The Surplus/Residual－A Solo Exhibition by Zhu Lan Qing
Zhu Lan Qing
OPENING: 2019/07/27 18:00-21:00
Curated by Jay Chun-Chieh LAI
Since their invention, photographic images were destined to become light, thin, and reproducible. These characteristics make photography a strong and powerful “attachment” independent of the original, which is why photography is often perceived as a “complement” to authenticity/reality. As capitalism and media technology advanced, images have served as a kind of evidence; they can be a sentiment, a memory, or even a consumable “impression (positive and negative)” that echoes the “imprinted” nature of photography. However, from a technical perspective, photography may produce a relatively weaker “imprint” compared to other forms of creation, such as drawing or literary writing—considering the chemical photo development (that will eventually fade away) and the digital imaging system that needs to be constantly re-edited. When the material criteria become weaker and the methods of image acquisition become easier and more ubiquitous, photography really becomes a kind of “remnant,” which refers to being surplus and residual at the same time. The former expresses the background of an era of excessive image production and the subsequent vulgarization of time/memory. Perhaps like the literal meaning of “surplus,” photography is described as a carbon copy that exceeds the reality. Meanwhile, the latter can be interpreted from the most primitive formation of photography—the residual chemical changes or images that really reacted to the trajectory of light.
Both of the above contexts can help us better approach Zhu Lan Qing’s works. On one hand, many of the themes she cares about revolve around travel/transportation industries related to emotional consumption, as well as the landscape heritage sites that result from overproduction in these industries. Some examples include Janus on the Mountains (2016) (Alps Ski Transfer Station), Ten Billion New City (2015-2018) (Dongshan Island Resort Development Plan), and Excavations of a Shipwreck (2017) (Rise and Fall of the Port of Quanzhou). All of these series examined how the relationship between ordinary landscapes, people, and places are affected and changed under needs for economic development. More importantly, what are the “(unneeded) surpluses” that were left behind? This understanding is based on the criteria for global production and circulation. On this basis, the surplus can be said to be a necessary logic for capitalism circulation, which is the production and circulation of the “imaging industry” in the context of this article. This includes previous old images being overridden and replaced by improved images. In correspondence to artists’ concerns about local eradications from urbanization and globalization—“surplus values” are being converted and consumed while they should be preserved. Ten Billion New City boldly and straightforwardly referred to a local version of the history of the Chinese dream. Through the approach of “rewriting historical texts,” the artist attempted to reconstruct a Ten Billion New City from imaginations based on the capital surplus in such an enormous resort development.
However, judging the images from their styles and aesthetic temperaments will lead to the other type called “the residual,” namely the image fragments that remain from the selection and extraction by time. Instead of describing Zhu Lan Qing’s photography as an active way of extracting and preserving reality, her work actually serves more as a filter to sift out unretained memories. Those “others” perceived as useless, rough, and indescribable—the residuals for removal are what really created (formed) the mould of memories. In the example of A Journey in Reverse Direction, 2013-2015, Zhu Lan Qing captured trivial, commonplace home products, broken yachts, and unimpressive family photo albums (things that were remembered during the shot for the visit). Through the sum of these items for disposal, the people, events, and objects that should be remembered were re-selected. More specifically speaking, most of the models in Zhu Lan Qing’s works are image residuals filtered by mainstream narrative. In a multiple, context-free, latent writing style that resembles guerilla images, Zhu Lan Qing’s works often surround the main narrative and demonstrate the fighting (against the de-differentiation caused by globalization) that she described in her self-description in A Journey in Reverse Direction.
Both of these perspectives share the characteristic of being “void.” It does not imply emptiness in a negative sense, but rather it is more like a space that waits to be filled with serous fluid. The space is used to cover up the strong but clumsy big other that will be ultimately abandoned by the artist. This imagined model of thinking came from the series, A Journey in Reverse Direction. From a self-portrait of the artist in her grandmother’s clothes, I see a gap of time in this outfit as it symbolized a “starting point.” This gap serves as an interdependent space between local and global narratives. Perhaps it can be imagined as the moulding process with filling and pouring. Products cannot be made if there were no master moulds. While the mould may not be necessarily disposed after it completes the duty, it may only be left with the value of being a “historical evidence” because it is not an item for consumption. On the other hand, the mould will gradually wear out during countless cycles of production/labor until there are no more “imprints.” This kind of gap between reality and outcome, past and present is also a (time-based) emotional space (between Zhu Lan Qing’s body and her grandmother’s outfit) that the artist struggles with. Clearly, it is impossible to reproduce history and there will always be some variations in emotional reflection. Meanwhile, the mould and moulding analogy also points out our inevitable misunderstanding to attach past identifications to other people’s history. I believe that the artist recognized memory as a status of attachment and emotions/feelings as a kind of residual. It is her imaging style to enclose the conditions of such attachment.
Together, A Journey in Reverse Direction and Ten Billion New City jointly constructed the artist’s imaginations and understandings about home. A part of it was based on actual memories of specific family members and home-living, while more was about how she used images to filter out “a sense of locality.” This invisible legacy of memories, emotions, and identifications would not documented in local records. The two series of works based on Zhu Lan Qing’s hometown “Dongshan Island” focused on the customs, economic activities, social communities/family memories, and grandparents’ experiences and objects as they were gradually forgotten under rapid urbanization. All of them were re-anchored within the river of time. Here, the meaning of “reverse” does not only refer to the artist’s opposite root-seeking narrative. From another perspective, “reverse” also implies the artist’s issues with self-identification: the past that we can never arrive by going forward. In the exhibition space, hints from the arrangement of image fragments and historical remnants, those residuals from narrative scenes and overlooked places all poetically re-illustrated the rise and fall of paradise (ultimate imaginations about a resort), and the extent of family/memory/life. By adopting a similar style as these “residuals” and using lots of reciprocating, overlapping expressions, Zhu Lan Qing’s image fragments also produced rich emotions that slowly and awkwardly struck viewers’ heart. At the same time, she responds to the anxiety of this generation—those abandoned but imprinted “mould of memories.”