A street wear photo exhibition aiming to place Western sensibilities in the East, held on the upper floor of a Western-style street wear shop situated in the midst of Shanghai – the framing couldn’t be more telling for the Superdry Project. 25 students from the Photography, Editorial and Advertising program of The University of Gloucestershire in the U.K. got paired with 25 students of The Suzhou Art Design and Technology Institute; the result of their work has been showing at Source Gallery this last week. The aim was to let Superdry, a UK clothing brand founded in 2003, meet Shanghai in photographic works, installations and films.
To enter the exhibition one first has to walk through Source fashion store at Xinle Lu, a walk surrounded by hoodies, tank tops and sneakers that gives a foretaste of the exhibition theme. Up the stairs to the graffiti decorated art space where – no, not wine – but draft beer is served and the photos are hanging straight down from the roof, creating a sort of maze that you have to go round, slink between and crouch under to make it through. Sort of like walking down a Chinese street when a line of drying clothes is suddenly hanging in your way.
One of the students, 18-year-old Christina Barrett gave us a tour around the exhibition to tell us more about the project and the photos. We asked her about the boundary between art and commercialism; is there an unbridgeable gap between the two? Don’t photos like these automatically become advertisement when their aim is to promote a clothes brand like this?
“Some say it´s no longer an art when it becomes advertisement. Me, i personally love photo as a whole. I would like to work with magazines – but also with advertisement.”
And most definitely, what first hits you is how different the exhibition photos are from the ones on the poster advertising the event. While those looked like any conventional fashion ad – a western girl and boy posing on an airplane, staring emotionless ahead – these new student made photos are so much more creative and full of the charm of life.
We see Chinese youngsters – and here and there an aged man or a toddler – wearing, reaching for or posing behind the different Superdry garments, or sometimes the mere Superdry logo double exposed onto a Shanghai street or skyscraper. The models, most of them are in fact the collaborating students from Suzhou, feel as real and charming as the friends you have in your Facebook album, and the photos with their double layers, fragmented composition and playfulness are creative and artistic.
Christina Barrett surprised us by telling that the pictures were actually created just two days before the exhibition night.
“We got the brief on Monday, and had to be done on Tuesday. We knew before, that we were working with Superdry and that the theme was “East meets West”, but the actual shooting and post production of the photos was done by the start of this week.”
The two weeks that that the group spent in China ahead of the production and exhibition week was dedicated to basicly experience as much of Chinese and Shanghainese culture as possible.
“We went to the Propaganda Museum, the fabric market, we saw Pudong, People´s Square, Old town, a typical Chinese flat…lots of things. But we´ve also had lectures, met with Converse and been to Suzhou to meet and work with the students there. I´ts been soo amazing, I don´t wanna go home!”
One might of course get a bit suspicious when one hear “East meets West” and the fact that this is about a Western clothing brand trying to settle in China, considering how much of China´s, and especially Shanghai´s traditional culture that gets wantonly thrown away on behalf of the Western ditto.
But the Superdry Project manages to handle this quite well, considering the ways most of the pictures uses Chinese elements as the frame and foundation and then fits Superdry into it. Like with the row of ten portraits where each model shows the hand signs of counting one to ten in Chinese. Or the one where Oriental Pearl Tower is attired from head to toe in the Superdry logo – its still the tower´s shape that sets the boundaries. Like saying: “you can come here – but not without being changed”.
The photos were hanging at Source Gallery until tomorrow Thursday the 8th, and will now be shipped to and showed in London.