“Equal Relationships” is about personal photography, showcasing works by two young Mainland Chinese artists: 223 (aka Lin Zhi Peng) and Ren Hang. Both artists use the photographic medium as an essential means to express individualism and existential concerns. By portraying their own generation in modern day china, their images reflect the spontaneous and random living conditions in the subculture, contrasting the upbeat with the gloomy.
Visually, both 223 and Ren Hang have a number of things in common. Their images blur the boundaries between private and public by displaying their intimate lives and close acquaintances in their work. Such images capture the instantaneity of their lifestyle and a yearning to escape from the present. Their works depict subjects such as alcohol and drug consumption, sex, homosexuality, bodily media and give significance to the mundane. By using photography as a means of communication via social media, their images are posted, shared, followed and commented extensively and unprecedentedly. Photography has become a tool to engage others and reach out to the outside world.
Despite their apparent similarities, the ways in which these images are constructed could not be more different. 223’s snapshot aesthetic spontaneously documents his subjects in the everyday, offering clues to his lifestyle choices. In his own words, “My works are part of my life and only exist when I live my life”. On the other hand, Ren’s carefully constructed staged photography (in some cases pretending to be snapshot) is more ambiguous with the subject devoid of any sense of self. Ren’s images represent a surface where this suggestion of lifestyle choice is nothing more then an idea, in contrast with sumptuous images such as flowers and naked bodies. At times the work is exploitative and highly fetishistic, provoking a more immediate emotional response, where the artist’s motive is unclear; at other times the work is abstract and minimalistic, inviting a quiet contemplation.
By placing the works of 223 and Ren together we present not only the contrast and clashes between them, but also how they use the camera as a mirror to reflect themselves and by doing so representing China’s youth subculture.