Nina Korhonen: Monkey to Monkey
May 14 – Sep 9, 2018
Excerpts from the essay in Nina Korhonen's new book, Monkey to Monkey
"Postscript for the Four-Handed," by Göran Sommardal
Some of the red ribbons twisted round the scraggy trunks of the trees depicted in the pace-setting photo in Nina Korhonen's book Monkey to Monkey are so discolored and tattered that they might very well have been put there at the very beginning of the 12-year-cycle circumscribing the pictures in the book. On the other hand, Korhonen's overall arrangement of pictures does not claim to sum up or to present a comprehensive understanding of this period. There are too many such Chinese times and Chinese places to render a summing-up feasible. On the contrary, Nina Korhonen makes it her narrative duty to undo the "natural" order of things. Pictures from the same locality show up in different places in the sequence of photos while pictures taken at different times are not seldom placed together because they share the same motif.
...the centers of gravity in Korhonen's pictorial realm lie in the north-west of China, enlarged by excursions to Peking, Shanghai and the east coast at Beidaihe and Chengde.
...the majority of pictures in Monkey to Monkey are characterized by their unobtrusive, keenly observant and respectfully accounting mode of photography. Thus in the case of the washed-out t-shirts, shorts and cloth towels spread out to dry in the sun on the basketball court; and the worker with crossed arms, sound asleep atop a .of pebbles. Or look at the brawny men in bathing caps carrying their swim rings as they steadily march into the sea in the politically legendary Beidaihe beach resort, whereas in the picture from another part of the sea shore another band of bathers indulge in a more unaffected mise-en-scène on a sunny beach.
...the old/new contradiction is not always as obvious as in the picture from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia where the horses are eating hay on the sandy fields demarcated by the greyly modern residential skyscrapers. Just as tangibly contra-traditional is the partner dancing performed in the old revolutionary base area of Yen'an, once the epicenter of the Yangg, in the heyday of the revo-proggish group dancing once promulgated over the country, but now replaced by this erstwhile decadent bourgeois waltzing. It tends, though, to be as avant-garde as any iconoclastic skyscraper.
...another of Korhonen's motifs appearing at intervals is the doorway draped with plastic bands, an old use in a new packaging. The dorway could be seen both as a borderline for the photographer's access to a private space and as an opportunity to glimpse something otherwise inaccessible behind the curtain. On various occasions, through the plastic and in the interstices of the thick strips, we can discern some desolate restaurant tables waiting to be taken; the interior of a shop, a living-room perhaps. The motif turns around: in another picture we are looking from the inside out through the curtain at a few blurred characters entering.
...in observing people at work and at rest Korhonen creates a certain mode of movement throughout the suite of pictures. The fellow stretched out over three train seats could be seen together, although in another picture, with the women digging in front of the low growing pine tree, in its turn in front of the tractor with a trailer. Still elsewhere a work team is digging up stones on a sandy slope, while in another picture a man in a worn-out collarless white shirt is leaning backwards in an invisible chair, soaped for shaving, eyes closed presumably in pleasure, anticipating the traditional New Year. The green-clad platoon of the People's Liberation Army is marching away into the widerness with shovels and crowbars for clearing land, while somewhere else we catch sight of a crudely wrapped male curled up in the fetal position in the sun's line up against the wall, while a rooftop, a tree, a telephone pole and a section of sky are reflected in the window between him and us.
...sometimes a picture may contain the draft of elements of a full story. See here the fuzzy figures inside the plastic-sheet rhombus making up the travelling barber's shaving booth. The extravagant characters on the otherwise sober shop sign hung on the tree trunk possibly expose a barber who is also a gifted amateur calligrapher. Or the sad slaughtering of the family hog in time for the New Year festival, where the older man averts his gaze in agony from the hog, while the younger scalds it in preparation for flaying.
...in the picture from the border region between Ningxia and Inner Mongolia, showing a woman with a veil and a dust mask, the two pagodas in the background in their traditional octagonal, thirteen-story design, were very likely sited and erected according to geomantic principles in relation to the surrounding mountains.