13 contemporary artists representing the Chinese landscape

Zhang Xiao, "They" N°004, "They" series, 2006. Courtesy of the artist.

Echoing the site of Jumièges Abbey near the Seine river, the photography exhibition “Flowing Waters Never Return to the Source: Photographers Gazing at the River in China” centered upon the Chinese river, a seminal theme in contemporary photography in China, as seen through the eyes of thirteen photographers.

From the re-appropriation of traditional Chinese painting where idealized landscapes seem suspended in time (“mountain-water”) to the accelerated modernization of the country and its consequences for nature and the environment, and visual narratives using its evocative power, the river has formed a recurring motif of inspiration for photographers in China over the past twenty years.

Photo portfolio of the exhibition “Flowing Waters Never Return to the Source. Photographers Gazing at the River in China”

The book accompanying the exhibition (bilingual French-Chinese) brings together reproductions of the exhibited works, an illustrated essay and exclusive interviews with the artists. Published by Bandini Books, it will be available for sale from 15 July !

Find out more about the “Flowing waters never return to the source” exhibition.

Yang Yongliang
Yang Yongliang, The Waves (2019). Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

“I develop a spirit of consistency with our heritage, yet I show a rupture with it, because rupture is an unmissable reality of our times.”

Yang Yongliang was born in 1980 in Shanghai and lives between this city and New York.

Trained in calligraphy and traditional ink painting at an early age, Yang Yongliang graduated from China Academy of Art in Shanghai in visual communication. Yang set out to link classical and contemporary art from the beginning of his career.

He combines photography and new media techniques to build seemingly natural landscapes, reminiscent of traditional Shanshui painting (“mountain and water” landscapes), which in reality describe the effects of urban development in China.


Sui Taca

Sui Taca, "Goddess in the River", 2011. From the series “Odes”, 2009-2013. Courtesy of the artist.


Taca Sui, "White Stone" (2011), Odes series (2009 – 2013). Courtesy of the artist.


Taca Sui, "White Bridge" (2010), Odes series (2009 – 2013). Courtesy of the artist.

“Poetry and photography are similar to a certain extent, in their way of preserving fragments of history and reality.”

Sui Taca was born in 1984 in Qingdao and lives between this city and New York. He studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (Beijing) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (United States).

In his twenties, Sui Taca spent a whole year studying the Book of Odes (Shijing), the oldest existing collection of Chinese poetry.

Sui’s works follow the elliptical nature of the poems: his images seem suspended in a strange expectation. The Odes series was acquired and exhibited by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2014. His latest series, Steles, Revealed and Grotto Heavens, also revisit Chinese civilization.


Luo Dan

Luo Dan, "Simple Song No. 27". Pu A Qi, Shimendeng Village (2010), Simple Song series, 2010-2012. Courtesy of the artist.

 Luo Dan-Simple-Song-No-25-John-is-knocking-the-bell-LaoMuDeng-Village-2010

Luo Dan, "Simple Song No. 25". John is knocking the bell, LaoMuDeng Village (2010), Simple Song series (2010-2012). Courtesy of the artist.

“Road or river, never mind: these places are like scenes where different reality shows are displayed.”

Luo Dan was born in 1968 in Chongqing and lives in Chengdu. Luo Dan is a renowned portrait and documentary photographer. He graduated from the Sichuan Fine Art Academy. After working as a press photographer for years, he resigned and embarked on a Jeep, driving across China and photographing the country from East to West, from Shanghai to Lhasa, along Route 318, using a medium format camera (China Route 318, 2006). In 2008, he hit the road once again, this time driving from North to South (North and South series).


Michael Cherney
Michael Cherney, “Ten Thousand Li of the Yangtze River”, Chongqing Fu (2010), Ten Thousand Li of the Yangtze River series, (2010-2017).Courtesy of the artist.

“Each photograph is a map, whatever the level of abstraction or accuracy related to the larger context of the surrounding world.”

