Curated by He Guiyan
Concept and Narrative: Zong Ning’s Photography
The conceptualization of photography, or the emergence of conceptual photography in China, took place in the mid to late 1990s. The creative paths that artists took to bring concept into their photographs were very diverse. Some began with the body, while others dressed up as different characters or directly engaged with performance art. In terms of creative methods and aesthetic orientations, some artists emphasized collage and appropriation, and the aesthetics and values orientations focus on flirtation, irony and parody. Conceptual photography at that time was a correction of the established realist creative direction and the rejection of the classic modernist discourse. It drew on influences from post-modernism and other cultures more consciously. Zong Ning’s works place great emphasis on conceptual expression, as well as its connection with the context of Chinese contemporary art. In terms of the experimentation of his language, the diversity of the mediums he employs, and the expression of his personal artistic style, Zong Ning’s work is inherently consistent with the avant-garde stance that Chinese conceptual photography has pursued since the 1990s.
Zong Ning’s recent works generally engage with three kinds of imagery. The first is women. Most of these women are nude, and for the artist, the body and gender are the fundamental themes in the work. These women are not the only subjects of the pictures; they have been placed in a specific environment or narrative, or they may be acting out an absurd play with other people. Zong Ning is not intended to express aesthetic value or engage with issues of identity and class, but to focuses on desire and the male imagination. Animals, such as dragons, tigers, and eagles are another motif in his work, often appearing as evil, mysterious figures. Iconologically, these creatures can be traced back to the myths of remote antiquity, and some even have their prototypes in The Classic of the Mountains and Seas. They are often half-gods, half-animals, which sometimes have ferocious features, or appear with tree monsters and demons. The third is the various scenes that appear in these works, jungles, courtyards, mountain temples, boulders, various traditional buildings, which are at once ancient and yet in an atmosphere of mystery, strangeness and even a certain absurdity. In fact, these three subject matters are not completely separate, and most of time, Zong Ning combines them all together. Going beyond these themes, the artist intends to emphasize the narrative of the works. Zong Ning's emphasis on scene is essentially a desire to construct a theatre with a local, oriental cultural flavour. Of course, some of his works are more powerful when they are based on a series of Chinese folk tales. In other words, telling a story, the way in which the story is told, and the orientalized theater all highlight the locality behind the narrativity. However, in Zong Ning’s work, the narrative is not linear and there is no one center, for, ancient and modern, myth and imagination, body and desire, the everyday and the absurd, the bizarre and the strange, the grotesque and the ironic all seem to merge together to create a powerful tension. At the same time, the combination of multiple media and techniques, such as ink, painting, collage, play, performance and video, further strengthens the visual tension and provides more space for the narrative to unfold.
By He Guiyan
Artist: ZONG NING
Zong Ning, an ethnic Mongolian, was born in 1984 in Inner Mongolia. He graduated from the Photography Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2007, and he currently lives and works in Beijing.
He has held solo exhibitions at Yang Gallery, Cipa Gallery, and the Herzliya Museum of Contemporary Art. He has won photography prizes including the Gold Medal at the First Changjiang Photography & Video Biennale. His works have been collected by public institutions such as the White Rabbit Gallery, the Blue Mountain Contemporary Art Foundation, the Lishui Photography Museum, and the Chengdu Contemporary Image Museum.
Curator: HE GUIYAN
Critic and art curator.
Born in Shehong of Sichuan Province in 1976. Graduated from Department of the Art History, Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2003 with a master degree. Graduated from School of the Humanities, China Central Academy of Fine Arts in 2009 with a doctor degree.
He is currently a professor of School of Arts and Humanities in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. Director of Art Museum of Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. Director of the Contemporary School of Arts in Sichuan Fine Arts Institute. Master tutor. Academic Member of the China Annual Art Critics Assembly. Member of the Curators Committee in China Artists Association. Member of China Artists Association. Member of the China Sculpture Institute. Deputy Director of Chongqing Sculpture Institute.
He has published and authored 17 books. He has published more than 60 papers (above 400 thousand words) on domestic learned periodicals, such as Arts Criticism, Literature & Art Studies, Art Research and Art China. He has curated dozens of contemporary art exhibitions and biennials. He was nominated as the Outstanding Curator of the Year by the 2007 Annual Meeting of Chinese Art Critics.
Zong Ning, Furuncle, 2019. Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta, 330cm x 150cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Zong Ning, BanLa Mountain, 2018. Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta,180cm x 105cm. Courtesy of the artist.
Zong Ning, Six-act Play, 2020. Hahnemühle Photo Rag Baryta, 645cm x 320cm. Courtesy of the artist.