Art Out: Day After Day: RongRong and the Beijing East Village Review
Images by Cid Roberts
Text by Kala Herh
Outspoken. Gallant. Relentless.
Then 25-year-old RongRong goes far beyond those attributes as he documents the crucial years after the Tiananmen student protests. Other cutting edge artists accompanied RongRong — Zhang Huan, Ma Liuming, and Ai Weiwei — that performed the powerful, explosive performance works of China's early contemporary art movement.
The Walther Collection, in partnership with Three Shadows Photography Art Center in Beijing, present Day After Day: RongRong and the Beijing East Village that house 40 of RongRong's striking photographs. His work documents the Beijing East Village: an artistic community that nurtured early contemporary Chinese art. Despite the constant state of fear from the political authorities, RongRong remained steadfast at creating a strong narrative.
RongRong's images capture the vivid and eccentric daily lives of him and his fellow aspiring artists. One of his more dark pieces is No. 89 where RongRong revisits the room where Zhang Huan staged his last performance. The image is of Zhang Huan's mattress: his blood, still fresh, is smeared across the bed; his used chains sink so deep they leave impressions on the cover; ghoulish dolls lay lifeless in the corner of the frame. Here, RongRong is effective in invoking death's omnipresence and its threatening uncertainty. The image plays with dark and light (with hardly any aspect residing in the gray area).
The exhibition is poignant, emotive, yet effuses an innate sense of humanism. Although the reception on Thursday was bustling with people, the disquieting power of the photos silenced the room.
In tandem with RongRong's photographs, the Walther Collection includes a compilation of the artist's diary excerpts. His writings serve an invaluable, first-hand record of a burgeoning artistic community and the precarious political context that fostered it. On the wall above No. 43, Third Contract — that documents the hallucinogenic, peaceful slumber that Ma Liuming and Zhang Huan share — RongRong writes, "It was exactly what I had expected: a world in which people share a bed, but dream different dreams." Such entries to his sister provide a captivating insight into the humid work environment, his relationships with his fellow artists, and secretive staging methods. The testament of RongRong’s artistry is the unyielding honesty that he exudes. In those writings, he reveals his doubt in photography as a medium to create change in turbulent times. The beauty of the collection lies in the interplay between his images and texts; it describes an artist growing and making sense of the times through art.
His conviction to the craft grew in the coming years as his work sent shockwaves to not only the Chinese but also the global art scene. In conversation with the artist himself, he said that the exhibition doesn't document the Chinese struggle, but transgresses geography and notions of time. It is the universal feeling of simultaneous hopelessness and hopefulness.
He later writes, "This is the power of photography."
The Walther Collection
June 13 - October 12 2019
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Cid Roberts’s website can be found here.