The Chinese photographer Muge was born in 1979 in Chongqing. He has won numerous awards and his works are part of the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. In the Behind the Wall series, presented at the Lizanhou Foto Festival, he takes us on an 80,000-mile road trip through the geography of his native country.
The moving portrait of an enormous country
Muge lives in Chengdu, a large city in Sichuan province. But it is mainly on the road that he spent his time between 2013 and 2017, at the wheel of his car driving 80,000 miles through China, with only two traveling companions: his large film format and a dashcam that recorded his journey. He titled this project Behind the Wall.
The Middle Empire unfolds before our eyes, like a poetic travel journal illustrating a rural universe as well as an industrial one. The Great Wall is captured in all its melancholy majesty. The air is dry, the terrain lunar, and the rare people that we come across punctuate these washed out landscapes with their warmth.
What lies behind the walls
The “wall,” the main theme in the series, can be interpreted on a variety of layers. First, and it is a hugely obvious, the Great Wall appears as a trail of breadcrumbs throughout these pictures. “The Great Wall is a realistic symbol, which can represent the image of China,” says the photographer.
But the wall in question is above all an invisible barrier—the artist’s own barrier, as he explores remote regions previously unfamiliar to him. It is also the barrier that blocks the way for the people in his photos, who are literally cut off from the rest of the country by overwhelming distances
The universality of the ordinary
Muge admits to being influenced by Joel Sternfeld, and in particular his work American Prospects (1987), a series documenting small American cities and landscapes altered by man. His work “impressed me with his exploration of the universality of ordinary people and scenes across America,” says the artist. One of his photos, “A watermelon soil,” is a nod to a famous pumpkin patch immortalized by his American predecessor.
Contrary to what one might think, it is not the unpredictable that informs Muge’s approach: “I like creating work along the road, however, unexpected stories don’t necessarily generate surprising images. Accidents and wonders are not the reason why I decided to create this project (…) I wanted to return back to the daily life of an individual or one of a large group of people, to the basic physical needs and states, such as what we eat, what our houses are like, our beliefs, our entertainment, and so on.”
By Charlotte Jean