Wang Nengtao’s 2002 panoramic photograph Subversion–Earth captures the scale of construction that permeated Beijing, as well as other Chinese megacities, at the turn of the millennium. Massive yellow cranes punctuate the scene. They jut into the sky and recede in grey tones toward a smoggy horizon. In the expanse of worksites below, demarcated by green mesh fencing, sandbag walls, and piles of rebar, workers in yellow helmets appear miniature. The piece’s long horizontal format resembles a traditional Chinese scroll painting, but rather than inviting the viewer’s eye to meander through a natural landscape, with resting spots along the way for reflection, its perspectival, photographic realism insists on a survey from above, of an anonymous multitude turning over the earth in an ideological remaking—a re-worlding—of Chinese social life. Wang’s title hints at how such monumental efforts destabilized past political projects, of Communist Party class revolution and agrarian reform, as well as everyday existence in a city like Beijing.
Introduction, Plate 1, Page 9
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Wang Nengtao, Jinxiu renjian [What a Wonderful World] (Beijing: self-published catalogue, 2002), 66-67.
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