Beichen Zhang: Revisiting the Ruins and Mazes in the Photographic Archives

Beichen Zhang: Revisiting the Ruins and Mazes in the Photographic Archives

News>         Time: 2020-07-25 14:19:58 | Source: Art China


“Photography-based archives are not photo data stored in wooden drawers or digital clouds but are windows about each individual and spatial memory.” Beichen Zhang explained his photographic creation.


Currently, as the Winner of Media Award in the 12th Three Shadows Photography Award, artist Beichen Zhang’s new photography project file type will be exhibited on the “Xiamen Three Shadows Art Center Resonance: 2020 (the twelfth) Three Shadows Photography Award Exhibition on the 25th this month.  The project has received extensive attention from film critics and media since it was shortlisted for the Miami Independent Film Festival this year. It will also be displayed on the 15th Galician International Anthropology Film Festival in Spain, the nominated exhibition of East Asia Experimental Image Contest at the 34th Photo Forum Festival in Japan, and the London Sunshine Art Award-winning tour show.


The photographic archives of the project depict the story of a Han Dynasty tomb fragment numbered “40-35-4” sold by cultural relics from China’s Shandong Peninsula. Colonial history migrated to the Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology of the University of Pennsylvania in the United States, where it is located today. In this art project, Beichen Zhang is guided by personal investigation clues. The almost real but fictional part of this history is constructed in the form of photographic archives exhibition, which shows his thinking about the institutional problems existing in western museums and the complex state changes of power behind them.


Over the years, the artist is constantly using the creative technique of archival photography to carry out his artistic creation. He believes that archival photography projects are not limited to on-the-spot research projects, but with the help of the thinking mode of their own photographic archives, artists can reconstruct their own narrative by comparing modern and past images, reviewing and reconstructing them. A metaphorical and poetic visual experience can be constructed to show those missing personal memories and history. After further induction and guidance, it can form a supplement or criticism to the institutional narrative.


[Picture 1: Picture selected from prose movie “11,565 Kilometers Project”, Beichen Zhang, 2020]


In Beichen Zhang’s early archival photography collage “Mirror”, he carried out the image collage experiment with the concept of “image maze”. He derived the view of “image maze” creation through the collage and re-combination of images. In the process of image arrangement, he used the image as a sensory material to extract it from the original context, and serialized and instructively summarized the existing images. And give it a new context, based on which Zhang deconstructs the authenticity of the image and the mechanism of how the image is viewed.


[Picture 2: Beichen Zhang’s “Mirror” series in New York Tribeca Art Gallery Exhibition. Picture credit to New York Art Center in Tribeca]


In Beichen Zhang’s works, he uses images, newspapers, lead plates and other materials to create a collage that blurs the boundaries, each part of which is like a laid-out investigation panel, providing a key to interpret the other part of the picture. Through the interspersing and guidance between images and messages, the artist overlaps the reality around him and the strange scenes he questions into the background. Here, the materials become complex but full of stories, they not only constitute the rich texture of this work, but also metaphor the clues of the riddle space encoded by the artist, so that the power behind the image can be magnified. The gaze relationship of the viewer is hypothesized.


[Picture 3: Beichen Zhang’s “Mirror” series 2 was exhibited at the New York Art Center in Tribeca. Picture credit to New York Art Center in Tribeca]


Not only in the stories of individual experience, Beichen Zhang has also been conducting a four-year long-term photographic archive “Strangers” project. The project is a long-term photographic survey project initiated by Beichen Zhang. Since 2016, he has conducted archival photographic records and image archives investigation of several camps inhabited by labor immigrants in Shandong area. The reorganization of the collection has created a hypothetical landscape of labor migration. With the narrative clues brought by the reorganization of objects, Beichen Zhang sketched out a series of fantasies about this period of urbanization history on this landscape. Here, in this way, the artist metaphors his thinking about the disorder brought about by dispersion, showing the current situation of the diaspora brought about by the urbanization of northern cities, and the fundamental change in the way of personal memory behind this situation.


[Picture 4: Beichen Zhang’s “Strangers” series of photography exhibited at the 2020 North Asia Exhibition of Asian Arts & Culture Center of Towson University, Beichen Zhang, 2016-2020]


In the current complex and ever-changing environment, Beichen Zhang is still exploring photographic archival images. In early 2020, after a fire broke out at the Chinese Museum in New York, he joined the museum. At present, he is involved in the arrangement and restoration of image archives and continues to explore the possibility of what kind of historical stories image archives produce in the proposition of “Historical institutions and Image Collection”.



Beichen Zhang, born in Shandong, China, received his Master’s degree in Photography and Electronic Media Art from Maryland Institute of Art in 2019. The main media and working methods of his works are prose films and fieldwork based on the study of narrative structure and hidden history. Recently, he has also explored a wide range of media, using audio, devices, photographic books and other media to study and investigate the relationship between cultural relics and Asian colonial history, the complexity of historical archives and image anthropology.

His works construct a metaphorical and poetic visual experience through personal narration, and re-examine and construct a poetic visual language with his own thoughts through the interdisciplinary study of archaeology and anthropology, history and art. Beichen Zhang’s works have been exhibited in China and overseas, and now work at the Chinese Museum in New York, USA.