Chinese artist Cheng Ran (b. 1981) expresses the modernization and globalization of the Chinese culture. He does this by presenting traditional Chinese motifs together with pop culture images in video art with Hollywood aesthetic. Cheng's comprehension of the globalization of his Asian, and more specifically, Chinese heritage, is as a process, an erasing. This erasing occurs simultaneously with an insertion of foreign content – bootlegged Western pop culture products permeate the Chinese market, distributing an abundance of illegal versions of books, films and CDs that influenced Cheng and his peers growing up in modernized China. The bootlegged versions are based on their original sources, but endowed with different covers, added chapters, voice dubbing etc.
In his work, Cheng Ran draws upon the tension between the original and the rip-off, the source and the copy, the postmodernity of a market of remakes, for inspiration. This tension exposes itself as a gap, a void of difference, which functions as a starting point for Cheng – a space he can investigate, alter and create. He adds stories, alters the soundtrack and creates new narratives out of the dialogue between the original product and its remake. His practice is mainly highly stylized video and film, but he also works with photography and installation.
In his video work "1971-2000" (2012), acquired by the Tiroche DeLeon Collection, Cheng reproduces the iconography and cinematography from Stanley Kubrik's A Clockwork Orange (1971) and Wim Wender's The Million Dollar Hotel (2002). The main character is a visual rip-off of Kubrik's Alex DeLarge, and the video opens with an appropriation of the mise-en-scene in Clockwork's exposition – a close up on Alex's mascara-d face, slowly retracting to reveal the rest of the setting to the familiar classical Henry Purcell theme song from Clockwork. From there, the scene fades into the opening rooftop montage from Million Dollar Hotel to the sound of "I Feel Love" by U2. Alex appears in the scene, prancing in slow motion on the rooftops, until the end of the track where he throws himself off the roof – cleverly launching himself back into A Clockwork Orange's narrative. In this piece, Cheng created an entirely new narrative, a hybrid impressionism of the two films it is based upon, which creates a meaning derived from the connotations of the films in pop culture and on its own as a work of art.
CHENG RAN, "1971-2000", 2012, Single channel video with sound, 7 min 47
For another intriguing video piece, which is also part of the Tiroche DeLeon Collection at present, Cheng teams up with French artist Item Idem (alter ego of artist Cyril Duval) to create "Joss" (2013). The video shows various realistic-looking paper objects catching fire and exploding in slow motion to the sound of classical opera music. Many of the objects refer to pop culture products and consumerism culture, like a Chanel handbag, smartphones and a MacBook, a mini McDonald's branch, a Mickey Mouse figurine. Other objects reference Chinese culture, like a dragon statue. All the objects explode like fire crackers, demonstrating the artwork's title: "Joss" borrowed from Joss Paper, paper-made burnt offerings used in various Asian religious practices. The work elevates Western pop culture and Asian religion onto an identical level, while exposing the insubstantiality of both. The objects are made of paper – they do not function other than to carry their "brand" and pop culture associations, they are as good as material for burning. The fire-cracker explosions expose how these Western influences have penetrated Chinese culture, to an extent that they are part of the Asian religious practice, thus threatening to erase traditional Chinese culture. The slow-motion technique and classical soundtrack refer to the Hollywood's dramatic explosion scenes, and also pay a melancholic ode to a culture going up in flames, like a Christmas fire-cracker.
CHENG RAN, "Joss", 2013, Single channel video with sound, 6 min 02
Cheng has exhibited at many galleries and institutions in China and abroad, such as “Moving Image in China: 1988-2011” (Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai, 2011), “Farewell to Post-colonialism: The Third Guangzhou Triennial” (Guangdong Art Museum, 2008), “Immersion and Distance” (Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2009), “Yi Pai–Century Thinking” (Today Art Museum, Beijing, 2009), “The Tell-tale Heart” (James Cohan Gallery Shanghai and New York, 2010 and 2011), “In A Perfect World…” (Meulensteen Gallery, New York, 2011), and "Boy: A Contemporary Portrait" (Leo Xu Projects, Shanghai, 2012). Cheng Ran is represented by Leo Xu Projects and Urs Meile gallery.
By: Melanie Stern
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