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Zhang Xiao: Coastline

Yantai, China


The root of Zhang Xiao’s (1981) fascination for the ocean can be traced back to his childhood. Sublime and seemingly unbeatable, Zhang has always regarded its waves as both a source of rich photographic material and emotional catharsis.

The award-winning collection Coastline (2009-2013) captures the “beautiful and painful” aspects of globalization and modernity in China. Through its illustrations of the quickly urbanizing Chinese coastline, the viewer is invited to reflect upon a life spent balancing the ever-present construction rubble with rapid transnational mobility and blissful touristic leisure. A life in the rugged yet beautiful Chinese Anthropocene.

As the country scrambles to modernize its economy, Zhang—photographing tragically littered beaches, strolling newlyweds, and restless swimmers, on a Mamiya 7 II camera—contemplates the perpetual homesickness and rootlessness that increasingly characterizes contemporary life in China. 

A specter of traumatic modernity reverberates through the images, and as Zhang returns to the coastline, his childlike fascination is now accompanied by mature self-examination: “The sea is the beginning of lives and dreams, at the same time; I am looking for a hometown in my heart.”

Edited by Asbjørn Killen Jahn