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Sunday, 17 June, 2001, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK
Dark visions at Venice Biennale
Japanese photograph of old women with rubbish around them
Japanese artist questions whether people are throwaway rubbish
By BBC's Charis Dunn-Chan

Asian artists at this year's Venice Biennale have staged an exciting variety of shows around the city. Many are designed to please and entertain. Some have arrived with a darker vision.

A couple of Japanese, Chinese and Taiwan artists have explored the darker sides of their societies with photographs, installations, and, in one case, body parts in formaldehyde.

The most controversial of these Asian artists has to be Xiao Yu from China's Inner Mongolia region. His installation in the Arsenale comprises a series of laboratory jars filled with the joined body parts of different animals creating strange beasts of the imagination.

Rodent bodies with bird wings are strikingly uncomfortable. However with a real foetus head on one, some viewers were running for the exit.

The ethics of his work seem very questionable. His underlying impulse is understandable. Cloning and genetic manipulation are controversial.

Memory and loss

Hai Bo, also from China, dealt with memory and change in a series of parallel photographs. His work took blown up prints of old photos and juxtaposed them against contemporary reconstructions.

A picture of five young army recruits was set against the picture of a middle-aged man all alone with empty chairs. Where were the four others?

The sweetest was one of a child walking up a hill to a pagoda alone in the snow. The parallel picture was of a middle-aged man also trudging up the hill to the same pagoda. The small saplings of earlier years were now sturdy trees.

Mother and son

The Japanese artist Tatsumi Orimoto's photographic work entitled "Art Mama" took on the consumerism and forgetfulness of modern Japan.

Taiwan photograph of mentally sick patient
Taiwan artist takes hard look at the place given to mentally sick
His pictures focused on his old and now frail mother.

Photographs of son and mother together evoked shivers of tenderness. But what were the photographs of his mother in old boxes and rubber tyres all about?

Orimoto said that he felt his mother's generation had suffered emotionally and physically after the war. Their suffering had been overlooked by succeeding generations interested only in wealth and comfort. His photographs of old women and rubbish was a rebuke to a throw-away society.

If the Japanese can't even look back and see their own suffering, how are they supposed to see the sorrow of their victims in the rest of Asia, Orimoto mused.

Sickness on camera

The Taiwan photographer Chang Chien-Chi had a similar take on his society by photographing the mentally ill in chains.

In an unnerving series of photographs Chang presented portraits of the insane chained to the sick.

The portraits are real, Chang said. His work was done at the Lung Fa Tang. Chang noted that this is neither a Buddhist nor Taoist temple. The temple has pictures only of its founder but no other religious icons.

The inmates of the temple are chained together all of the time he said, and are released from each other only to sleep.

This exhibition was shocking and Chang looked exhausted as he fielded a relentless stream of questions from visitors. He told me that Amnesty International had taken an interest in his exhibition.

See also:

07 Jun 01 | Arts
In pictures: Venice Biennale
07 Jun 01 | Arts
Maori dancers wow Venice
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