Chinese artist Jiang Pengyi takes the concept of urban art to a whole new level in his thought provoking series Unregistered Cities. He conceived this work as a means of critiquing the excessive urbanization, redevelopment and demolition of Beijing.
The artist constructed little models of imaginary cities, rich in references to real places, installing them in abandoned places and photographing them with mastery over the use of light. In Unregistered City No.1, for example, the ray of light that comes in from the upper window illuminates the landscape and, at the same time, leads the spectator to look beyond the city and understand immediately that they are looking at a studio reconstruction. The cloud of smoke that rises on the left, the pieces of cement that invade the city and the points of light here and there bring to mind scenes from familiar films like Blade Runner, Escape from New York and Brazil. The issues of out-of-control urban growth and its consequences have been addressed by writers, artists, men of letters and the film industry since the early 20th century, but it is clearly a subject of particularly intense interest in China where Jiang Pengyi lives and works.
Jiang Pengyi’s creations are both urban art and social commentary. But there is a twist in that the Unregistered Cities themselves appear in abandoned buildings. Unlike those represented in Jiang Pengyi’s sculptures, however, these abandoned hosts are not the crumbling ruins of skyscrapers, road networks or high rise apartments. They are the last remnants of Beijing’s past, historic abandoned houses swallowed up by the same urban zeal that the artist seeks to counter. Abandoned houses and historic civic buildings are popular venues for urban exploration, but few would expect to find miniature ghost cities artistically represented amid the ruins of real buildings. Collectively, Jiang Pengyi’s urban art speaks to our sense of past and underscores the relentless pace of the present.
Despite his evocative Unregistered Cities, Jiang’s main artistic discipline is photography. His images are intriguing, striking, disturbing even in a way that forces us to reflect on the great urban questions that contemporary society is faced with.
Born in Yuanjiang, Hunan Province in 1977, Jiang Pengyi graduated from the Beijing Institute of Art and Design in 1999. He received the Tierney Fellowship Award from The First Annual Three Shadows Photography Awards in 2009, the Jury Grand Prize from the Société Générale Chinese Art Awards in 2010 and the Aletti ArtVerona Prize for Photography in 2011. He was invited to participate in the Helsinki Photography Biennial 2012.