The Guardian – In bloom: the erotic botanics of Shen Wei
March 3, 2017
by Alice Franklin
Snapshot: ‘Between Blossoms’ by Shen Wei
New York-based Chinese photographer Shen Wei’s new series, “Between Blossoms”, features images taken on his travels through Europe, the US and Asia. In the series, Shen Wei concentrates on the interactions between light and dark in the natural world: a bright pink peach tree is contrasted against near-total blackness; a close-up of a white feather is surrounded by dark green grass; an image of a monkey perched on a tree has a central space full of light as its focus. Shen Wei says “Between Blossoms” was inspired by old Chinese painting and its tradition of treating emptiness as solid space, as well as the concept of “qi” or chi — the life force that, according to ancient Chinese philosophy, runs through all natural phenomena. The photographer also says that the series is “deeply connected to [his] inner melancholy” and “dream-like state of mind”.
by Vince Aletti
The Shanghai-born, New York-based photographer builds on a series of provocative self-portraits with a group that proves an unsettled identity can still have a powerful presence. Though nude throughout, Wei reveals only so much, and in the few images where he is not alone the scenarios are fraught but ambiguous. In one, a naked man cups Wei’s throat in a gesture that’s at once intimate and threatening; in another, the photographer sits tensed at the edge of a bed, his back to a naked young woman and a sleeping man. When he’s the only subject, Wei is alternately seductive and introspective, knowing and innocent—part satyr, part sprite.
by Vince Aletti
The photographer, whose radiant still-lifes of fruits and vegetables steal the “Moveable Feast” exhibition at the Museum of the City of New York, shows color portraits and landscapes from his recently published book, “Chinese Sentiment.” Returning to China after years living abroad, Wei looked for traces of the country he remembered, so most of his pictures were made in towns, far from the bustle of Beijing. The work has a hushed, intimate quality, and not just because most of his solitary young male and female subjects are seen half-naked and at home. Even the landscapes are rich with emotion—loving and keenly felt.
by Elisabeth Kley
In “I Miss You Already,” Shen Wei’s ongoing series of exquisite nude self-portrait color photographs, the artist can be viewed as either poised for action or meditative and at rest, depending on the contexts or implied situations, which are always highly suggestive. Wei dramatically reveals his elegant body for the viewer’s delectation.
Inspired by the lighting and scenery in Dutch Old Master paintings, Untitled Self-Portrait (Toes), 2011, shows Shen standing in a weathered green rowboat partially filled with water, his leg gracefully extended as he texts the water with his toe. In Untitled Self-portrait (Balance), 2011, he keeps himself precariously erect atop a rock in the midst of an enormous cave, spreading the danger below. Again contrasting his glowing body with harshness of nature, he poses in a smaller dark cave for Untitled Self-portrait (Bent), 2009, doing a backbend, as if testing his flexibility.
Two Photographs featuring other naked people evoke a different kind of vulnerability. In Untitled Self-portrait (Syracuse), 2011, Shen tilts his head back and closes his eyes while a black man whose head is cropped by the frame gently grasps his throat. A homoerotic situation of mingled trust and menace is implied. Untitled Self-portrait (Woodstock), 2011, features Shen sitting on the side of a hotel bed staring out into the distance. A woman kneels at his side and a man sleeps beside him, but Shen’s soulful expression contradicts any sexual interpretation of the scene. Exposed and unprotected in informal situations, the artist insinuates his body into the outside world, poised at the edge of an always undefined future.
by Andrew M. Goldstein
Photographer Shen Wei’s pictures of contemporary China are taut, wan compositions that seethe with uncertainty: A shirtless man poses against a unfocused, hazy skyline; a tree leans at an improbable 45 degree angle in an ancient courtyard; a girl’s jet-black hair falls over her bare shoulders as she stares away from the camera, faceless, against a blank wall. Now Daniel Cooney Fine Art is showing its first solo show of color photos that Shen took across China between 2008 and 2010 — a display that will be accompanied by the publication of the artist’s first monograph, “Chinese Sentiment,” with text by New Yorker sinologist and “Oracle Bones” author Peter Hessler. At a time when China is experiencing a widespread crackdown on its artistic and intellectual circles, these images give a face to a country with a future as uncertain as its past is etched in stone.
