“Buildings from the 1950s and ’60s arenot only symbols of the New China, but also symbols of Chinese socialist culture.”
Born Beipiao, Liaoning, 1967
Wang Guofeng’s stunning 2007 photo series Ideality (or Ideal) examines the legacy of Chinese socialism through the so-called Ten Grand Buildings of Beijing. Erected in 1959 to mark the tenth anniversary of the People’s Republic, they were conceived as lasting monuments to the achievements of socialist rule. These vast edifices (all completed in a state-mandated ten months) proclaimed the triumph of reason, modernity and people power. But those ideals were mere façades: even as the Grand Buildings rose, the institutionalised insanity of the Great Leap Forward was returning the economy to the dark ages and millions of people were starving to death. Though socialism is still China’s ruling ideal, capitalism is its functional reality. Wang Guofeng grew up under socialism and is all too aware of its disregard for the people it claims to represent (a few years ago, the government seized his studio and evicted him without compensation). Yet capitalism can be chaotic, callous and ugly. Wang Guofeng feels suspended between the two, in a state of “absurdity and alienation” that he explores through his photographs. Using a Phase One camera and digital-imaging system and powerful Mac Pro computers, he divides a scene into small sections, captures each one in megapixel detail, then digitally welds the images together for printing; each picture in Ideality is 2.5 metres long. During the assembly process he removes people and other “distractions” and inserts himself dressed in a Mao suit—the only living person in these eerie meditations on the Stalinist-Modernist-nationalist foundations of the People’s Republic of China.