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Emperor’s River consists of 24 panoramic color photographs by Philipp Scholz Rittermann—some up to ten feet—that examine the re-construction and expansion of China’s ancient waterway, the Grand Canal also known as the Emperor’s River. The exhibition takes us deep into the contemporary changes of the world's largest water project to date. There is no ‘Great Wall’ or ‘mist-covered mountain’ scenes in Rittermann’s photographs; instead he goes to places most photographers ignore. His large-scale images are built from numerous photographs each taken within seconds or minutes of one another, of a specific river passage or landscape impacted by the Grand Canal’s re-emergence as a major waterway for tourism and trade. Each digital frame is captured by panning across the subject with the artist’s camera. The sections are then stitched together in postproduction. Every event Rittermann records—workers harvesting lotus leaves, families working coal barges, construction cranes swaying—is truthful to what was there, just not all in a single instant. Time is stretched, as within a Chinese scroll, and becomes fluid.
Exhibited alongside Philipp Scholz Rittermann’s 24 scroll-like photographs of the Emperor’s River are two works of art by two Chinese artists. One is an anonymous artist from over five centuries ago; the other, Yang Yongliang, who works in China today. Each makes commentary on the significance of nature and the river in Chinese art. These works are exhibited at the Harn for the first time, and are from the museum’s permanent Asian art collection.
The contrast of past and present, the river as a spiritual site of inspiration and of booming commerce centuries later speak to the complexities and contradictions of China itself. Yet in each of these artist’s works, ‘the river’ remains an important part of China’s cultural and spiritual identity, and its rapidly changing commercial role in the 21st century.
This exhibition is made possible by the Sidney Knight Endowment.
Philipp Scholz Ritterman recently donated to the Harn three works on view in the exhibition. These works will add depth to the Harn's photography and contemporary collections.
November 9, 2014, 3 p.m.
"Rivers/Currents: the Significance of “The River” in Chinese Culture"
Carol McCusker, Curator of Photography and Allysa B. Peyton, Curatorial Associate for Asian Art will discuss the connection between two scrolls and the large-scale contemporary photography in Emperor’s River.