Telescope: China | Xie Hong Dong

– By James Elaine

In 2008, Hammer Projects curator James Elaine relocated to China. He has since settled in Beijing and opened the nonprofit art space Telescope. Jamie is our feet on the ground and bring us his musings on art, life in China, and anything else that might strike his fancy.

Telescope has been invited to collaborate on a series of exhibitions with a new not for profit gallery in Beijing, Clerkenwell Space. This uniquely designed space is an independent lobby area at Haskoll Architects and Designers studio in the Sanlitun area. Our inaugural exhibition presents the photographs of a young artist, Xie Hong Dong, in his first exhibition in Beijing. 

Xie Hong Dong grew up in rural Gansu Province. He knew nothing about art or the contemporary art world, and the idea of being an artist was unimaginable and nonexistent in his environment. It was worlds away from his life and experience. At a young age he left home after middle school and traveled through China, observing and learning about his culture and the world around him. From Tianshui to Xi’an to Sichuan, Hubei, Fujian, Shandong, Qinhai, Yushu, Guangdong Xie kept moving on. He taught himself English and learned to cut hair to earn a living. Despite many hardships and no visible hope for a decent future, he still did not give up on his dream to find a way out—perhaps to even become an artist. Little did he know, at the time, that these varied and lonely experiences would be the early foundation of his art education. Xie has proven that “experience is the best teacher.” In 2012 Xie’s wandering stopped. He decided to leave Shenzhen and made the move to Beijing to start a new life. After about a year, he founded what is now a very successful hair studio and has become an integral part of the community in Cao Chang Di, Beijing. Living at the center of the Chinese art world, Xie met many artists. As he began going to the local galleries, museums, studios, and reading new books, he began to take his photography more seriously. One of his early projects was to return to his hometown and into the rural mountains to document the people and their pure way of life to help preserve the memory of a quickly vanishing culture in the new industrial China. His simple black and white portraits and landscapes go far deeper than what first meets the eye. He has a natural and learned ability to see past the surface of his subject matter to reveal deeper truths. His humbling life experiences have given him a sensitivity that sees things most people just pass by. Whether he is working in color or black and white, abstract or landscape, portraits or interiors, they are all imbued with a sense of wonder, mystery, and love. Xie seeks out and reclaims that which is lost and forgotten, and brings it into the light—into our world—where we all can see, marvel at, and believe.