Yang Yi was born in Kaixian in 1971, a small town overlooking a tributary of the Yangtze River. In 2009 Yang’s hometown was completely submerged underwater due to the Three Gorges Dam Project, which displaced over 1.2 million people and destroyed 11 cities. Using photography with digital editing techniques, Yang creates strikingly truthful portrayals of Kaixan and its inhabitants in a submarine universe.
Upon first view of Yang’s photographs, one’s eyes first adapt to the photographs’ darkness with a sepia rendering. You see a mysterious landscape with few people, adorned in masks and snorkels. The light comes from the upper part of the photographs, expanding into shadows on the walls of a submarine city. These disconcerting images question the viewer in a manner similar to Gregory Crewdson’s photographs.
Yang Yi’s digital manipulations of the photographic medium are particularly relevant because they are deeply connected with his personal life. His work raises the question, how can one build one’s life when one’s home, roots, and childhood memories have been lost forever? Yang replies by recreating the past in capturing the remaining scenery before it disappears forever and people in their daily life. Even after the artist transformed the image by submerging the villagers, they display wit and poise.
“It is about all that we have in common there: our accent, our spicy coriander, the nod we give each other, a friendly signal to say hello when we pass one another on the street, these streets that we have traveled alongside our ancestors, that have herded us along together… this series was created for all of that. It will be my personal memoir.”- Yang Yi
Yang captures and preserves the nuances that once distinguished this beloved village as an expression of defiance to imposed plight and destitution. Inspired by dreams, the visual documentation opposes the physical reality of the expropriated site. The confrontation between the past and present transforms the topology of the landscape into a place of curiosity and apprehension. Yang’s series records a haunting legacy that proves the fortitude of the human spirit.
The Uprooted series has been recently exhibited at the San Jose Museum of Art, California and the Katonah Museum of Art, New York in the exhibition “Rising Dragon – Contemporary Chinese Photography.” Yang Yi has exhibited throughout Asia, Europe, Canada and Mexico. The artist currently lives and works in Chengdu China.
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