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Timely Illuminations
April 3 – April 23, 2016
→ Hessel Museum of Art
Curated by
  • Yanhan Peng
Part of
Exhibition Category
Thesis Exhibitions

Participants: Ren Shulin, North River Union, and Fission Group

Timely Illuminations examines the histories of the pioneering Chinese photography publication, Modern Photography (1984-1993), that provided a venue for artistic dialogues in China’s social and political contexts of the 1980s and early 1990s. Modern Photography emerged within an era of idealism that followed the end of China’s Cultural Revolution, providing a unique space for a generation of emerging artists working with forms of documentary and conceptual photography. The magazine’s editorial and artistic activities provided a public sphere for artists’ newfound freedoms of expression and experimentation with the photographic image.

The practices of North River Union (Shanghai) and the Fission Group (Beijing) emerged amidst critical social transitions in the 1980s, focusing on urban imagery and exploring photographic languages drawn from contemporary art and photography from the West. Ren Shulin’s ten-year documentation of middle-school students are also included in this exhibition: although these photographs were never shown during the 1980s, since their discovery twenty years later, they have since elicited nostalgia for that period, and provide an important context for photographic work of the 1980s and more recent responses to it. This exhibition concludes in 1993, upon the restructuring of Modern Photography, and the emergence of underground publications in 1996. After this period, China’s New Photo movement would come to situate its ideals and aesthetic values in a more international environment.