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Chen Wei

Light of Folding Bed

“My works are like my own personal novels. I think memories are novels. I feel my work sometimes as a folder cluttered with memories, looking into all of them.”

Early in his career the Chinese artist Chen Wei (born 1980) developed his very own photographic picture language. Unlike many other photo artists of his generation he creates the pictured himself and in his studio, he stages each detail of the scenery for his photographs. In this way he orientates his works towards the models of artists like Jeff Wall, Cindy Sherman or Thomas Demand.

In his works Chen is guided mainly by personal memories and fantasies. He also finds inspiration in literature, the history of film, alchemy, philosophy, and the mentally ill or challenged. Accordingly, his picture language, which is often surreal in appearance, is charged with very different elements that fly through the air, such as broken mirrors, stuffed animals, bees, wax, or books. Furthermore, the works are often highlighted by a very dark humour.

Since 2008, his works have been exhibited internationally including the CAFA Art Museum and the Today Art Museum in Beijing, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Shanghai, the 3rd Guangzhou Photo Biennale, and the Guangdong Museum of Art in Guangzhou. Chen is the recipient of the 2011 Asia Pacific Photo Award.

Light of Folding Bed from 2009 is one of Chen’s minimalistic staged photographs. In this image there is no figure, only a bed frame in front of a wall, on which lie parts of a broken mirror. Rays of light appear on the wall, projected there by fragments of mirror glass. Various associations become apparent. The bed and the wall design recall schools and camps in China of the past decades. The broken mirror suggests Chen’s interest in alchemy.

Typical for Chen’s work, the photograph’s atmosphere is one of loneliness and severity: the room is deserted, the bed is empty, the mirror is broken. Often, the artist’s images are referenced to the uprooting of his generation in the light of rapid economic development in China, which is accompanied not as much by political breakthroughs but by a steadily increasing loss of culture and identity.

With this work, as with others, the artist poses riddles instead of answering them, “I want my work to crystallize a fleeting moment of time – it might be the past, it might be an imaginary future.” Beyond their enigmaticness Chen’s works enthral by presenting the viewer with unresolved narratives of absurd beauty through very fine-tuned compositions and vibrant colours. The art critic Sun Dongdong summarizes as follows, “Though Chen Wei concentrates the majority of his energy on scene, still life, concept, and production, in that single fleeting moment when his finger presses down on the shutter, he produces a reality that activates a truth buried somewhere in our hearts.”

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