One of the first things you notice after arriving in China is that this place never seems to stop growing. Fueled by the growling magma of newfound economic growth, it just keeps expanding – upwards, downwards, sideways and every direction you can think of in between, to an ever-shifting bursting point. Go figure.
Soon enough, though, it becomes glaringly clear that much of this empire is built on proverbial sand. In the complex socio-political quagmire that is Chinese culture, appearance (also known as “saving face”) is everything. As long as things look pretty and polished on the surface, it doesn’t really matter how bent and broken they are underneath, on every conceivable level. Over time, one seems to just get used to it and go with the synthetic crystalline flow, paying precious little mind to the muddy depths underneath.
It’s all about smoke and mirrors. Hair and make-up. Tits and teeth, baby.
This is neatly reflected by the towering sheet metal enclosures being put up around the many large-scale construction sites in our city. Hiding the unsightly chaos and clamour involved with erecting superstructures from public view, these barriers are often adorned with billboard sized images of dew-kissed forests, chocolate-box local landscapes or glitzy urban utopias.
Speaking of the latter, I’ve lately began to notice the same billboard series depicting a larger-than-life, two-dimensional consumerist paradise – complete with upmarket stores, happy shoppers and hip Western brands – on the barricades surrounding the bustling building sites where new malls (there can never be enough) are springing up in our ’hood. Mildly intrigued by the spectacle, I began taking some casual snaps, from afar, whenever I passed by one of these sites with my trusty ol’ Nikon.
It was only when I got around to enlarging these frames on my high-res screen at home that I discovered a bizarre, utterly surreal realm of crappy visual effects and badly-photoshopped protagonists. Whoever created this digital dreamworld got a bit heavy-handed with the pixelated pixie dust.
Clearly, these decorative designs were only intended to be viewed from a distance. So naturally I grabbed my long lens, revisited some of these sites and really got in deep for some proper close-ups of this nervy Neverland. The result was a collection of ghostly images that were at times weirdly compelling and comical, but also, strangely disturbing.
‘Cause, to a large extent, we’re already living in a crude, dystopian and digitized version of someone else’s clearly questionable design.
I call it Fuckland.
Given the terribly sad state of the world of late – where no one can actually tell what is being built in the shadows, behind the barricades of fear and confusion – this little project served as an oddball reminder of just how lost we’ve all become in an increasingly distant virtual reality. In an artificial collective context where so much is taken at face value and so little can be verified by the senses, seeing can simply no longer be believing.
Now, more than ever, if we want to get a glimpse of the truth, we’ll all have to learn to look a little bit closer. Even if it isn’t too pretty.
So keep ‘em peeled, brothers and sisters. For few things are as they seem.
As always, hidden in plain sight, the devil is in the details.
© Jac Kritzinger 2020.
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