Mention Beijing, and one of the first things that comes to mind is urbanization and the city’s wholesale transformation into a 21st-century megalopolis in one short decade. Among its adopted millions is photographer Jiang Pengyi, who has spent the past few years focusing intently on the razing and rising of Beijing, and on the worldwide trend toward urbanization, in two exquisitely produced series, “Unregistered City” and “Everything Illuminates.” These are paired at Klein Sun Gallery in “Glimpses,” the artist’s first solo exhibition in the United States, appropriately located in another of the world’s megacities subject to continual reshaping: New York.
“Unregistered City” consists of eight large-scale photographs, each one so artfully constructed that it took Jiang three years to complete this series. At first glance, or, in keeping with the exhibition’s multivalent title, “glimpse,” the photographs appear to document crumbling, half-demolished interior spaces, as in Unregistered City No. 1 (2008), in which sunlight streams through a dirty window, illuminating a corner littered with dirt and debris. Or is it? Little glowing embers scattered about the dun-colored floor draw the eye in for a closer look, revealing a hyper-detailed miniature city sprouting out of the detritus, densely packed with skyscrapers, a helipad, and, as it turns out, not embers but brightly lit neon signs. In a clever nod to Hong Kong, another mini-city takes the form of an urbanized archipelago floating in the murky water of a disused bathtub, while a third clusters almost cutely at the edge of a nook.
In “Everything Illuminates,” Jiang also takes viewers indoors, this time into darkened domestic settings. Focusing on a single element within these settings—the edge of a table, a few steps—he pours a mixture of hot wax and phosphorescent powder over their surfaces, tracing their forms with this eerily glowing substance, then taking a picture. In Everything Illuminates No. 6 (2012), he captures a chair isolated against a wall. Rubbed with the phosphorescent wax, its upholstered seat emits a fuzzy blue glow, which serves as the scene’s only source of illumination. Here, again, outside meets inside, where tiny cities rise in old structures slated for demolition, and the home, no longer a sanctuary, is permeated with the glow of light pollution or nuclear power. Jiang offers glimpses of the destructive ramifications of unchecked development, into which nature and human beings are being swallowed.
“Glimpses” is on view at Klein Sun Gallery May 9-June 21, 2014.