Stefanie Schweiger: Chicken Are Not Naked
Photography Exhibition on Artistic Scene in China by Stefanie Schweiger
Since January 2014, Schweiger had accompanied and photographed nine Chinese artists for more than two years. She documented the journey in her book Chicken Are Not Naked, printed and published in Germany by Distanz. The artists she portrayed work across the fields of performance art, installation art, visual art, music, dance, theatre, and creative writing, including Li Binyuan, Tong Kunniao, Bian Yuan, Dong Dong, Gao Ping, Liu Donghong, Boer, Zhai Yongming, and Gao Yanjinzi. Through her photographic images and writings, Schweiger's project offers viewers a nuanced perspective on Chinese contemporary artistic scene, particularly those not necessarily well known or understood by the "mainstream"
Schweiger was born in Gross-Gerau, Germany in 1979. She studied photography under Roger Melis and graduated in 2002 in Berlin. Her work has been published in various magazines in Europe and Asia. First came to China in 2012 and lived in Beijing as a foreigner, Schweiger experienced mixed and ambivalent feelings toward cultural differences in the restricted political atmosphere. As a photographer, Schweiger has always been most interested in people. At the time in Beijing, she became particularly drawn to those with a free spirit, who do what they do with great passion and independence, despite certain constraints. The search eventually led her to the nine artists based in Beijing. Through her direct, concise and respectful documentary and photographs, Schweiger sought to capture and convey the individuality of each artist, revealed glimpses and moments of their lives as artists in pursuing their passion.
Highlighted in the exhibition will be a group of photographs taken by Schweiger capturing the impromptu moments of performance artist Li Binyuan. If Li's actions and performances embodied his personal feelings and experiences while responding to his philosophical questions to society and to everyday life in China, Li was definitely driven by the need to express whenever it took him. His acts were spontaneous, impromptu and hilarious, even when Schweiger ran out of space on her camera, Li still couldn't stop. This very essence of him Schweiger managed to capture in her work.
In addition to the photographs in the exhibition, Schweiger's project will be broken down into groups of stories that happened during her journey with the artists, which will visually map out the moments and contexts by combining clippings, texts and printed materials. For instance, when Schweiger followed Li Binyuan to his home village, she witnessed Li's accident while he was filming his art project; While making dumplings with Gao Ping during Chinese New Year, she accidentally sat on the dumplings out of surprise. There were times Schweiger and the artists laughed and cried together, and times they were at odds. Although she and the artists were from different cultures and with some of them shared little mutual language, yet with compassion and humanity, this journey had been an enlightening and uplifting experience to meet and encounter people.
As Esther Gallodoro, editor of Lettre international, writes in her essay for the book, "There are moments when life is mystifying. So our photographer treads cautiously, bridging the gaps of difference with sensitivity, taking time to find common ground, ready to accept the unfamiliar in every encounter, to find stories that can be shared. Consciously transgressing boundaries to create an open space (...). With every person she meets, Stefanie Schweiger seeks to balance proximity and distance, the familiar and the foreign, knowledge and ignorance, interpretation and documentation."