中文 / English

Abandoned Cities: Yesterday and Today - Pi Li

    Chen Jiagang focused his attention on the plants in the third front in his pictures. During the 1960s and 70s, China moved a large quantity of military factories from North-eastern China and Shanghai to the remote South-western frontiers in order to strengthen China’s national defence.  Millions of workers left their homes, and migrated to these mountainous areas. But with time changing, these factories got abandoned gradually from the beginning of 1980s due to the change of China’s macro-economic and foreign policies. Most people who had worked here left these places and went back where they had come from. However, the once busy factories got desolated. These are the so called “Abandoned Cities” in Chen Jiagang’s dictionary.

 

       In the past several years, Chen Jiagang went all over these abandoned places scattered in Sichuan, Yunnan and Guizhou in order to complete these photographic works. The buildings in his pictures are ruined and dilapidated. In some places, only the structures which can not be taken away remain there, all those things which can be taken away have been stolen and sold for money. For all of us, that is a history shamed to be mentioned. It represents an arbitrary, radical and absurd moment of our history.

 

Chen Jiagang did not adopt the documentary technique for his pictures. Somewhere in the corner of his pictures, there is always a girl unmatching the setting. In cheong-sam, she seems to be there by crossing time and space. Maybe Chen Jiagang didn’t mean to prove the absurdity of the past history and economy, but rather to represent the decay of the idealism. In those days, millions of workers migrated to these places under the national idealism. But today, the dream has been broken,  then how these people settle themselves. Maybe that is the basic information Chen Jiagang wanted to convey. The girl in cheong-sam, who seems to be in a sitting position, has some kind of symbolic effect of idealism. What is different is that this idealism is no longer revolutionary, but rather symbolic. Her existence draws the history closer to us on the one hand, on the other hand, it pushes the reality far apart from us, thus positioning us at the critical point between history and reality. Chen’s pictures  illustrate the fallacious relationship between collective memory and individual memory.  For a certain disapearing period  of history, it maybe hard for the entire social group to remember, but for some individuals who are involved in it, there maybe some fond memories for it. The relationship between the preset figure by the artist and the real scene makes me think the relationship between the Ferocious Animals by Wang Shuo and the Cultural Revolution. Thereful, I can sense more profound cultural issues reflected by these photographs.

 

 

    This is only one side of the problem. For Chen Jiagang, there are more individual life experience understanding in the photographing of these abandoned cities. Once as a successful businessman, Chen Jiagang has become a important sponsor of contemporary Chinese art. When contemporary Chinese art was not widely accepted by the society, he set up Upriver Gallery in Chengdu to display the art works not yet accepted at that time. Nowadays, these artists have become the mainstream in the art circle. For various reasons, Chen Jiagang left the business world in 2000. For him, photograpic works are the spiritual reflection. Our time and society have entered a irreversable and fast modernization process. The speed of the expannsion of cities, the speed of  the construction of the houses and highways seems to be similar to that of construction of the plants at those times. The only difference is that the construction of those factories was out revolutionary idealism, and the construction today is out of the demand for profit maximization. But they bear the same fever.  

 

    The cities built out of the  revolusionary idealism have been abandoned, but how about the cities built out of Utilitarianism, can they last forever? If not, after they are abandoned, what kind of “abandoned cities” will they leave us. This maybe the unavoidable problem these pictures leave us, and maybe the most eccential problem. As a photographer, Chen Jiagang stilled the time, and left the questions to us. How to answer these questions will be up to the choice of everybody.

 

中文 / English