Editor's note: From time to time, CultureMap will highlight remarkable works on view as part of the FotoFest Biennial 2014 "View From Inside: Contemporary Arab Photography, Video and Mixed Media Art," which continues through April 27.
Artist: Yu Xiao
Title: Going to School, from the series Nursery Rhymes, 2.
The Fine Print: Giclee print, Epson paper, printed in 2013, edition 4/10, 27 ½ by 39 ¼ inches, signed with a certificate from the artist.
The Lowdown: If we consider photography to be a medium that captures what the eye can see, then we must agree that photography's sole purpose is to reframe reality to coax the eye into paying attention to what otherwise may get lost in a sea of eternal stimulus. Of course then there's Photoshop — and before that other manipulation techniques — which moves photography from a point and shoot to an anything goes kind of activity.
Yo Xiao's process begins with a sketch. She then photographs the visual components separately to piece together an unearthly montage whose aesthetic is rooted in her own psychological reality. Her images evoke a surreal tenor that's breathtakingly crystal clear but with painterly sensibilities. After all, her early works are highly influenced by the oeuvres of French Post-Impressionist painter Henri Rousseau.
The Nursery Rhymes series is Xiao's first attempt to break free from the visual language of Rousseau, an effort that leads to heightened symbolism as means to criticize her homeland's social norms.
In Going to School, a stiff file of uniformed school children, one holding a Chinese flag, appear in perfect architecture. The students rigidity, prominently displayed in the center of the photograph, is layered by the promise of an urban skyline that fades into the horizon. Try as one may to find the differences between each child, the symmetry of their stance is far too strong, causing one to succumb to the summative power of conformity.
Is this civilized utopian world dissipating by the environment in which the children are educated? Is this the kind of world worth aspiring for?
Price: $3,500. (The painting is sold.)