At Beetles + Huxley, China’s Yellow River Winds its Way to London

May 13, 2016 4:31PM

Shan shui, a Chinese word denoting landscape or topography, breaks down into something akin to “mountain-water,” a composite word that understands the physical world from a slightly different perspective than traditional Western-style landscape art. For Chinese photographer Kechun Zhang, the physical world shifts between the meanings inherent to both landscape and shan shui. A solo exhibition of his work, currently on view at Beetles + Huxley in London, features images that oscillate between a view of the physical world as a vulnerable realm impacted by the desires and exploits of civilization, but also as an overwhelming force to be reckoned with.

Shot with a large-format Linhof camera and deliberately overexposed, Zhang’s “Yellow River” series is infused with quiet unrest and uneasy serenity. His photographs of the river—the length of which he traversed, pilgrim-like, over the course of several years on a fold-up bicycle—document the physical features and human-influenced parameters of the river, but they also look beyond these aspects to something less tangible. Largely taken on overcast days, the photographs have a muted palette, emphasized by the river’s famously silted waters, which are prone to devastating floods.

In another series, “Between the Mountains and the Water,” topography sings with a poetic longing slowly revealed in lunar-like vistas and low, hazy horizons. The wide shots give the topographies room to breathe; yet in so doing so, they also emphasize the miniscule stature of humans in relation to the natural world. “The power of humans is nothing compared to the power of nature, even when we try to change it,” Zhang has said.

—Grace-Yvette Gemmell


Kechun Zhang’s work is on view at Beetles+Huxley, London, Apr. 20–May 21, 2016.

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