History Alive: An Appreciation of Conceptual Photography by FU Wenjun, a Famous
Mr. Fu Wenjun is a serious artist. He has achieved perfection in art creation and tried every possible attempt in the combination of artistic media and technology. He was born in the 1950s, and his memory of that period of history keeps impacting his life and art creation. People of his generation are witnessed by decades of years after the Reform and Opening up for their creative talents, endurance, historical feelings and humanistic care.
“These works of photography function more than being documentary. They vividly record the on-going social development and cultural evolution of Chinain a unique way, and gradually become new and profound in expressing contemporary art ideas. They are not simple photos, but the witness of history,” exclaimed and concluded Mr. Zou Yuejin when he carefully appreciated such works of Mr. Fu Wenjun as Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs and Story of the Expo Parks.
Series works of Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs and Story of the Expo Parks were exhibited inBeijingTodayArt Museumin July, 2010. In the meantime, they were exhibited inChongqingandShanghai, and made a hit in art field. In the same year, for the 150th anniversary of the destruction of theOldSummerPalaceTwelve Chinese Zodiac Signswas exhibited on the debris of the Palace. Soon the Administration Bureau of the Palace required successfully a permanent collection of these works. Story of the Expo Parks was exhibited in the exhibition themed by “Voice of the Unseen Chinese Independent Art from 1979 to Today” in the 55th Venice Biennial. It on one hand goes in accord with the academic atmosphere of the exhibition, planned by Mr. Wanglin, and shows the original ideas of an artist on the other hand.
Thematically speaking, conceptual photography is not to record an image or an event, but to reflect what is on the artist’s mind, namely, his understanding of society, art and life. As early as in 2009, Mr Fu has shot a great many documentary photos of theOldSummerPalace. He racked his mind to find a theme for these photos. Just then, Christie held an auction inParisfor the collects ofSt. Laurentand Pierre Benjet from February 23rd to 25th, 2009. Coincidently, the auction included bronze heads of a rat and a rabbit, two pieces that had been looted from the imperialSummerPalaceby French and British soldiers in the opium wars in 1860. This event aroused great objection from Chinese people, Chinese government and artists, as the auction of Chinese relics is a big shame toChina. Therefore, I think Mr. Fu Wenjun is sensitive enough to find inspiration from this event. He went to the Palace for eight times and shot more ten thousand photos. Then he set a laptop on which the bronze head of a rat was being auctioned in the debris of theSummerPalace. Such juxtaposition creates a fantastic atmosphere between the auction and the reality of the Palace. When our audience comes to read these photos, we feel the truth they are telling and the contrast. The original impression of theSummerPalaceis not clear, while the debris is known. The building of the Palace is not clear, while its decline seems known to us.
Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs mainly shows the author’s thinking on the history of theSummerPalace, his response to modern society and his anticipations for the future. The debris is only one partial scene of the Palace, and the precious bronze heads of twelve Chinese zodiac signs are only part of the treasure carried by the Palace. When the scene and the image of bronze head are put together by the artist, he is trying to depict the lost existence of humanistic care of history. Our people cannot actually feel the real existence of history, as they are lost in the process of industrialization and seldom cherish the culture of our nation. At this moment few people can imagine the bronze head of rat and rabbit would return toChinain June 28, 2013 and sit quietly in theNationalMuseumafter being lost for more than 153 years. Few people would imagine the bronze head of dragon should return, or the film named Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs, directed by Jackie Chan, would be on in December of 2012, and that this film would be extremely successful. I believe in the future, it may not be important to evaluate a nation, the government and human beings for its policy, economy or history. It is important that we should do cultural evaluation of the past.
In Story of the Expo Parks, consistent with the Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs, Mr, Fu again juxtapose the debris of the Summer Palace with the modern expo of eight nations, namely, the United Kingdom, Russia, Germany, France, the United States, Japan, Italy and Austria, which once united a union to invade China in 1900. These eight expos are the symbol of highly developed politics, economy and culture. They pose a sharp contrast when being juxtaposed with the dilapidatedSummerPalace. In them we can have a different understanding of history and human civilization. The Shanghai World Expo has witnessed the development of world politics, economy and culture, and shown our attitude toward history and civilization. Story of the Expo Parks enables our Chinese people to rethink history of that period, to criticize the brutal invasion of Eight-Nation Alliance, and to bring our memory of history alive. At this moment, our memory includes what is really happened in history and the understanding of the artist. We really appreciate Story of the Expo Parks, as it is a great shock to us, to our judgment of culture and art. In May, 2013, Mr. Fu took hisStory of the Expo Parks to the 55th Venice Biennial, and exhibited in an exhibition themed by “Voice of the Unseen Chinese Independent Art from 1979 to Today”. His exhibition contains eight photos and takes 15 meters of exhibition. With the careful planning of Wang Lin, a famous exhibition planner, Story of the Expo Parksshows to the world its particular understanding of that period of history.
As he was born in the 1950s, Mr Fu’s memory of that period of history keeps impacting his life and art creation. People of his generation are witnessed by decades of years after the Reform and Opening up for their creative talents, endurance, historical feelings and humanistic care. They show strong impact of history and humanistic care in their works. They love conceptual expression and try every possible means for such expression. Quiet probably, that is the reason why Mr. Fu turned to conceptual photography after graduation with an oil painting major from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. In works like Leaving the Stage, Thought Thinking, Twelve Chinese Zodiac Signs, Story of Expo Parks, Illusory Metamorphoses,Totems, Lose an Opportunity Close at Hand, the artist tries to examine history, religion and culture from the perspective of a modern citizen. So I am wondering if Mr. Fu can examine the future from the same perspective. As Mr. Fu Wenjun is a serious artist and has achieved perfection in art creation and tried every possible attempt in the combination of artistic media and technology, he can achieve its peak of conceptual photography in the future.