“The postmodern world is one where the historical narrative is dominated by photographic images.” —Meg Maggio, on Ink History
Born 1962, Shantou, Guangdong. Lives and works in Beijing
Chen Shaoxiong has a long acquaintance with propaganda. When he was a child, information and images in China were tightly controlled and heavily censored. Even today, he says, “in our education, history is deliberately misinterpreted, randomly deleted and repeatedly distorted”. He is fascinated by history as narrative, and the paradox that even the most objective photographer cannot record events without in some way editing them. Ink History (2010) brings together well-known photos from the fall of the Qing dynasty in 1911 to today: the last Emperor, Japanese troops, the Long March, Mao Zedong announcing the People’s Republic of China, Mao with Stalin. Carefully selected and sparingly released at a time when all media were under Party control, these pictures became iconic—familiar even to Westerners, and for older Chinese people, saturated with political meanings as well as personal memories. Chen Shaoxiong wanted to make them new again, presenting them “without interpretation”. His solution was to render them with brush and ink, then play them as a flickering black-and-white video, their official meanings highlighted by a soundtrack of propaganda songs and speeches. Behind it all, counting down this three-minute century of upheaval, is a loud ticking. Whether it represents a clock or a time bomb is for viewers to decide.