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Raised into Ruins: Transforming Debris in Contemporary Photography from China

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

At the turn of the twenty-first century, contemporary art from China has displayed a recurrent engagement with urban ruins. Painting, performance, film, and photography have turned the rubble of demolition and construction works, an outcome of the vast urban development programs of the past few decades, into a powerful symbol of China's contemporary milieu. Critical and academic approaches to contemporary Chinese art have rightly inquired about the meaning of these ruins, in a process that has also reevaluated the place of these images in the representational traditions of China. Starting with these academic perspectives, this paper situates images of ruination in contemporary Chinese art in dialogue with transnational debates on the meaning and epistemology of the ruin, to argue for an essential element of constructedness in the representations of ruins. Photographic series by Wang Qingsong, Jiang Pengyi, and Yang Yongliang are analyzed as examples of an active appropriation of the process of ruin creation from a critical stance. Recycling urban wasteful rubble into an aesthetic object, these photo artists generate alternative visions of urban development and its consequent demolition and contribute to the negotiation of the meaning of the ruin.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and English Studies, Universitat de Barcelona, Facultat de Filologia


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