Bo Wang is a young photographer born in Chongqing and currently based in Brooklyn. After studying Physics at Tsinghua, a renowned Chinese university, he changed direction with a MFA at New York’s School of Visual Arts. After being exhibited in New York, his Heteroscope series took part in the 2011 Lianzhou International Photo Festival.
These photographs show what Bo terms a “battlefield of transition” (all citations are from Bo’s statement). The lack of rational planning behind the programs of urbanization and renewal has affected historical continuity and has created weird juxtapositions of architectonic styles and functions and “an unpredictable visual texture”. As member of a generation growing in a time when demolition and urban change has been the natural state of things, Bo’s photographs offer a testimony of resistance in the form of residue, the “something puncturing” (here’s a reference to Barthes punctum, I would venture) that questions the narrative of progress behind urban development in China.
These images focus largely on architecture, and in that sense, Bo’s work has a sort of archaeological nature, as he tries to reveal hidden layers and juxtaposition of temporalities.
Moreover, the series reflect on the architectural sediments that compose the urban form. As if making this point, one of the images frames the character shi市 for ‘city’ in the rectangular strip of light of a window.
At the same time, it is no coincidence that in his writing Bo refers to landscape. The new buildings and compounds create new compositions that extend beyond architecture, and into something different than urbanism. Landscape in the Chinese context has a particular meaning and load, engaging with a centuries-long tradition of representation and even projection of subjectivities into the layout of mountains and waters. Though Bo uses the more neuter and modern form jingguan 景观, related to the act of looking, rather than the traditional shanshui 山水 of the mountain-and-water traditional painting, in occasions the cultural dialogue seems quite explicit: either in introducing an element that disturbs the modernist objective gaze with an individual perspective, or in laying out the landscape with an awareness of the distances created by greenery, water and haze.
There is finally a group of images that take into account, quite explicitly, the ongoing nature of demolition and construction, with the resulting production of debris and waste. While reminiscent of many other images of similar buildings, Bo flattens the images by the overwhelming presence of these precocious ruins, billboards that herald a dubious announcement of progress and modernization. Their dialogue with the physical, historical context is minimal, across cracks, holes, and lateral stripes of those equally anonymous buildings that frame, as drop scenes, the spectacle of urbanization.