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Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Ren Hang II

I have realized since I made the remarks previous to these that I failed utterly to view Hang's work through the lenses I have so carefully contructed, trame and the idea of "network." So I thought about that.

My first thought was that these pictures are almost astonishing in how little they refer to anything outside the frame. The are fully self contained, each is entirely a little world. My next thought was that they might therefore just as well be paintings. Which leads to my third thought which was good lord there's no way these things could be paintings which leads, tangentially perhaps, into the notion of network.

These pictures are entirely about the situation of being photographed. The subjects are all exquisitely conscious of being photographed, often making direct eye contact, and almost invariably posed very very obviously For The Camera. These things are practically selfies. It is entirely about the fact that there were really one or more actual naked people out there being photographed. As paintings or drawings they would be bad graffiti, at best, and completely different. As a photograph the mildly lurid reality of the set becomes real, it comes home to us.

While I don't think this makes them good as such, because it still seems to be a young man without any ideas beyond twitting the puritans and making visual jokes. But it certainly makes them extremely photographic and goes a long way toward helping us understand the Art World's fascination with the work. These are a powerful expression of the modern selfie-generation photography. These things wouldn't exist without social media, and would make a lot less sense without social media as a backdrop. Even the geometric groupings of naked girls could be, with a bit of stretching, be considered a nod to the standard "6 drunk girls throwing peace signs at a party" picture that infests Facebook and so on.

The intense self-consciousness is, I think, the thing that drives Hang's pictures if anything does. And that, well, I think that's kind of interesting. It certainly separates him from Richardson and his ilk, who seem to be striving for a "oh dear me, I am being photographed, what a surprise" flavor.


  1. 1: if you feel compelled to post about his work TWICE, probably Ren Hang is more of an artist than you (or I...) would admit.

    2: the work reminds me of Anders Petersen. Different culture, but same idea. What do you think?

    1. Well, I've posted about MY work many times, so by THAT measure I'm Vermeer ;)

      I just now spent a little time looking at Petersen's work and yeah, I see some parallels. They two sets of pictures don't jump about at me as related, but I can see that they might jump out at a different person that way.

    2. I am not so sure why the two are related, but they seem to be about the same kind of people, the one you described in your earlier post as "bored with constantly screwing one another" Although they lived in different countries, they appear to have the same kind of attitude about sexuality, don't you think?

      And maybe that is what made the pictures somewhat famous in both cases. They are not really "shocking", because sexuality stopped to be shocking in the 60s. But most people do not experience this kind of sexuality and thus find people who do somewhat puzzling.

    3. Another question: do you think Ren Hang would have had the same success WITHOUT the implied sexuality? There is plenty of artistic nude photography on the Internet, there are even some photographers who contort their models in poses which are just as difficult to hold (Michael Ezra comes to mind), are they just as famous?

      It is an honest question: would Ren Hang be as successful without the implied voyeurism? I wonder.

    4. Absolutely note. Ren Hang's fame, naturally, derives from a collection of inter-related factors not the least of which is blind luck.

      But also:

      He hits a handy chord of lone artist fighting the brutal PRC regime, very popular with the west and those influenced by the west. The PRC, being as much under the spell of the west's ideas of culture as anyone else west of the date line, is probably, weirdly, vulnerable to this idea.

      Hang also demonstrated that he could crank this material out reliably, very important to the curators etc.

      Hang also had an attractive narrative of depression, the tortured youth, and so on. I have no idea if his poetry was any good, but that it exists at all certainly aids his personal narrative.

      In short, the total package was very marketable, in the right ways.

      It would have been nice if he'd had some ideas as well, but his resolute and vocal not-having of them served nearly as well, I think.

  2. Yes, the shots all convene the feeling of "Look at me, I'm in a place doing things right now" that is the base of the selfie. Certainly it is a thing more interesting that the usual stuff floating in "the Net".

    1. So what makes these "selfies" more interesting than the usual selfie?

    2. Well, surely the fact that they're not actually selfies helps out a bit. Also, they're naked.