Yang Xiaobin, another poet’s photography


Poet, critic, scholar Yang Xiaobin, now on the faculty at Academia Sinica in Taiwan, has in recent years joined the group of contemporary Chinese poets working in photography (Bei Dao, Mo Mo, Li Li among others). Yang is certainly the one whose engagement is most fully explicated in his own theoretical manner on his 關鍵詞


is constructed in the manner of “keywords”, including “quotidian,” “badness,” “ready-made,” “subjectivity,” “other,” “garbage,” “trace [Derrida],” “automatism,” “abstract/figural,” and so forth. His photographic images, meanwhile, were originally material objects (flat surfaces such as walls, doorways, pavement) at such acutely close-up range as to render them visually unintelligible. Since then he has moved on to something different, more tactile, and readable. Long explication of his “post-photography-ism” is Palimpsest and Trace: Post-Photographism. Sample images from the exhibition site:




More, and I think better, works available on his blog:

001a4U1wgy6Kdp5KWM088&690 001a4U1wgy6Kdp5mHa7df&690 001a4U1wgy6Kdp5ukfUaa&690



As for Yang’s poetry, it is often described as being difficult, or at least challenging. Here, for instance, in a translation produced by Karla Kelsey, John Gery and the poet himself, is the second of three short poems, this entitled “Bread”



You sliced the loaf of bread with a comb,

finding inside it hairs of the dead, a squamish voice,

and dry, warmed-over love.

the bread darkened and darkened, its crumbs

more and more seared and shriveled:

Before you could wash and dress, you face, too, was burnt:

its features, not easy to swallow,

burgeon with a hunger for beauty.










*translation appears in Another Kind of Nation: An Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Poetry edited by Zhang Er and Chen Dongdong (Talisman House, 2007), 290.

Poets with Cameras, again

A few months ago I wrote about Mo Mo’s abstract photography. I neglected to mention that Yang Xiaobin has been using a similar strategy in a micro-photo series, which is to say taking pictures of physical objects (walls, street pavement, and the like) at ultra-close range, blowing up the results to impossible-to-decipher vistas and them exhibiting them as abstract work. This he calls his “post-photography” or “Traces as Palimpsest,” as his first show of such work was subtitled. A palimpsest is a work of layers, with older text effaced, erased, destroyed or otherwise just faded from view, and a newer text inscribed upon it. When applied conceptually to the built environment, which Yang’s work seems to suggest (near I can make out)–the waves of development in Taiwan in this case but in fact anywhere the built environment is constrained enough to require constant re-development–we can see older structures exerting their presence in shadowy forms through the new, ghosts which haunt any optimistic attempt to assume that our physical surrounds are “here to stay” (and of course all ideological implications with-standing).

By the time the work reached the Jiaodu Abstract Art Gallery (角度抽象画廊) the series had taken on the more inscrutable name: Post-woundism (后伤口主义), leading with the following image:

Yang Xiaobin photography image

The “scar tissue” of contemporary life makes a certain amount of sense to me, but I’m not sure I exactly see it in this image (or at least its reproduction, which may indeed have lost something in translation).

Regardless, and now it looks as though Bei Dao has joined this particular fray (or just gang), with an exhibition in Hong Kong Museum’s Beijing branch in October last year of related work. The Poetry Foundation carried a report (from Global Times), with little more than announcing the fact that the exhibition took place.



The title,  “Nil Mirror” is reminiscent of the title of Bei Dao’s Landscape Over Zero, something which would suggest word-image convergence on some level. I can imagine a terrific group show of poet-photographers, particularly if combined with readings.