“It is important for artists to remain calm and aware in the midst of change.”

Born Taiyuan, Shanxi, 1980

Born four years after China’s “opening-up” began, Wang Duo has known nothing but chaotic change, yet even she finds its pace “not only rapid but shocking. My beautiful memories of hutongs and big trees have all been replaced by modern buildings now,” she says. “I can never find them again.” Her video installation Old Brands Made New (2011) is a witty meditation on modernity, on change, and on the changing meanings of modernity in China. It recreates old advertising posters and calendars from the 1930s, when Shanghai was the emerging nation’s most Western city, centre of all that was new and exciting and chic. Using the latest photo and video technology, Wang Duo reinvents herself as a series of elegant models from that lost time, stylishly coiffed and made up, and wearing qipao, the narrow, slit-seamed dresses that were then the height of fashion. Audacious and provocative in their day, these (moving) figures now seem sweetly old-fashioned, their poses almost demure. The products they originally promoted, meanwhile, have been replaced by up-to-the-minute counterparts: Estée Lauder cosmetics, Louis Vuitton handbags, cigarettes, an iPad. The advertising slogans bridge the two eras: some are quaint, some contemporary. “White skin and rosy cheeks makes you unique”; “Smoking harms your health.” The idea of modernity that entranced 1930s Shanghai was erased by Mao’s revolution. What fate awaits the 21st century version?

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