Photography Reforged refers to Cai Dongdong's reflection, deconstruction and reconstruction of the operational mechanism and the image production of the medium of photography. Almost from the moment that he stopped shooting photographs, Cai Dongdong has become a photography artist, and more accurately, become an artist who works on photography. He quitted being an image producer, instead, he started to work on photos that already exist in reality, or, 'surging these photos like a surgeon'.
The photographs are partly taken from the discarded photos he took in the past, but more from the flea markets where he collects a variety of old photos and negatives, bring them back to the 'darkroom', and think about possible 'surgical' solutions from time to time. Curling, sanding, transplanting, scratching, tearing, burning and else, just like operating with a scalpel which has a sense of violence, but in fact the goal is to save, is to discover some kind of 'dramatic structure' behind the rigid images and offer them new vitality. This process depends on whether there is the possibility of creating a new 'punctum' , as he looks into the images and the images look back into him.
The photography around us is still mainly focused on how to produce a new photo in the form of documentary, role-playing and digital production, yet Cai Dongdong 'tries to extend an (old) photo'–in this way, a photo can be alienated into a painting, a sculpture, an installation and even a theatre space, to some extent, it transforms photography from industrial production to manual form. The extension of the image is accompanied by the deconstruction of the image. For Cai Dongdong, perhaps his 'punctum' means the pleasure of deconstruction–the deconstruction of the original context of the image, as well as the ideology behind it.
Although some of the works like The Rolled-up Road, he implemented some kind of social intervention in the way of reversing the image, but in my opinion, the most critical part of Cai Dongdong's work is not just the visual intervention, but the complete overturn of the one-way photography viewing method. When you view the photos, the photos also view you–this is the point that he always reminds himself and us at anytime, for which he always put in mirrors or camera lens in his works, to highlight the gazing and encroachment from the images. Therefore, a rotational relationship between the viewer and the image is established, and the human subjectivity is no longer there–the mirror re-encloses us into the image, and the lens - we make the lens, but we become slaves or victims of the lens.
His metaphysical thinking about the image also gave birth to another installation, A Jar Camera, as a lens was framed in an ancient pottery pot which was unearthed in his hometown. The subtext seems to tell the story that the human history is already full of all kinds of 'photography' even before the invention of the camera...
Press release courtesy Leo Gallery.