The Other Wave: Contemporary Chinese Photography @ Ben Brown Fine Arts

Head down the hidden and somewhat secluded Brook’s Mews in London’s West End and you will find the delightfully understated Ben Brown Fine Arts Gallery, hidden in a quant basement below street level. On display are contemporary works by Chinese photographers including Chen Wei, Cheng Ran, Jiang Pengyi and Ye Linghan with their pieces taking on various styles and trends of photography and video art.

In the 1980s in China the term ‘The New Wave’ was coined to describe an avant-garde art movement in which documentary photography played a central role, now, in the present day, contemporary art in China is being dominated by photography and video art more than ever. This domination however seems to have been missed and overlooked by the Western World making this exhibition the perfect time for the art public to acquaint itself with the imagery that these photographers are creating right now. These photographers are demanding to be heard in the wake of their high profile painting peers who have in recent years shattered auction results.

Archival ink jet print 120 x 150 cm; (47 1/4 x 59 1/8 in.)

The exhibition collects together four photographers whose work range in subject matter. Images range from the bleak, isolated and abandoned to heady, crowded areas that are both fun to look at yet alienating at the same time. Chen Wei’s work depicts elaborate scenes constructed of found materials choreographed into a surreal studio setting. Tackling isolating and abandoned scenes that reek of dystopia, Wei presents imagery that is challenging and uncomfortable. In his File Clerk photograph a man walks alone along a concrete walkway in the middle of an expanse of dark water and mist, in another piece, Anonymous Station  he highlights his taste for abandoned, forgotten and eerie spaces which seems to be a recurring theme within his imagery. Other pieces by the photographer highlight alienation in a city setting, in the photograph titled Countless Unpredictable Stand No. 1, a male stands alone above a city landscape creating a sense of wonder and loneliness at once within this dense concrete environment where no one else can be seen except for one solitary character.

Archival ink jet print 100 x 150 cm; (39 3/8 x 59 1/8 in.)

Ye Linghan photographs and video based works link the past to collective histories. Linghan’s work on display defies focus to the individual and instead makes the scene and setting prominent. Blurring details with the haze of memory, the viewer projects their own thoughts, feelings and memories on to the piece.

C-print 5 panels; 60 x 80 cm; (23 5/8 x 31 1/2 in.) each

Third artist on display, Cheng Ran dramatically stages his work which creates a romantic feeling within his pieces. Collected from different bodies of work, his pieces act as a short retrospective of the young photographer’s work. His work is rich in cinematic quality with a strong narrative running throughout, particularly the barren and destitute images of Hollywood. These images highlight how Hollywood has played such a key role in the shaping of American as well as the rest of the Western World’s identity and how it all seems a bit empty. These images are stark and fascinating due to the editing of the photographs which questions the physical beauty of Hollywood. This questioning is further highlighted by his piece The Still of Unknown Film where a hundred dollar bill is lit, perhaps this is where Western obsession with money and Hollywood is heading, up in smoke.

Luster ink print 104.5 x 178 cm; (41 1/8 x 70 1/8 in.)

Last but not least is photographer Jiang Pengyi who highlights the destructive force of rapid urbanization, redevelopment and demolition that has overwhelmed Beijing. In his photographs he creates imagined miniature cityscapes and skyscrapers within real decaying domestic spaces, highlighting beautifully the destructive power that massive urbanization is having on the lived environments of the Chinese people. These photographs were my personal favourite due to their incredible detail but also due to the issues that they highlight. The images up close are astounding.

Ultra Giclée print 90 x 125.4 cm; (35 3/8 x 49 3/8 in.)

This show, whilst small, is a definite must see. It highlights all too well the stark realizations of our urbanized consumer based culture and how it is both destructive and alienating to our lived environments and to our personal lives. If this show is anything to go by, I predict that these photographers will be enjoying the same levels of success as their painting peers very soon.

The Other Wave: Contemporary Chinese Photography @ Ben Brown Fine Arts – runs until 29th January 2012

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Annie Leibovitz takes a Pilgrimage @ Hamiltons Gallery

Head down the West End and you will find a whole host of galleries attempting to entice you in with high profile art shows in grand spaces that seem to offer limitless light. You will not find this at Hamiltons Gallery however. Located at Carlos Place, the gallery is in an area that is surrounded by other established galleries including the Halcyon Gallery, a branch of the Haunch of Venison and the Timothy Taylor Gallery.

What marks the Hamiltons Gallery out from these other more showier galleries is that if you did not know where it was, you would completely miss it, it is hidden in between pillars with darkened windows. I found that I actually walked straight past it and was unsure, even once I had found the building, if I did in fact have the correct address.

Entering the gallery I found it incredibly dark. When you enter you descend a staircase to get into the main space. The Gallery is large and this surprised me due to the fact that from the outside, the gallery did not look like it would be very big at all.

The show on display was that of legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, the show being titled ‘Pilgrimage’. In this show Leibovitz has not been on a complete pilgrimage as such, she has photographed Niagra Falls, but while she has photographed this sort of landmark she has also ventured into the objects and possessions of the dead. She has photographed in loving detail objects belonging to Abraham Lincoln including the hat and gloves he wore the night he was assassinated, Sigmund Freud’s rug draped couch and the King of Rock n Roll, Elvis Presley’s motorcycle and television.

Producing this body of work was for Leibovitz herself. She had no motive and was not on assignment. This makes the work so much more personal than her commissioned work, it gives an insight in to what appeals to her and I believe, creates a strong connection between viewer and artist. This project is also Leibovitz’s first purely digital project. It also special because she has stepped away from taking portrait photographs of celebrities, in these images she seems to have unlocked something more personal that is hidden away from the public glare.

The project reminded me of a Facebook album, one where a user has been on holiday, visited a few galleries and now wants to show their friends their amazing trip. However, unlike Facebook albums I felt like I made a genuine connection with her photographs. There is a hidden power within them that is highly attractive and alluring. There is something ghostly within the images. Perhaps it is Leibovitz lurking within them, or perhaps it is her subjects. The objects have so much character within that even though they are not being used; there is still something of their owner within them. It almost feels like a ‘behind the scenes’ look at the owner.

It is odd because you realise whilst seeing this show how much of someone’s personality can be conveyed through personal objects. Freud’s couch for example is something we will always associate with the psychologist and I felt the Motorcycle just embodied the spirit of Elvis, both being icons of rebellion. It was as if both were in the images without being physically visible.

This exhibition is great if you are interested in how objects form people’s identities and how people become recognisable by the objects they own. It is also great if you are a fan of Leibovitz because this is a truly personal project for her.

Check this exhibition out in the New Year.

Have a very Merry Christmas Guys!

Annie Leibovitz: Pilgrimage @ Hamiltons – 8th December 2011 – 20th January 2012