Ever since photography pushed Western painting away from its reliance on realistic representation over a century ago it has taken over society’s desire to represent their lives and surroundings as a form of facsimile. Today’s non-stop hurricane of photo-images in print and web media is so much part of our physical and psychological landscape that we have almost ceased to recognize them as photographs. Within this field of image saturation, the quest for visual arts photographers has been to create images that stay. This is attested by the millions of spectacular images created in the media everyday that are quickly forgotten compared to images created by artists such as Jeff Wall or Wolfgang Tillmans that are remembered despite their seemingly mundane imagery. For Western artists, their own art history allows access to concepts and techniques going back two thousand years, but the same cannot be said for Chinese contemporary artists. Unlike Western art, Chinese traditional art was not based on realistic depiction, and as such does not offer a vast back-catalogue of visual ideas for artists to access from their own cultural memory banks. Consequently, the ‘weaker’ imagery that Western photography based artists can explore is far harder to exploit for Chinese artists. Instead, they need to find formal or subversive conduits between the worlds of photography, conceptual art, and the media.
Dada achieved this by exploding the materiality of photography and media with conceptual bombs and to use the debris in creating hybrids called collage. While collage is now an established art form in the West, Chinese artists have seldom explored this territory even though it appears to be a language that can resonate with the chaos of Chinese contemporary urban existence. In order to explore new possibilities more actively, a group of Chinese artists not exclusively engaged in photography have proposed a new approach in an attempt to open up a broader vision of photography: Instead of inviting photographers to re-imagine contemporary photography in China, the proposal is for artists working in other media but who explore their visual world using a kind of editorial visual logic can transpose their ideas on to a photo based plane. The result is the exhibition EDIT, for which a curatorial group of four Chinese artists have invited 14 leading artists including art teams working in installation, film and video, painting, and photography to search for new ideas in photo based imagery.