Gao Bo. Calle de Lhasa Tbet 1987-1993  THE TEXTURE OF PROMISES



25.11.2022 - 19.02.2023

Curator: Alejandro Castellote



Curator Alejandro Castellote has constructed his exhibition discourse based on the work of eight artists from various parts of Asia, including pieces that are very different in form and content, but allow us to tackle an extremely interesting baseline thesis. As the title of the exhibition indicates, “promises” are made to us by photographs, but we must investigate and delve into these works to unravel their true meaning. The easy identification of what is represented in them, their veracity and fidelity to reality must be questioned. As a rule, we trust their transparent meaning when we look at photographs. We believe that their eloquence can overcome verbal language, and we expect that all this is available to us in the photograph’s first visible layer, in its visual “texture”.


A major part of photography’s success as a communication tool stems from the properties it exhibited in the past, for it came to offer a solid view of reality. Transcribing the world in images ceased to depend entirely on memory in its various accounts – verbal and written – or on scientific and artistic representations, with all the possible subjectivities and inaccuracies that such documents might contain.


When this first visible layer of a photograph has little narrative density, it requires an access key, a text accompanying the work that acts as a password. The introductory texts, labels or captions of a series often serve this purpose. This non-visual information opens the door to understanding photographs. It is a way of reducing the polysemy of images, the multiple meanings that can be extracted from them.


If we recognise what the photograph represents but are unaware of the author’s intention, then our imagination is activated. We speculate about what it might mean, and we do so by using our own experiences, the emotions aroused by that first perception. But this process becomes complicated when the signs contained in the photographs have no cultural contiguity. This is the case of the traditional signs and models of representation used in Asian countries. Cultural references are crucial to understanding an image, knowing from where the photograph is taken and from where we are looking at what is photographed.


The exhibition brings together major figures in Asian photography alongside young artists. They are from China, Japan, Singapore, India and South Korea, and they all display different ways of representing reality, often willingly undermining the legibility of their works. They do so through vague references to traditional painting in their country, quietly claiming the secular origin of their artistic practices; questioning Orientalist stereotypes projected by us from the West; dispensing with the parameters of Renaissance representation – perspective, narrativity or hyperrealism; suggesting complex readings of what is represented, encouraging the viewer to look for something more in the inner, less explicit layers of an image, or critically reflecting on our relationship with nature. They use visual metaphors to reveal the profoundly subjective nature of our perception and the instability of memory and historical narrative. They transport the meanings of their images into territories that multiply possible interpretations. In short, they promote ambiguity to activate our imagination


Gao Bo. Tibet 1985-1995. Offrandes [Offerings], 2009




Gao Bo (China, 1964)

Tibet 1985 -1995. Offrandes [Offerings], 2009

All of Gao Bo’s work represents a circular journey, as he creates images and returns to them to reprocess, modify or destroy them. He travelled to Tibet for the first time in 1985. Ten years later, after many visits to the country, he confronted all the photographs he had taken and realised they had not reflected the intense influence that Tibet had exerted on him. He rescued them from his archive in 2009 to try to register the depth of that experience in them. He did so in the form of an “offering”, using his own blood to trace on paper an illegible calligraphy that he calls “the language of the soul”.


Takahiro Mizushima (Japan, 1988)

Long Hug Town, 2014 - 2019

To discuss Japan from the field of Western culture immediately leads us towards Orientalist stereotypes. But none of this aesthetic cliché can be found in this series by Mizushima, in which he has sought to capture the energy emanating from the people living in the Tokyo neighbourhood of Ohta-Ku, especially those living on the streets, whom he approaches from his memory, from the experiences he had in this very place during his teenage years. The empathy exuded by these portraits contrasts with the countless number of photographs he took in Taipei, when he moved there years later. They convey a clear sense of foreignness and anonymity, reflecting the absence of personal bonds to a culture different from his own.


