… if hurt, they breathe
Venom into their bite, cleave to the veins
And let the sting lie buried, and leave their lives
Behind them in the wound
– Virgil, The Georgics
The photo artist Zhe Chen, who was born in 1990 and raised in Beijing, lives and works in China and California. In 2011 she graduated from the Art Center College of Design in the field of photography and imaging. In the last four years she mainly worked on two series. The first one is called “The Bearable“ (2007-2010), works that document the artist’s self mutilations, The second series is called ” Bees“ (2010-2012), a series of photographs of people in China who have the same fate and a similar urge as Zhe. In their relentless directness and simultaneous sensitivity her works present a closeness to those of artists like Nan Goldin or Nobuyoshi Araki.
In 2011 Zhe was awarded the ”Three Shadows Photography Award”, the Inge Morath Award of the Magnum Foundation and was nominated photographer of the year at the Lianzhou Photography Festival for her series ”Bees”. Her works have been exhibited worldwide in the last few years: 2013 ON|OFF: China’s Young Artists in Concept and Practice, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing; 2012 Future Exhibition: Report on the State of Chinese Young Art, CAFA (Central Academy of Fine Arts) Art Museum, Beijing; 2011 Night of the Year – Bees, Les Recontres d’Arles, Arles, France; Three Shadows Photography Award Exhibition, Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing; 2010 World Visions: Emerging Photographers, New York Photo Festival, New York.
The photo series ”Bees“ consists of 90 photographs. Together with 40 protocols, about the portrayed and correspondence with them, the viewer gains access to the most intimate aspects of these people. Zhe lovingly calls them ”Bees” and explains, ”When faced with chaos, violence, alienation and irredeemable losses in life, “bees” feel propelled to leave physical traces and markings on their bodies, in order to testify and preserve a pure and sensitive mind from within.“ A form of self-purification.
According to the artist, the intention of these works is not to portray the self-mutilation and the masochism, to present the abnormal but to confront a society with its prejudices, especially in a culture like China where the homogenous masses are deemed more important than the individual. Her works are intended to emphasize that every one of the portrayed is an individual that handles societal changes, constraints and other upheavals in people’s lives in a highly personal and intimate way. Zhe herself admits, ”Photographing my bruised body is the perfect way to evacuate the unspeakable suffering in a tangible way.“
In a very sensitive way and with a astonishing feel for the experiences of the portrayed Zhe documents a mood that stands out because of its silence and causes the recipient to reflect. Due to the outstanding quality of the works and a surprising ability in handling the camera in terms of light and composition, she evokes a view that first implies the idea of seclusion and intimacy and finally – after a longer period of familiarization, achieves understanding for the protagonists’ lifestyles and herself. According to the writer Leonard Cohen, ”A scar is what happens when the world is made flesh“.