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Art Shots: 'The Light of Day'

By Mar 24, 2010 Arts & Stage

m97 hosts the first Shanghai solo exhibition since 2004 by one of Beijing's most famous photographers, Han Lei. His "The Light of Day" is comprised of works from his acclaimed "Portraits" and "Pagodas" series, along with new works from 2009: "Testing in The Dark Room" and a few new portraits ("Three Bruce Lee" and "Girl With Hat #2").

The stand-out works are the portraits, in which Lei presents shadowy images of jumbled iconography and flesh. These works feature an array of male and female subjects, of differing ages and body types, posing along side an ethereal bric-a-brac of personal, cultural, and political artifact. Present, of course, is the stock Cultural Revolution detritus and imagery -- shiny Chairman Mao badges galore -- although Lei's gaze sweeps beyond the CR into Qing Dynasty-era portraiture, traditional theater, poses inherited from Western fine art, and pop culture references. Included in the exhibition are his famous works immortalizing bulbous youth, with body types that span out beyond the "cherub-esque", but his 2009 portraits show him to be working with new images of body, as seen in the taut figures in "Three Bruce Lee".

Lei's portraits present themselves as deeply personal works -- representations of larger historical and cultural forces directly enacted on flesh -- but at the same time the images bleed together, and become dissociative of a central and stable perception of identity. The Cultural Revolution gives way into the Qing Dynasty, which is in turn imbued with representations of classical theater. And then there's Manet and Bruce Lee. Objects that indicate larger social movements and historical event are grouped with personal items and absurdist rabbit ears, undermining a sense of permanent value, and turning everything into a soup of random reference.

Lei's newest works "Testing in The Darkroom" come at this sense of fragmented self and perception on a different angle, and in these pieces he groups together tiny photographic negatives into abstract, celestial collections of almost inscrutable images. At first, they suggest a larger, central order at work, although again a sense of effacing randomness negates a stable viewpoint.

These are more abstract and intellectual pieces, although they belie a similar sense of confusion and bewilderment, as what happens when one inherits complex cultural and historical circumstance and tries to represent their own experience against it.

The Light of Day”, a solo show by Han Lei runs until May 9 at m97.


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