Chen Zhe

Artist: CHEN ZHE 陈哲

DOB: 1989
POB: Beijing
Education: Art Center College of Design, Pasadena, California 2011
Lives and works: Beijing
No. works in collection: 2
Brief Bio:
Chen Zhe was born in Beijing in 1989, and was awarded her degree in Photography and Imaging from the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, California, in 2011. Her work was immediately acclaimed: she was the recipient of the Three Shadows Award, Lianzhou Foto Festival Photographer of the Year Award, and the Inge Morath Award from the Magnum Foundation (all 2011), was nominated for the Prix Pictet in 2012, and presented with the Xitek New Talent Award in 2016. She is featured in the documentary films ‘Chinese Viewfinder’ (2013) and ‘China Through the Lens of Youth’ (2014). Her controversial series of works ‘The Bearable’ and ‘Bees’ were published as a book by Jiajazhi Press in 2016 –– it was awarded Best Photobook of the year at Fotobookfestival, Kassel. Chen’s work has been shown in London. and in the 11th Shanghai Biennale, ‘Why Not Ask Again?’  (2016). She lives and works in Beijing. 

Artworks

#1 Accession Number: 2017.096
Title: The Bearable
Date: 2007–10
Broad Medium: Photography/Work on Paper
Specific Materials: Inkjet Print
Dimensions: 30 pieces, dimensions variable
Description: The Bearable is a reflective documentation of the artist’s dark, though occasionally euphoric, history of self-inflicted harm from 2007 to 2010

Exhibition History: White Rabbit Gallery Exhibition 20 ‘Hot Blood’ 2019
Brief description:
The Bearable documents Chen Zhe’s practice of self-harm for the six years up to 2010. With an unflinching gaze, Chen photographed the results as she sliced repeatedly into the flesh of her arms, cutting line after line with a razor-sharp blade. The cuts ooze drops of blood, and the aftermath of bloody gauze and bandages produce surprisingly beautiful images that recall still life paintings. Other photographs in the series show scalp wounds where it seems she has violently pulled out her own hair, and the hair itself, fallen onto bathroom tiles. Other black and white photographs show both these forms of self-mutilation: the artist’s arm, scabbed and scarified with repeated cuts, slashes, and even words carved into her flesh –– ‘I am not what you think’ –– is seen holding a jagged shard of glass. Beneath her on a tiled floor lie clumps of her black hair, some still attached to pieces of skin. Extreme close-up shots of bloodshot eyes in black and white recall the notorious scene in Luis Buñuel’s and Salvador Dali’s 1928 surrealist film, ‘Le Chien Andalou’, in which it appears that a woman’s eye has been sliced apart by a razor, but Chen’s images have always been personal in origin. She recalls that in high school, when she began this secret practice, the cathartic act was always followed by taking photographs: she kept the image files on her computer because she found them beautiful.  L. Guest 2017

#2 Accession Number: 2017.097
Title: Bees
Date: 2010 –12
Broad Medium: Photography/Work on Paper
Specific Materials: Inkjet Print
Dimensions: 40 photographic prints – dimensions variable – and additional letters and text elements
Description: Bees combines photographic documentation with a collection of letters, diary entries, online chat histories, quote fragments and scribbles that the artist exchanged with her subjects

Exhibition History: White Rabbit Gallery Exhibition 20 ‘Hot Blood’ 2019
Brief description:
In the Autumn of 2010, not yet graduated from college, Chen Zhe returned to China from the United States and began a separate but connected project. Previously, using online forums, she had found people who shared her experiences of self-harming, and had exchanged information with them; visiting six different cities, from the north to the south of China, she met the thirty or so who had replied to her invitation to take part in an art project. Presented as image and text, like a form of diary-like documentation, Chen added diary entries, scribbled notes, online chat histories, letters, and fragments of quotes to the printed photographs. She had become very interested in the work of artists such as Nan Goldin, Robert Mapplethorpe and Sophie Calle, and most particularly in what she calls the ‘textual-visual / reading-viewing relationship’ in their work. Chen doesn’t identify herself as a photographer, as her work spills beyond the traditional borders of the medium. She called her subjects ‘bees’, in reference to some lines from the Roman poet Virgil:
…if hurt, they breathe
Venom into their bite, cleave to the veins
And let the sting lie buried, and leave their lives
Behind them, in the wound.
To Chen, the image of the bee dying in order to protect its life was unbearably poignant, encapsulating the dilemma of those who seek release from psychic pain by inflicting physical pain on themselves.  She also wanted to honour her subjects by describing them in a way that did not pathologise them. Rather than being objectively disinterested, like an anthropological study or photodocumentary might be, she wanted to emphasise her empathy with her subjects.  

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