Photolucida Director, Laura Moya’s invitation for me to exhibit in Hypermedia in Critical Mass at the Lishui Photography Festival in Lishui, China was exciting not just for the opportunity to exhibit my work with and meet world-class photographers and curators, but also for the opportunity to visit China. I had been to Taiwan and Korea, but never the enigmatic China.
The trip was an opportunity to witness as China moves from a venerable ancient culture to the next world super power. I arrived at night after traveling 23 hours and was excited to add to my nighttime series during the 2-hour drive from the airport to the beautiful, modern city of Lishui. The photos matched how I felt, as if I were traveling in a parallel universe – not China, not the United States – another universe altogether. I felt that if I made no more photos for the entire trip, I was satisfied with those first 2 hours in the country.
The globalism that promises to raise the fortunes of some, while burying those of others is apparent. Between the cities with block after block of identical high-rise buildings are agriculture terraces, growing the food for the largest population in the world. Even the roadsides are fully utilized with planting.
That same contrast between modern and traditional was also part of the exhibition. The festival, sponsored by the Chinese government, utilized many locations in Lishui, with many of the non-Chinese photographers exhibiting in modern buildings and museums. However, the photographers I toured with had a favorite exhibition location in the old city neighborhood where crafts people and artists still had their shops. Photographs were sitting on chairs, hanging in trees and mounted on building walls. The lack of pretense or even convention was refreshingly authentic. I was a little jealous not to be exhibiting my own work there.
The local people were extremely friendly and seemed so genuinely happy to see us. One very small woman with the face of a 100 year old tugged on my sleeve and beamed at me. I was beaming too, and in awe, imagining the times she had lived through. From the massage therapists we visited to the street cleaners who sang and laughed as they were at work, I am sure I have never met a happier community of people.
I think people long for connection – to each other, to history – and although the modern buildings are appropriate to modern culture, they could have been in any city in the world. Much as we see tourists anywhere clamoring to find the historical, quaint and authentic, my colleagues and I were drawn to the world that is being outgrown, full of the signs and symbols of the past, some of which had been emblems of the enmity between the two peoples.
I can’t help reflecting that as the United States is forsaking not only the economic well being of most of the population, it is also tightening its grip on free speech and culture. China is loosening its grip on the culture of its society and also investing in it. This one festival hosted around 2,000 photographers from over 50 countries, a financial commitment the current United States leadership would abhor. Without being naïve, it is logical to see our ships passing each other. Art and culture remain one of our most powerful links regardless of country of origin.
– Barbara Kyne, December, 2017