Shi’s second body of work, “Retrotopia” (2018–ongoing), is similarly guided by the emotional pull of nostalgia. The series examines life in three villages that purport to be “the last bastions of China’s socialism utopia,” Shi explained, as the rest of the country marks four decades since it departed from Maoism and embraced market socialism.
“But Mao’s China is a thing of the past, and younger, more individualistic villagers sometimes chafe under the reality of life lived inside of a time capsule,” Shi writes in his artist statement. He most often turns his lens on youth because “they represent the country’s future,” he said, explaining that the gap between his generation and his parents’ often feels hard to bridge.
The two series are inextricably linked, as they both explore the uncertainty of China’s rapidly changing social and economic landscape. “‘Retrotopia’ is an exploration of where we come from, and ‘Solastalgia’ is trying to question where we are heading,” he explained.