by Sanja Lazic
I have always been fascinated about the idea of Qi– the subtle energy that permeates everything in life and links all its elements together. This idea constantly makes me curious about how human beings and the material world are universally related and bonded to each other – Shen Wei
What the artist Shen Wei is referring to is the traditional Chinese philosophy of Qi, defined as an unseen life force and a method of healing. Although known primarily for his very intimate, raw and revealing photographic portraits in which he questions identity,sexuality and self-acceptance, the latest focus of Wei’s work is specifically on this mysterious vital energy of Qi. Through his art, Wei will take on a journey of exploration, seductiveness and poetics that will be presented as a part of the artist’s first solo exhibition at New York’s Flowers Gallery this January.
Unlike his older works, in Invisible Atlas topics are more personal and delicate than ever. The subject is the artist’s body and personality, through which he channels the internal and external forces. Other noticeable unavoidable elements are those offantasy, deeply connected and rooted in his childhood memories and religious, historical and mythological imagery. Photographic subjects of the figure, objects and landscape are combined with minimally rendered drawings, where luminous dots, circles, arcs, arrows and waves give tangible form to imagined flows and concentrations of Qi. The concept of flowing energy is gaining more and more interest among the western audience and no wonder, since the ancient philosopher Laozi said, Qi embraces “all manifestations of energy, from the most material aspects of energy (such as the earth beneath your feet, the flesh and the blood) to the most immaterial aspects (light, movement, heat, thought, and emotion)”.
Book Review: Chinese Sentiment
by Adam Bell
Judging solely by the numerous photobooks and news reports that have inundated the West in the past ten years, modern China appears alternatively as a skyscraper laden wonderland or a threatening economic and political juggernaut. Rarely do more nuanced reports or reflections on these radical changes appear in the West. Avoiding the jingoistic and sensationalist tenor of recent books, Shen Wei’s first book, Chinese Sentiment, offers an antidote to the neon tigers and faceless masses of recent photographic work on China. Instead, Shen presents a beautiful dream fugue about contemporary China in the throws of tumultuous change that even its populace hasn’t quite fully comprehended.
Leaving his hometown of Shanghai at a young age, Shen came to the United States to study art and later photography. Returning many years later, Chinese Sentiment is his love letter to a China he has lost, but never forgotten. Captured by the eyes of a returning ex-pat, he creates intimate images infused with romantic longing for a world in which he no longer entirely belongs. Avoiding the major urban areas, Shen focuses on smaller cities and peripheral communities that exist outside the major development zones of China. Intimate portraits and nudes mix with restrained landscapes and details offering a poetic portrait of a country in flux.
Chinese Sentiment, by Shen Wei. Published by Charles Lane Press, 2011. Throughout the book, a sense of isolation and melancholy pervades. People are captured alone in their rooms, in somnambulant repose, or various states of undress – as if caught between activities or held inside, fearful of the changing world outside. Although we learn little about the people depicted, Shen’s images are intensely personal and intimate. Like Proust, Shen evokes a China of the senses – each image, pairing or gesture summoning the fleeting memories of a China that once was, but nevertheless still exists, hidden beneath the surface or dormant in Shen’s memories.
Chinese Sentiment, by Shen Wei. Published by Charles Lane Press, 2011. The book is beautifully designed and printed. In addition to gorgeously printed end paper, the cover is foil stamped with an exquisite cherry blossom design. Arranged in short chapters of approximately ten to twelve images each, the images run across the top of the spreads in a pleasing design. Guest edited by Lesley Martin of Aperture, the book also contains a short but insightful essay by Peter Hessler. Charles Lane Press has not put out many books, but they more than made up for the lack of quantity with their excellent quality. Like their recent books by Richard Renaldi and Allison Davies, Chinese Sentiment is clearly a labor of love.
Chinese Sentiment, by Shen Wei. Published by Charles Lane Press, 2011. The last several years have seen an onslaught of photobooks dealing with China. While this is not necessarily bad, there is a numbing sameness to the narrative. Photographers from all over the world seemed to rush to China with their large-format cameras competing to document these changes first – in many cases photographing the same buildings, intersections or construction sites ad nauseam. Emerging quietly after the storm, Chinese Sentiment offers a glimpse behind the COR-TEN and neon forest of contemporary China to reveal a world of poetry and quiet beauty.