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Shi Yangkun: Solastalgia

Born in 1991, Zhoukou, Henan, China. Currently lives and works in Shanghai, China.


Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht coined the term solastalgia in 2004 by combining the Latin words sōlācium (comfort) and the Greek root -algia (pain) as a form of melancholy felt when someone returns to their hometown but realizes what they see betrays what they had memorized. Shi Yangkun borrows this term to describe his paradox relation to this specific homesickness felt at home. While he suffers from emotional distress caused by the impossibility of verifying the past, he also gets addicted to the erotics of nostalgia and the feeling of being in exile.

His project Solastalgia (2016-) started at a time when the urbanization at Shi’s hometown reached its climax. Finding the tremendous changes hard to bear, he traveled around the place with his camera in an almost paranoid manner and tried to salvage as many memories as possible before the bulldozers cleared them away. Meanwhile, by photographing his relatives and close friends in a self-reflexive way, he explored his psychological response to the vagueness caused by the fractured memories. In the last visit of his hometown, the center of gravity in his photographic inquiry shifted fundamentally: it no longer refers to exterior landscape, not even to human figures, but focus on a bunch of old-day home possessions disconnected from their original contexts and defined by interiority and emotions of the artist.

Coming to terms with transformations happening to his hometown, as well as his displaced identity, Shi is no longer obsessed with enacting a sense of nostalgia through photography. Instead, he is finally able to confront the ontological crisis of photography which has long haunted his creative process. Piercing through the mundane surface of the objects and carving out a space between alienation and intimacy, this series of still-life portraits addresses a reciprocal relation between re-engagement and distangelment. As he relies on the photography’s capability in transcending time and healing memories to reconcile with his lost sense of belonging, he is also trying to construct a new form of identity by tying himself closer to this medium.

Shi Yangkun graduated from the London College of Communication at University of the Arts London in 2016 with a major in documentary photography. Working with photography as an artist, Shi Yangkun explores the complexity of Chinese communities through his in-depth projects. His work has been exhibited worldwide, including the Shanghai Center of Photography, Zhejiang Art Museum, and the Dunedin Fine Arts Center in Florida, and he has received international recognition, such as a PHMuseum Photography Grant, PDN Emerging Photographer, and First Prize at the UrbanPhotoFest Open, among others. Shi Yangkun is a fellow of the Magnum Foundation of Photography and the Getty Images Grant and featured in a large number of publications including our photobook Rooms Within China.

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Edited by Martin Wendelbo