Michael Cherney was born in 1969 in New York and lives in Beijing. Michael Cherney, also known by the Chinese name of Qiu Mai (“Autumn wheat”), has lived in Beijing since 1991. A self-taught photographer and calligrapher, his work is part of the Chinese aesthetic tradition.

His photographs are the first to enter the collection of the Asian art department of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) and are part of the collections of numerous museums such as the Berkeley Art Museum / Pacific Film Archive, Cleveland Museum of Art, Getty Research Institute, Harvard University Art Museum…


Edward Burtynsky
Edward Burtynsky, “Dam # 6”, Three Gorges Dam Project, Yangtze River, China (2005). Courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto / Flowers Gallery, London.

“I’m mostly interested in humanity through the expression of large-scale industrial systems – the ravages made by men on the planet in order to achieve growth and progress by all means.”

Edward Burtynsky was born in 1955 in St. Catharines (Canada) and lives in Toronto. He is an internationally recognized photographer who, for over thirty-five years, has devoted himself to depicting industrial landscapes and the transformations of nature by humans around the world.

His explorations of the human-altered landscape took him to China in the 2000s, where he created several photographic series highlighting the human and environmental consequences of modernization.

His large format photos combine a documentary and creative approach, transforming landscapes into places of paradox where calm and uncertainty create a sense of the sublime. Without condemning or glorifying the industry, his images allow the public to understand the origin of the consumer goods that we use daily and the scale of the landscape transformations born of our pursuit of progress — “[looking] at the industrial landscape as a way of defining who we are and our relationship to the planet. “


Zhuang Hui
Zhuang Hui, “Traces of the Holes Dug in Three Gorges”, “Longitude 109 ° 88 ‘E Latitude 31 ° 09 ‘N” series (1995). Courtesy of the artist.

“An individual alone cannot anticipate events from happening in a society in the grip of historical changes, but we can try to provide an alternative thinking space to society and to the public through art.”

Zhuang Hui was born in 1963 in Yumen, Gansu province and lives in Beijing. He is a conceptual artist who mainly expresses himself through performance, photography and installation. He was raised by a father who was an itinerant studio photographer in Gansu. A selftaught man, he learned oil painting from his neighbour after high school, besides his job as a factory worker. Zhuang Hui began to frequent avant-garde circles in the early 1990s, at the time when he created his first (highly political) performances.

He became known in the late 1990s thanks to his long horizontal portraits of groups of workers, students and citizens. Highly recognized in China, Zhuang Hui has also participated in group exhibitions at the Yuz Art Museum (Jakarta), Smart Museum of Art (Chicago), Pinacoteca Nazionale (Bologna), and the Lyon Museum of Contemporary Art. Most of his works, although they take a variety of forms and media, stage interventions in real places and events and question the role of the individual in society.

Chen Qiulin
Chen Qiulin, “The Garden”, 2007. Courtesy of the artist and A Thousand Plateaus Art Space.

“I didn’t know how I could keep on living in such a place, and I simply wanted to record all of it.”

Chen reveals the brutal realism but also the poetic grace of a new China in the making. Her uniquely staged performances explore the feelings and capacity to adapt of human beings living in a society in upheaval, as well as the conflict between traditional and contemporary culture. Are these transformations synonymous with opportunity or loss? This is one of the questions raised by Chen.

She expresses herself through performance, dance, installation, photography, video and sculpture. Whichever medium she uses, her works take place in the post-industrial landscapes of Sichuan, and take their source in her own story – that of a Chinese woman whose home city was destroyed by the Three Gorges Dam project.

Mu Ge

Mu Ge, "Lovers on the bank of the Yangtze", 2006. From the series "Going Home" (2004-present). Courtesy of the artist.


Mu Ge, "Boy employee on a Yangtze passenger boat", 2006. From the series "Going Home" (2004-present). Courtesy of the artist.

“I have photographed each portrait as an echo looming from my thoughts and my memory.”

