opening reception: April 23 (5-8pm)
Chicago,Illinois: From Gaza to Beijing: Explorations in Photography by Chinese Artist Gao Lei
On April 23, 2010, Walsh Gallery debuts works by emerging Chinese photographer Gao Lei, and curated by Wu Hung. From Gaza to Beijing presents four series of photos entitled Gaza Series, Boxers, Panorama, and Infrared. There will be an opening reception on Friday, April 23 from 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. The show runs from April 23-June 19, 2010. The artist and curator will be present at the opening reception.
Gao Lei's photo series represent a rejection of both purely conceptual and purely documentary styles in favor of a redefinition and fusion of these genres. He begins with the Gaza Strip and the Sahara Desert, where he spent 83 days in 2004, and moves on to portraits of Olympic athletes and landscapes of environmental destruction in China. Ultimately, Gao is grappling with the possibility of portraying truth with all its contradictions.
Gao Lei sees himself as a new kind of storyteller, using photography both to examine current realities and to clarify his own confusions. His search for images that express these dualities took him to remote locales like the Sahara Desert, Gaza Strip, Inner-Mongolian grasslands, north China, oil fields in the Liao River region of China, and the Great Wall. As Gao Lei says,
"I started taking photographs due to the influence of some words I read as a child: 'What the eye sees is real, what the ears hear is false.'...I'm the kind of person who seeks after perfection and truth; to use photography, this instrument for telling lies, to pursue these goals is for the most part to engage in a fruitless battle with yourself."
Gao Lei's oldest series, Gaza (2004), represents a documentary style in which the artist took images of people in extremely harsh environments, whether political or environmental. What attracted him to this very dangerous place in history was its harsh contradictions. As Wu Hung says,"Why is the place closest to the sacred - this is a holy land for both Christians and Muslims - precisely the location of the purgatory of contemporary mankind?" This series is presented not because of its documentary nature, but because it represented the artist's own disillusionment with the attainability of truth through a documentary style.
The Boxers series represents 2008 Olympic Games champions from the game of sanda (a type of kick-boxing based on Chinese martial arts.) Gao Lei's photos of these athletes borrowed from contemporary advertising techniques of "larger than life" portraits which create a sense of heightened absurdity juxtaposed with a grave seriousness.
Gao Lei's other two series, Panorama and Infrared, are both landscape based and reflect overly exploited locals used previously in Chinese propaganda.
The Panorama series consists of images that represent the former prosperous oil fields and grasslands used for Chinese propaganda. Over time these places were exploited and disappeared from popular Chinese view. Gao Lei is resuscitating these discarded and abused places. The artist looks for hope in their desolate imagery. Gao Lei, refusing to leave them in a black and white state, hand colored them in orange and cyan to symbolize this sense of hope.
Finally, for his series Infrared, Gao Lei used Infrared photography. His places once more reflect official landscapes used in Chinese photojournalism. This provided him with a concrete technique for exploring the ironies present in exploited land as well as, "the panic caused by the absence of spiritual value, and the decline of traditional civilization in a modern metropolis." These photos were all taken at noon, although they appear to be nighttime shots. Gao Lei invites the viewer to explore two contradictory points in time in a two dimensional surface. That is the challenge of this exhibition, and Gao Lei's photo series leave us questioning and wanting to see more. Perhaps that is all a photographer could hope for.
Born in 1965, Gao Lei began his studies in English Language and Literature but eventually transferred to Hydromechanics. He invented a Bulk Commodity Container, and technology and invention eventually led him to discover photography as an art form. He then studied photography at the Speos Photographic Institute in France, gave up his inventing, and became a freelance photographer. He moved to Beijing in 2005, after traveling the Sahara and Gaza Strip, where he has won several awards for his work. This is his US debut.