11 December 2015 – 23 January 2016
White Cube Hong Kong presented an exhibition of new work by Jeff Wall. One of the most influential artists of the past three decades, this was Wall’s first solo exhibition in Hong Kong.
Throughout his career Wall has consistently sought new ways of picture making, expanding the possibilities of the photographic medium. Beginning with large format colour transparencies in the late 1970s, he introduced black and white images into his work in 1996 and then colour prints from 2007 onwards. His work explores both documentary and staged modes of photography in order to represent the wide spectrum of modern life, from seemingly mundane details to larger complex tableaux.
Rooted in a relationship to both painting and cinema, Wall has described his photographs as ‘cinematographic’, in the sense that they frequently employ a film maker’s procedures, techniques and orchestration. This method of production challenges the notion of photography as instant witness, complicating any ‘truth’ aspect attached to the photographic image. ‘Something lingers in me until I have to remake it from memory to capture why it fascinates’, he has said about his work, which can equally emerge from a fleeting moment, a mise-en-scène or the before or after of a real or imagined event. Formally precise with an emphasis on composition, his photographs suggest a sense of instability and contingency, reflecting on human behaviour and contemporary society through subjects that, although particular, always remain enigmatic.
This exhibition presented work made over the past 18 months. In these pictures, Wall continues to focus on subject matter from everyday life, in particular the protagonists and detritus of North America’s urban environment. Shot in and around LA and his hometown of Vancouver, the images develop out of moments seen and then remade as well as pure documentary subjects taken on the street. In Listener (2015) an unidentified group encircles a kneeling man who they have under their control, while in Approach (2014) a homeless woman peers at a cardboard box, from which a barely visible shoe pokes out, amid the debris of an LA underpass. In contrast, the richly coloured Changing Room (2014) depicts a woman in a cubicle pulling a boldly printed garment over another dress, as if to conceal something. Wall’s work attempts to reactivate our visual awareness through presenting what he has called ‘the great collage which everyday life is, a combination of absolutely concrete and specific things created by no one and everyone, all of which becomes available when it is unified into a picture.’