The idea of “home” is at the heart of his work. Originally from the Three Gorges region, Mu established in Chongqing. In Going Home (2004-today), he documents the radical transformations endured by the area’s inhabitants on his trips back home. In Ash (2009-2017), again shot in the Three Gorges, he observes nature and the traces left by time and history. For Behind the Wall (2013-2018), he followed the Great Wall for tens of thousands of kilometres and visited villages in the North, portraying his native country through its most powerful symbol.

In 2019, Mu Ge initiated the Bow Wave educational project with photographers Feng Li and Zhang Kechun.

Mu Ge on Photography of China

Liu Ke
Liu Ke, “Moving Forward”, 2009. From the series “Still Lake” (2008-2009).

“I wanted to start from those men, whose existence is as small and ordinary as mine, and, from fragmentary visual impressions, to feel the movement of deep streams flowing under the quiet waters of the river.”

Liu Ke was born in 1977 in Chengdu and lives in Chengdu. He works as a duo with his partner, Huang Huang. In 2019, they won the Three Shadows Photography Award, one of China’s most prestigious photographic awards, for their Mirror series.


Jia Zhangke

Jia Zhangke, Extract from the Film "Still Life", 2006 (extracted from the 108th minute). Courtesy of the artist.


Jia Zhangke. Extract from the Film "Dong", 2006 (76 minutes documentary film). Courtesy of Ad Vitam.

“I wanted to duly record the sensory relationship between contemporary history and ancient times, and so we shot several sequences that imitate painting on rolls.”

Jia Zhangke creates films rooted in the reality of contemporary China, playing with the border between fiction and documentary. Trained at the Beijing Film Academy, he belongs to the sixth generation of Chinese filmmakers called “underground”.

If his camera is always close to the characters, space is also a full-fledged character in his films: the city (The Pickpocket, Unknown pleasures, I Wish I Knew), the Three Gorges dam (Dong, Still Life), or a world recreated in miniature (The World). In 2013, A Touch of Sin earned him the award for Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival.

Zhang Xiao
Zhang Xiao, “They n°019”, 2007. From the series “They” (2006-2007). Courtesy of the artist.

“The coastline has represented a long journey for me, a quest for my own identity.” 

For the Coastline series(2009-2013), Zhang Xiao explored the Chinese seaboard. His series met public and critical recognition both in China and abroad, and won Zhang Xiao numerous awards: Hou Dengke Documentary Photography Award (2009), Bourse du Talent (2010) and HSBC Prize for Photography (2011).

He addresses the human and social consequences of Chinese modernity while combining a documentary approach with an aesthetic research.


Chen Ronghui
Chen Ronghui, “Wuma River, Yichun” (2016), Freezing Land series (2016-2019). Courtesy of the artist.

“The river is not only a reality, but also a metaphor.”

Chen Ronghui began his career as a photographer in 2011 after studying journalism. His work focuses on the role of the individual and environmental issues in China. In Petrochemical China (2013) and Christmas Factory (2015), he explores the consequences of urbanization and industrialization in the Yangzi Delta and the Zhejiang region.

In Freezing Land (2016-2019), he creates landscapes and portraits of the youth in Dongbei, China’s ‘rust belt’. He has received several awards such as the World Press Photo Award, Three Shadows Photography Award, Hou Dengke Documentary Photography Award. He has been nominated for the Prix Pictet and the C / O Berlin Talent Award. He is currently studying at Yale University in the United States.


Zhang Kechun

Zhang Kechun, "Stone in the Middle of the River" (2014). From the series "Between the Mountains and Water series" (2014). Courtesy of the artist.

“It was a form of emotional catharsis, a way to communication with the outside world.”

Zhang Kechun captures the landscapes of contemporary China. He became known through his series The Yellow River, produced between 2010 and 2015. He is the winner of the National Geographic Picks Global Prize (2008) and the Rencontres d’Arles Disocvery Award (2014).

He has participated in numerous exhibitions in China (CAFAM, Beijing Photo Biennale) and abroad (Photoquai, Rencontres d’Arles). His works are included in the collections of institutions such as the German National Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the Central Academy of Fine Arts of China, the Williams Museum and the Schneider Foundation.


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