© Christopher Pelley  2019

 

The Past Is Present 往昔重项

exhibition, New Contemporary Gallery, Dong Si, Beijing

In the west, images are rapidly consumed and diluted as our culture searches for the next big thing to exploit.  Not so much in China, a country where every aspect of life is controlled by the central authority that still relies on images to promote its agenda.  There is an effort to maintain legitimacy and supress discussion of events that went horribly wrong.  But like every other trauma that is buried, the whispers continue.

The opening of "The Past Is Present" coincided with the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party meeting.  Everybody associated with my exhibition went into spasms of paranoia.  The gallery owner considered having an invitation only opening behind locked doors.  There was discussion if I could install a red star made from the remains of firecrackers I had collected.  There were images of sparrows, both paintings, and made from rice on the floor, a blatent reference to Mao's labeling sparrows as one of the "4 pests" in 1958.  (The killing of sparrows almost to the point of extinction at that time triggered an ecological crisis that contributed to the starvation of over 25 million people).  Images of sparrows seemed OK, but definitely no Rice Mao as planned.  I got away with a couple of images of Lei Feng, hero of the Cultural Revolution   There were paintings of jackets from that era (1965 - 1975), clothing that is still worn by old men in the village.  There were other images also, a little less politically charged, but understood non the less...  falling clouds, the circular marks made from cupping, a traditional Chinese healing therapy,  common footwear of the poorer classes.

 

This exhibition exhibited poignantly (and painfully for me as I was later questioned by a "government official"), the power of images and the whispers of a past that will not go away.

The exhibition poster for The Past Is Present does not list my English name, only my Chinese nick name,   , which translates as Mosaic.  Mosaic has the literal meaning of the western word, but also has the submeaning and understanding of censorship (both broadly and specificaly as in porn).