsong, a Chinese artist and photographer, first showed his large scale tableaux vivant photographers in the UK by invitation of HPF in 2004. This year Caitlin Griffiths, Artistic Director of HPF invited Qingsong back for the first showing of his video work in this country. Working in a variety of mediums the artist makes deliberately provocative commentaries on the transformations taking place in China over the past three decades.
Excess & Destruction
A parental guidance label would not be amiss with either of the videos shown here at TROVE. 123456 Cuts and Ironman are visceral illustrations of excessive brute force and form a barely disguised attack on the rapidity and aggression of China’s social reconstruction programme.
Qingsong’s earlier and more renowned works - his elaborately staged photographs - are productions akin to movie sets. The artist aimed to depict the superficiality and excess of modern consumer culture through the use of a cast of extras and a glut of costumes and props. Photographs such as Night Revel of Lao Li show a degradation of culture through its own excess.
123456 Cuts and Ironman show remarkable restraint in terms of cast and scale of production. They demonstrate the more personal, more bodily, effects of excess: the bloody deconstruction of living flesh into meat and pulp. It is not accidental that this shift from public to personal actually includes the presence of the artist himself (in Ironman) and the artist’s younger brother (in 123456 Cuts). In her essay Mask and MetaphorZoe Butt ascribes the role of ‘fool’ to Qingsong, he is to play out society’s own faults and foibles for their own consideration. In Ironman he becomes Christ-like - physically taking anonymous blows to the head and deflecting society’s mistakes from the masses.
The apparent reasonlessnessof the violence is what makes the work so disturbing. In 123456 Cuts we see what appears to be a butcher cutting up a small animal. But while methodical, the ‘butcher’s’ actions are not clean or clinical and he continues to chop way beyond a logical purpose; the animal ends as pulp, not as meat. Instead it is performance, meditation and endurance: and - simply -destruction. The crescendo of sound as the video draws to a close announces the completion of his task, the execution of one hundred and twenty-three thousand, four hundred and fifty six cuts. It is the action, at expense of a productive and useful outcome, which is the purpose.
Born in 1966 at the very beginning of China’s ten year Cultural Revolution, Qingsong has always been interested in the speed and sometime excess of China’s development and transformation. HPF’s Twenty exhibition includes Qingsong’s Skyscraper, a time-lapse documentation of the construction of a 35 meter high, 50 meter wide scaffolding structure - a monster of a gold building - that pushes up from the horizon. Symbolising the speed of current development in China, the film unfolds with the specific intention to charm the viewers and fetishise this construction-as-progress. The video has no visible human presence and it is the arrival of the building itself that is celebrated, with a fireworks display.
Wang Qingsong is an artist who works with photography, video and painting. He currently lives in Beijing. His photographic work has been widely exhibited and is held in collection worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum, Getty Museum and MCA Chicago in the USA, and the V&A in London
Twenty is atHereford Museum & Art Gallery until 27th November. Hereford Photography Festival runs until 27th November at venues across Herefordshire and the West Midlands.