Stephen Wilkes


Data Center, Olympic Village, Beijing, China, 2008.

Stephen Wilkes current exhibition at Clamp Art in New York, shows a country experiencing change like no other has ever before it in the history of this world. China. Where the natural landscape meets the ever growing industrial landscape, or even becomes completely swallowed by it, Wilkes has captured both in the series aptly titled The Construction of the Olympic Stadium and other Chinese Public Works. But these aren’t images of vast land scapes resembling alien planets that are completely void of the human. Instead, there is always at least a presence felt. But what’s to be noted, is while these images do incorporate people, they feel completely out of place. And they should. The surroundings depicted are rapidly transforming, so one can only assume the Chinese feel like aliens in their own surroundings. And to go further, some images such as “Destruction Before and After” shown below, literally depict a typical farm house with it’s inhabitants, only to later be seen again as a pile of rubble. The ultimate portrait of transition, change, destruction, and displacement. All elements at work in Wilkes images.

Before and After: Destruction, Jiangxin Island, China, 2007.

Other images, like those of the Three Gorges dam on the Yangtze River, tell a similar story, where the viewer can only imagine the type of displacement– intentional, or accidental? The Three Gorges dam is the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, as well as the largest project of it’s kind since the Great Wall, and the Chinese hope it will provide 10% of China’s energy needs. At one and a half miles wide and more than six hundred feet high, the dam will create a reservoir nearly three hundred seventy-five miles in length, displacing well more than one million people. Some of those displaced, relied on farming and agriculture for their means of income and sometimes survival, which are now drowned under a gigantic reservoir. While the dam will answer to China’s growing needs for energy, is this the right way to go about it? Why is it that people still aren’t catching on to a cradle to cradle way of thinking, living, and acting? Why do we change and evolve into something destructive instead of nurturing? Why can’t we find ways to solve our problems without doing more harm? We can. As Einstein and Edison said, respecitvely, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” and “If we all did the things we are capable of doing, we would literally astound ourselves.” Now is the time.

Here are a few more exemplary examples of these questions I can’t help but ask when viewing Wilkes work. To see more, please visit his website or take a trip to Clamp Art in August to see this brilliant exhibition.

Three Gorges Dam at Yangtze River, Jiu Li Village, Sandouping, Yichang, Hubei, China, 2008.

Steel Cables, Three Gorges Dam, Yangtze River in Sandouping, Yichang, Hubei, China, 2008.

Backside of Three Gorges Dam, Yangtze River in Sandouping, Yichang, Hubei, China, 2008.

Three Gorges Dam Lock, Yangtze River in Sandouping, Yichang, Hubei, China, 2008.


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