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“Maybe” Out of the Shooting - LangZi

During the Spring Festival of 2005, Jiagang invited me to visit Dali together.  He brought some selected photographs of The Three Front with him for his friends to inspect. Some friends from the art circle like Senior Fang, Ye Shuai, Zhang Yang, Doudou, Tan Ming happened to be there at that time.  Seeing the pictures, they all felt that they were good, and suggested him hold a small scale show. Back to Chengdu, Jiagang held a miniature exhibition in Blue House Art Center, invited some friends from the art circle and the media to attend. The show was well received.  Although I wrote the preface for that exhibition, I couldn’t make a definite judgement on The Three Front and deduction on its internal logic, maybe I was too familiar with the production process, or maybe it was due to the evolution of Jiagang.


One afternoon in 2004, Jiagang invited me to a Café near Du Fu Cottage along the bank of Huan River for a chat. He told me that he had a new production scheme, then he introduced his idea with some detail and melancholy. 

“Brother Yang, I want to shoot something about the Third Front.”

“The Third Front, I am familiar with that history. What do you want to shoot for the Third Front, how and why?”

“First of all, I am not going to record the facts, but I want to make it real.

Then I want my pictures to reflect my feeling of this moment.

Also, I want to invite a performance model in a costume unmatching to the scene of the Third Front, so as to create a strange interactive relationship between her, the physical environment and the social humanity environment, and generate a improvisational drama effect so that the it seems to bear a story. Right, I will shoot it like shooting a film, you help me direct it.”

“Just call it the Story of Moments. With drama conflicts unspecific, relationships among the characters unclear, and ambiguous suspense, the background of the Third Front comes into life. Then I know what to do about the effect of the pictures during post production. Let’s go to Sichuan People’s Theatre and find Junior Luo. You help explain the story to him, then we decide the time to start the shooting. Things need to be done. You know me, Brother Yang.”

That was a fine afternoon in Chengdu, and we had spent 4 or 5 hours without knowing on the balcony of the second floor in the Café called You Ya Shang She. Then it changed cloudy. It is rare to enjoy the gray aura with that high quality sense. Jiagang burst out: “the pictures I am going to take should have this tone.” That year was a year with torturous emotions for Jiagang, but it was also a turn point for his career.

“Brother Yang, we all grew up in the warmth of that duty-based society. Although the adult felt suffocated and life was hard, the society was still filled with human kindness. Opportunities were relatively equal, people basically had the same conditions, families were open to each other, and the society was like a big family. You could have many seniorities, and many siblings. And people were easily satisfied. With just a wood gun, a boy would be much content, he could rush to the street with it, led all his buddies of the whole street to “change” and “fight” together, then got a sense of hero and the experience of will. Of course, if you could play Huqin (Chinese violins), you would be surrounded by girls.


The Third Front was the symbol of that time, will our present city become another “Third Front”? I have been thinking about this question during these years of real estate development. It is impossible to complete the discussion, besides art is not political theory, we can mull it over while shooting, and discuss it again.”

Due to the time limit, I didn’t join Jiagang after explaining the story to Junior Luo. Half a month later, Jiagang came to me with the pictures just shot and wanted to discuss with me. That was The Shadow, the first series of The Third Front, and I wrote For the Form for it.

Emile Zola used to say: ‘Art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament. ’ With the gradual discovery of the process and form of differentiation among art expressions, art creation is further developing to the direction of independence, every piece of works is independent, and demands independent evaluation. Art creation will be no more limited by preceding rules, and will not be evaluated with any existing standard. Works will generate their own rules, and provide evaluation standards by themselves. Artists will be independent individuals in the social existence, thus the artistic activities top the artistic system”…  

Someone said that Senior Luo looked like Hollywood celebrity Zeta-Jones. And the pictures taken by Jiagang at that time gave me the impress that they were full of misery, but some what estheticism, with their reference was much watered down in terms of sociology. Some works such as Blossom Age, People in the House, Memory and The Shadow were more like posters of some films. Anyhow some people liked the genre at that time, some liked the 8 x 10 resolution. Some liked color pictures, whereas some likde gray ones. Whatsoever, his works generated some impacts, and Jiagang’s creation had made a clear distinction with others.

The works made at that time were published by the media in Chengdu, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai successively, and The Shadow became the formality prototype and the language feature of The Third Front.

I once asked Jiagang: “I can understand the Third Front as the past of the present, and the real scene as the overall relationship among people from the society in the current landscape, then what do you mean by that girl subjectively?”

“That girl is a tiny pebble thrown back to the past, creating a small ripple in the still water in the picture, and the story will have many possibilities at the moment of water splashing.” Later Junior Luo accidentally got several offers, and went to shoot the movie and TV series. It was said that she was going abroad, so Jiagang had to find someone else.

