Snapshot to WeChat: A Migration of Identity

Snapshot to WeChat: A Migration of Identity

The Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool
Until 17th June 2018

Reviewed by Mostyn Jones

When art addresses the influence of social media there is often a tendency to take a strong stance for or against it. The arguments from both sides have been made many times, social networks are responsible for either the creeping erosion or wondrous evolution of human interaction. It is to the credit of the Open Eye Gallery’s exhibition on the subject that it presents a more nuanced perspective.

The exhibition presents work from three contributors, anthropologist Dr Xinyuan Wang; editor and collector Thomas Sauvin; and photographer Teresa Eng. Together the works are intended to explore how the act of taking photos of oneself influences the way we view our identity in the world. The exhibition is also a part of China Dream, a series of events and installations exploring the city’s historical links with the Chinese community.

Walking into the gallery the first work that we see is Dr Wang’s, a series of images taken from the social media accounts of the residents of a small factory town in rural China. We see how the community has adapted to online life just as they have adapted to urbanisation, and how the different generations have dealt with that transition. Wang’s work is illuminating and the images and their accompanying captions have a penetrating insight.

Moving through the gallery we then come to Sauvin’s work, an archive of photographs sourced from negatives found at a recycling plant outside of Beijing. The images are not dated but mostly come from the late seventies and eighties, a period of economic reform when many Chinese citizens were enjoying cheap consumer goods for the first time; presumably including the very cameras the images were taken on.

The photographs themselves are enjoyably kitsch and they present a great accompaniment to the other work, but it is a little frustrating that the exhibition was not curated to draw a stronger link between the two sets of images. Sauvin’s photographs are arguably the expression of the same ideas we see in Wang’s, so perhaps starting with the older images as a lead-in would have felt like a more natural way to experience the ideas behind the exhibition. Moving from snapshot to webcam.

The final work is that of Chinese-Canadian photographer Teresa Yang, a series of the photographers’ portraits of young people in a Chinese shopping district presented alongside a selfie from their own phone. The photographs show the contrast between the subjects’ ideal and actual presentations of themselves.

The Open Eye has also commissioned a new series of paired images, taken on the streets of Liverpool, and these are presented alongside. Though Yang’s work is simple in concept, the execution is thoughtful and precise and it provides an excellent summation of the themes of the show.

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