By Tyson Duffy
Artist Han Bing doesn’t conceive of his homeland China the way most of us in the west do. The rising pagodas of the Tang Dynasty, breathtaking rural vistas, the simplicity of enclosed courtyards in ancient palaces—these are of little interest to him. Young and from a small village in the rural badlands, Han Bing is one of a generation of mainland youth standing witness to the beauties and brutalities of rapid, high-octane modernization in China.
It takes a moment to see through the sublime tyrian and deep-purple elegance of his photograph “Coiled Dragon Pillars” to realize that this is not a richly imagined impressionistic paining, but an inverted image of a river so polluted by industrial runoff that it no longer resembles water. His exhibit, Urban Amber, captures the richness and devastation of industrialization, suspending before our eyes a single transitory moment of toxic, ruinous beauty.
What are the costs of transforming an ancient society? What will become of humanity when all that is left are stunning but poisonous landscapes, such a wonder to observe but impossible to love?
One conclusion: despite the dire forecasts, despite the agonies and alienations of contemporary life in a post-industrial world, beauty will persist. Whether it will be beauty of a kind we desire will be up to us.