Yajing Hu’s install was of three unframed photos of replicated dressed artist’s drawing dummies in groups (the artist had initially placed one of the dummies on a plinth in front of the photographs but after discussion decided to remove it as the pictures were strong enough on their own).
The images might at first be suggestive of a commentary on the loss of identity of the individual in the present time. However, a longer look reveals that the arrangement of the figures perhaps also recalls formal photos of communist functionaries and workers from before the conversions to capitalist in Eastern Europe and China. The faded, desaturated aesthetic adds superbly to the sense of a past era. But after further consideration the feeling emerges that the faceless, identical figures could be robots from some nightmarish post-human future. This a future where the state dominates its subjects not for some hoped-for greater good (as with communism) but because it is the logical destination of power in a digital era. The seeming ease of endless replication that Yajing Hu brilliantly generates reinforces the fear that at some point every human endeavour will be overwhelmed and replaced. Alternatively, within the framework of Deleuze’s desiring machines, are the models Bodies Without Organs whose uniforms result from recording by the system?
These uncertainties over what is meant oppose in an interesting way the clarity of what is physically depicted. The figures themselves give rise to further uncertainty as it is hard to work out how they have been created, for example, whether the immaculate clothes have been made materially or in Photoshop – in either case it would seem an extraordinary amount of labour would be involved (in the current state of technology).
These elements also help the pictures escape from the representational restrictions of the classic photograph. The timelessness of and the repetition within the pictures refuse to allow a “punctum” or some other kind of personal association for the viewer of a copied reality or remembered emotional state. The unfussy, casual presentation of the unframed pictures aids in this undermining of the status of the photograph, just as the figures themselves have no status.
The exquisite production combined with the multiply suggestive concept indicates the work of an artist of great talent and insight.