Chen Changfen: The Historical Wall, Opening Reception:April 7th 2007 at 6:00

Chen Changfen: The Historical Wall, Opening Reception:April 7th 2007 at 6:00

A Note About The Artist

Born in 1941, Chen Changfen became a professional photographer at 18, and six years later, in 1965, photographed the Great Wall of China for the first time. Although he has continually photographed the wall over the last 30 years, the project was most actively pursued after the Cultural Revolution when he needed a restorative project. He decided that the Wall was a creation of beauty, a potential source of national pride, a physical challenge, and the basis of endless aesthetic, philosophical and historical ponderings for an intelligent, talented, and driven man. As Chen read, explored, and continued to photograph the Wall, his pictures evolved in distinct stages.

At a time when China is rapidly entering the global community and China´s cities are abandoning traditional architecture and neighborhoods to build glass and steel, international style skyscrapers, Chen Changfen is making art deeply rooted in traditional values. Chen´s images are informed by years of walking the Wall in all seasons and conditions of light and weather. At 65, he scrambles upright and surefooted along the often dangerously deteriorated Wall. He has returned to some sections of the Wall over 100 times, not always to photograph. This is what he calls “keeping the placid mood,” which is essential for his work. This solitary and contemplative approach yields different images than one would make while walking the streets of densely populated, quickly changing cities. Given the rapid changes in China, his respect for the Wall and his contemplative photographs are out of sync with art by other, internationally embraced, contemporary Chinese artists, whose works are more experimental, idiosyncratic, and purposefully subversive of the status quo. Younger artists have been more inclined to question the Wall as a worthy symbol of modern China. In Chinese contemporary art since the 1980s the meaning of the Wall has evolved relative to each artist´s embrace or rejection of prior perceptions and Chen´s imbuing the pictures with meanings based on traditional Chinese philosophies is in sharp contrast to those who see the Wall as a manifestation of the Chinese conservatism that blocked China from the outside world in the past and remains as a symbol of that conservatism today.

Besides his intention to honor the wall as a great accomplishment of engineering and the human spirit, other traditional values that have been important to Chen are the philosophical religion Taoism and the aesthetic tradition of Chinese painting.

By choosing his viewpoint, he makes the Wall look whole or reduced to rubble. Sometimes it dominates the picture; other times one must carefully scan the landscape to find its traces. When using color film, Chen relishes the orange glow from late afternoon light that sets the stone and bricks afire. In other images, he draws more attention to the trees that now grow mid wall and densely along its sides. He uses light to emphasize the Wall or shadows to obscure it, depending on the components or relationships he wishes to reveal. The more one reads about the wall and experiences it personally, the more one understands the depth of perceptions embedded in each picture and how much knowledge can be perceived through his vision beyond the sheer aesthetic pleasures offered.

Written by Anne Tucker