Sukanya Ghosh (India, 1973)

Isosceles Forest, 2018 (archive photographs, mixed media and animation, 3 min. From the series Isometries) and Time travel, 2016. Collages

The title of the video refers to the problem as set forth by the mathematician Richard Bellman in 1955: “What is the best way to escape from a forest of known dimensions?” Sukanya Ghosh approaches the rewriting of memory by using old photographs. She employs the rationality of mathematics and the degree of uncertainty that sometimes appears in some equations, in an attempt to construct stable scaffolding that helps us to understand the past from the present. Her research into new forms of representation of the intangible is also conveyed in her photographic collages. By removing the details of time, place and event, the portraits are emptied of the outlines of the recognisable and refuse to identify the meaning of what they show.


Weixin Chong (Singapore, 1988)

Suiseki Softfalls, 2015

Suiseki is a Japanese word for contemplating stones whose shape and texture suggest that of a landscape. It dates back to the Chinese tradition of “scholar’s rocks”, which viewed this contemplation as a way of empowering the imagination to access the aesthetic, philosophical potential of nature.

These delicate marble waterfalls represent a fluid transmutation of this fascinating material that reverses the symbolic character of permanence it has had throughout history. Weixin Chong prints these marble surfaces on silk fabrics, thereby making the solidity of the stone appear as a surprisingly fragile texture. 


JI Zhou (China, 1970)

Greenhouse #3, 2017. From the series Real Illusion

Ji Zhou’s work is contemplative in nature. It believes that we relate to reality in terms of fragmentation, and our mind must do some additional work in an attempt to fit the pieces together in a rational and comprehensible manner. In order to create this work, Ji Zhou took dozens of photographs in a botanical garden with a telephoto lens. None of these fragments were recorded at the same moment of the day, which means that the time is different in each image. Ji Zhou combines these photographic fragments and presents them again: he re-presents them by adopting the form of a palimpsest that contains formal echoes of cubism and traces of traditional Chinese painting, in which superimpositions of various scales and dimensions on the canvas abound.


Wang Juyan (China, 1993)

Xian Guan IV, 2016

The fourth chapter of his series Xian Guan (2013-2019) is built around a silent landscape and based on visual uncertainties. The photographs reflect not only personal memories, but also re-observing and re-understanding histories. They do not follow a linear narrative. Their common thread is marked by the juxtaposition of broad visions of a scene and discoveries visible from a distance that fade within the vicinity of our gaze. He strives to offer a visual experience in which time seems to shift and fluctuate, in which darkness, foggy surfaces and natural details move in and out of focus.


Woong Soak Teng (Singapore, 1994)

Ways to Tie Trees, 2015 - 2018

Woong Soak Teng completed this project in an area of Singapore where the artificial creation of green spaces is addressed. It is a kind of typological photographic record of how plants have been tied to straighten them. The emotional detachment and coldness of these photographs are a metaphor for the disinterest that this methodology arouses in citizens. As the artist indicates, “tree tying, like our innate human instinct for control, is omnipresent but unnoticed”. Woong Soak Teng later discovered that her interest in these plant straightenings was unconsciously related to the scoliosis from which she herself suffers, and which she has conducted work on in her subsequent projects.


Bohnchang Koo (South Korea, 1953)

Vessels, 2004 -

According to the artist: “White is the colour that can be achieved by restraining desire. For 500 years during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) […] nobles renounced the pleasure of seeing various colours in tableware and ceramics and opted for the asceticism of white. The first time I saw one of these vessels, I was touched by their volumes and simple forms. But it was their bare presence, exposing their weathered scars and delicate asymmetries, that created an indelible impression on me. Korea’s cultural heritage was unfortunately dispersed to museums and private collections around the world during the Japanese occupation (1910-1945). I have been photographing these vessels in 16 major museums in Korea and abroad since 2004, and I have always approached each of them with great care, as if unveiling in my portraits the soul and beauty of a humble, demure model”




Commented tours:

Sundays | Fress

5.30 pm in basque  / 6.30 pm in Spanish

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