China: Grain to Pixel

The grainy black and white textures of traditional photographs are fast becoming distant memories as they are replaced by the continuous flow of digital pixel imagery. The exhibition, ‘China: Grain to Pixel’ follows the evolution of photography in China over the past 150 years. Presented by Monash Gallery of Art (MGA), the exhibition involves past and contemporary visions of China exposed through the eyes of 70 photographers.

Maleonn, Journey to the West

In November 2015, MGA Director Kallie Blauhorn visited Shanghai Centre of Photography (SCôP) and met with its founder, Liu Heung Shing. It was during this visit that Blauhorn thought that the exhibition would be perfect for MGA’s Winter Exhibition Series which showcases prominent international photography. She says, “‘China: Grain to Pixel’ will be the first historical to contemporary survey of Chinese photography to be shown in Australia which, as hosts, is very exciting for MGA.”

Viewers will come to see the instrumental ways that particular photographs documented old communist China through to the present day. The camera was adapted by these photographers as a means of expression and representation, reflecting the country’s political, social and cultural transition. MGA Senior Curator, Stephen Zagala explains, “Photography was largely used for documentary purposes during the nineteenth century, and was closely tied to the promotion of communist ideologies through the twentieth century. Over recent decades, contemporary art photographers in China have turned the medium into a vehicle for exploring more personal perspectives.” The photograph has been successful in raising attention to some of the hidden or lesser-known aspects of society, the beauty contained within a culture and the rare and common occurrences of every day life. Zagala continues, “This exhibition captures a domestic sense of wonder with the ‘Chinese outback’, a sense of curiosity with the place of the individual in the collective, and a sense of hope for the future that China now occupies.”

Jiang Zhi, Love Letters No. 9

Viewers will engage with 150 works which have been produced by some of China’s most influential and multidisciplinary artistic photographers. Artist Jiang Zhi became known for his video work at a time when the medium was in its early stages in China. Beginning in 2011, the series ‘Love Letters’ empower a narrative that speaks of the nature of love. Constructed with an ornamental decadence, these love stories begin to tire as the flowers disintegrate and wither into a blackened trace of their former selves. The work of conceptual photographer Maleonn features in the exhibition, he combines drawing and installation art with photography. His piece, Journey to the West (2008) is an elusive visual mind map enriched with a glowing and seemingly pulsating ambience. This scene of enchantment is layered with symbology that seeks strong consideration in order to be found. With every movement of the eye something new is seen and rediscoveries are made upon return.

Photography continues to hold its importance as a powerful medium that enables story telling in a space where images can be seen and shared in greater numbers than ever before. Blauhorn hopes that visitors will walk away with “… a pectoral understanding of both China’s last 150 years of history, as well as a deeper appreciation for Chinese culture.”

Monash Gallery of Art (MGA)
5 June to 28 August, 2016

Maleonn, Journey to the West, 2008, Giclée print, 135 x 90cm (x3)
Courtesy the artist and Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne

Jiang Zhi, Love Letters No. 9, 2014, Archival inkjet print, 180 x 135cm
Courtesy the artist and Monash Gallery of Art, Melbourne