Hai Zhang: Aged Innocence

The Aged Innocence series emerged from artist Hai Zhang's photo journeys across China between 2013 and 2017 where he documented the historically and culturally complex locales and their inhabitants who were facing dramatic economic changes. The exhibition features a selection from this massive photo archive in the format of small prints and large collages.  

Between 2013 and 2017, Hai Zhang (b. 1976, lives in New York City) frequently returned to his homeland China and captured tens of thousands of black-and-white photos that exemplify the historically and culturally complex locales and their inhabitants who were facing dramatic economic changes. And yet, fascinated by stubbornly unchanged parts of the society, his vernacular lens empathically illuminates each small corner of this vast country. 

 

Zhang states: “Every time I return to China, I become increasingly aware of the passage of time between visits and my inability to keep pace with the country. It has become a human impulse to collect the images like souvenirs as a reminder of the experience. Yet the documentary images serve as a perfect metaphor for the fragmentary nature of memory and the desire to take ownership of it.”

 

The exhibition also introduces his recent project, The Beginning, in our adjunct space. From March 2018, Zhang took one roll of 35mm color film every day in the streets of Harlem and the Bronx in order to better understand the unknown neighbors of his home in Morningside Heights. As in his Chinese projects, the portraits of children, workers, marketgoers, a barbershop, a street musician, etc. remind us of the universal qualities of human life beyond their different realities. What fascinates Zhang is the “changing, vanishing, yet stubbornly lasting parts of the society,” referring to gentrification and how residents adapt or resist. Zhang wants his images to invite vigorous conversations and interpretations.