The Sino-Japanese artistic duo Rong Rong 荣荣 (born in Zhangzhou, Fujian province in 1968) and Inri 映里 (born in Kanagawa prefecture, Japan in 1973) are amongst those who have shaped contemporary photography in China. Their collaborative work – initiated in 2000 – unfolds an intimate world while connecting with China’s socio-economic transformations.
From the 1990s onwards, the generation of Chinese leaders that succeeded Mao Zedong started a series of reforms to develop a new diplomatic policy and a market economy opened to foreign investment. This consequently triggered a rapid economic growth that significantly altered the country’s social systems, as consumerism, individualism, and urban planning changed the functions and faces of metropolises.
These factors encouraged artists to gather in artistic communities, such as in what is commonly termed the East Village in the outskirts of Beijing. This pivotal place in the history of contemporary art in China was the residence of various avant-garde artists imbued in performance art, such as Zhang Huan, Li Guomin, and Ma Liuming. Belonging to this artistic community, Rong Rong documented many of these performances as well as the artists’ daily lives. It is largely through his images that the group’s ephemeral creations are known. Rong Rong increasingly appeared before the camera, developing various personal introspective modes.
He then met his artistic partner and wife Inri (a Japanese photographer), with whom he created several series of photographs that probe into autobiography while questioning the changing relationship between their body and their immediate environment, whether it is natural or urban. Urban environment had a particular impact on their creation as in 1994 Beijing East Village officially ended with a police raid and a forced eviction. Rong Rong and Inri had to move to the district of Liulitun, which unfortunately met the same fate of demolition few years later.
In reaction to these events, they created series of works in which they staged their everyday life amongst the ruins. Since then they have continuously visualized their environment and launched in 2007 the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, China’s first independent photography centre located in the Caochangdi art district of Beijing. Their works and lifetime commitment to photography have allowed them to receive the Outstanding Contribution to Photography by the World Photography Organisation (WPO) in 2016.
Check out more of the artists’ work here.
Photography Friday is a regular feature from Shanghaiist in association with Photography of China, Marine Cabos’s fantastic trilingual blog about photography and photographers in China.