Dai Xiang uses a contemporary narrative for a Chinese classic

Giving an ancient Chinese painting a contemporary transformation through photographs, Chinese artist Dai Xiang , through his work ‘The new along the river during the Qingming festival 2014’ for KMB 2016, is piquing the interest of art lovers with its detailing and magnification of history through the lens of current times.

The 25m, panoramic photo installation comprising more than 1,000 photographs strikes a chord with 12th century Chinese painting ‘River side scene at kim ming festival’ by Zhang Zeduan. The characters and situations from the original painting of Zeduan are completely altered by Dai Xiang in his work. Compiling 1TB data and processing almost 10,000 layers of photos, Dai Xiang’s work took nearly three years to complete. Xiang as portrayed himself as a character in 90 photos out of the 1,000 characters featuring in his art work.

Breaking national boundaries, Xiang’s photos sketches the current realities in China through a dramatic approach and points a finger at issues bothering China. A 21st century interpretation of a painting from Song dynasity, Xiang’s work was a topic of discussion in the Chinese social media.The digital panorama on display at Aspinwall house will give an impression of Zeduan’s painting at first, but once you look at the detailing carefully, the crisis and issues of modern China will get clearer to the eyes.

The Chinese officials with ‘chenguan’ title who are shown in conflict with street vendors, real estate entrepreneurs who force native people out of their houses, streets of sex workers, luxury cars, scenes of accidents, amidst all these, unbothered, relaxed tourists walking with cameras in hand; likewise the panorama uses symbols that communicate with new world.

Xiang’s panorama has included real incidents also. The death of three university students while trying to rescue children drowning in a river in 2009 is an intriguing image. The high prices demanded by fishermen to find the corpses of the students sparked huge protests in China. The scene where the son of a police officer escapes from the tragic scene using his father’s name is also included in the panorama. Xiang’s panorama got worldwide attention for reflecting the transformation of modern China into a corporatised society.

“The representation of China, a nation which always had a conventional view, undergoing a conflict between westernisation and transformation after liberalisation is being revealed in my panorama,” said Dai Xiang. “I’ve tried to incorporate vivid perspectives to portrait an in-depth narrative,” said the artist. The ‘I’ factor is also included as the artist himself appears as an outsider and also as a part of the project throughout the panorama. “The stories, similarities and paradoxes experienced during the journey towards modern China are included in the photos,” says Dai Xiang.

Born in China’s Tianjin province, Dai Xiang’s works are based on his hometown and Beijing. It was in his college days that he had a chance to learn about the traditional Chinese paintings of Zang Zeduan, which has paved way to his KMB 2016 work.

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