Chen Hangfeng's name-brand Christmas
BY Summer Block
This month, holiday visitors to the Radisson Hotel will find themselves in a winter wonderland of glittering silver snowflakes and a towering white Christmas tree set aglow by dozens of LEDs. A closer look at the intricate designs reveals a filigree of name-brand logos, the same swooshes and double arches that populate the city's billboards. In short, this deceptively lovely presentation satirizes Christmas and consumer culture in China.
"Not many people (in China) understand the meaning of Christmas; it is just an excuse to get loaded, an excuse to party," says artist Chen Hangfeng, who created the unusual decorations as part of his ongoing "Logomania" series.
Of course, the commercialization of Christmas is source of perennial concern in the West, but the consumerism is mitigated somewhat by the traditional religious and familial obligations. Not so in China, where the Christmas boom is changing habits in cities including Shanghai and Beijing and changing whole lifestyles for the residents of China's many factory villages, the source of about 80 per cent of all the Christmas decorations in the world.
In a small village somewhere near Wenzhou, for example, there was a time when life was cool, clean and quiet. Even the creek was crystal clear. Today, the village is a factory town, pumping out Christmas decorations year round. The stream is muddy and polluted and the working conditions would have Santa's elves on strike.
Chen comments on this state of affairs in his latest work, a video installation placed inside a gaily-wrapped gift box, visitors can only see the truth through a peephole on the box, surrounded by snow-flakes and Christmas tree. he began his work with traditional Chinese paper cuts, each laboriously cut by hand. Eventually, however, the idea grew to include logo designs in everything from carpets to temporary tattoos.
As a graphic designer at the same time, Chen has created logos almost as often as he's satirized them, which may be why his non-corporate work, as evidenced in his current exhibition, is as witty, aesthetically compelling and subtle as the best commercial advertising.
This article was published on That's Shanghai magazine, Dec, 2007 issue.