 Before long, Jiagang told me:“I found a student from Sichuan Film Academy, Junior Su. You need to give her an interview tomorrow in Chengdu Yinhe Dynasty Hotel, and explain the story, then help decide whether she is capable. If she is qualified, we will go to Guizhou and Yunnan from Yibin together.” On the way, we were stuck in Shuifu until daybreak. We never knew how hard to take pictures in other places, however, we had a satisfactory communication among Senior Su, Jiagang and me. She expressed a strong sense of creation, and she should be an actress full of imagination. We hung around in Shuicheng (the old city of Liupanshui), and shot Shuicheng. Shuicheng Iron and Steel Company was a large scale sate owned enterprise located in the administrative region of Shuicheng. Under the background of the plant area of the iron and steel enterprise as well as the old city of Liupanshui, farmers, workers, peddlers, women, children, tricycle drivers and a modern girl in traditional Chinese cheong-sam set a series of strange and bizarre scenes. Maybe Jiagang didn’t know when the story would start, and how it would develop and where it would end. And too many suspends meant something….That was Shuicheng, the second series of The Third Front. Some Critics thought that these two works still had a kind of nostalgic romance at that time. Back to Chengdu, Jiagang spent many nights before the computer. He was confident with his Photoshop processing ability, and managed to complete the color management of The Third Front after several experiments. Later I saw the pictures, and they were much improved. At that time, Jiagang tried to establish a good relationship with Junior Su, and continue to cooperate with her. Meanwhile Jiagang perked up.

From the indoor atmosphere in Shadow to the large scene management of Shuicheng, the principal narrative structure had been formed in the mind of Jiagang, and the critical consciousness of The Third Front started to reveal. His initial “Moment Stories” magically changed into narratives. Maybe due to his educational background of architectural design, he had a special talent in the spatial perception for large scale scene.   

Back to Chengdu, Jiagang invited me to drink for expressing his gratitude toward my hard work. I didn’t know until we met that Junior Su had gone back to the academy and could no longer cooperate. In those days, Gone, the theme song of the TV series Hu Xueyan was very popular,“You can do nothing about it, the youth has gone, affections are invaluable yet without guarantee…” He suddenly burst out:“Brother Yang, you help write an article in the title of Gone introducing The Third Front.” I remember I wrote another one entitled Escape.

When we met in Chengdu, it was all beer and skittles, but that didn’t affect a bit on our discussion about the business beyond our daily life. One night, he invited me to a small pub in South Renmin Road. He introduced me a girl beside him. She was Li Yang, a student in the Performance Department from Sichuan Film Academy, she was going to make the production with us in Panzhihua. Jiagang pointed to me and said: “Li Yang, this is Zilang, jus call him Brother Yang, he is the director of our production.” 

We didn’t feel cold a bit, the Sun was bright and the climate was amiable, especially for us who had stayed in Chengdu for a long time. Gone, the third series of The Third Front was completed at that time. And it was not easy to shoot the picture of Ore Washing Pond. My friend Chen Hui was working in Panzhihua Iron and Steel Company, and I asked him to be our guide. Since it was a key state owned company, it was not allowed to take pictures there without introduction. Jiagang was selecting the place for the camera and was keeping on adjusting the focus. I got irritated and burst out: “ How come you can’t find the sense of light as a student of Performance Department?”

Tears came down the face of Li Yang immediately. I knew my words were too harsh, so I expressed my sorry to her after the shooting. She said sincerely: “That’s all right. I had no sense at all once I was anxious.” Later Jiagang drove back to Chengdu from Xichang. But maybe it was too hard for us there, both Li Yang and I got seriously ill on the way, and were within an inch of death when we were crossing Tuowu Mountain and Niba Mountain. Yet we managed to survive, thanks to Jiagang’s care. 

I wrote the Preface for the miniature exhibition in Chengdu in March of 2005: …When the social trajectory formed with political ethics and social value passes through the certain period of social space, it definitely selects the diverging on innumerous dry branches which reflect a history of life. The cognitive method of the duty-based society shaped the value experience of our generation, it is not accepted by the cultural value of contemporary cities, but the temperament dust of the individual history revives in the artistic consciousness. The inherence of value consciousness and artistic language has gained the reasonable freedom in terms of historical distance, while the emotionalized expression method will gradually give way to the contemporary art with criticism which emphasizes the thinking process.

The works of The Third Front expressed the humanitarian connotation of superiority and pure disposition with visual impact of images and the complexity of reason and emotion.

With his works of The Third Front, Chen Jiagang attended Seduced and Abandoned held in March of 2006 with Ye Yongqing as the curator. “His works are full of strong social political nature, in addition,  pure images in his works not only reflect the real world in a certain place of the globe, but rather come out of the annotation of the macro-history, and allow the personalized experience to express the pursuit of aesthetics. The artist captured a moment of disappearing historical relics with soundless language, it seems to be silent, but full of endless discontent and indignation in the stares between man and the scene.”

The exhibited work of Ore Washing Pond of The Third Front was collected by Deutsche Bank, Jiagang asked the collector why he would select that particular piece of work, the answer was: “This piece of work has some an elegant humanitarian sense as reflected in the film of Schindler's List.

Later The Third Front went on exhibition in Indonesia, Germany and France with many different critics. I used to discuss many times with Jiagang for the diversified interpretations of the same works. He said: “ Art should in general be pleasant to your eyes, but for The Third Front, there might be many unexpected possibilities.” Then I asked: “ You still want to shoot the Third Front more?” “Maybe” was the reply.

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