Nathalie Perakis-Valat’s latest works dizzily dive from Shanghai’s highest towers to its lowest foundations, to where it all begins. For Into the Heart of the City : Building the Future, Perakis-Valat met with the men who take part in the never-ending construction of Shanghai in order to collect their stories. Each story is unique, but lost amidst multitudes: a multitude of ever-expanding buildings, and the resulting multitude of the construction workers who build them. Singularities that not only help build a city, but also make beat its heart.
Nathalie Perakis-Valat is a self-taught French photographer who was based in Shanghai until 2015. Since 2010, she has been exploring the city through its ruins and construction sites. Lilong Treasures, a previous work focused on the ‘mineral’ aspect, capturing the details of walls, construction tarpaulins, metal sheets, creating poetry of the vestiges and sublimates the trivial. It aimed at highlighting aspects that one does not see in an abstract manner through “passive” compositions.
For her new solo exhibition, Into the Heart of the City : Building the Future, Nathalie Perakis-Valat brings a different light to construction sites, focusing on the action of construction itself. Her active approach places the construction worker into the focal center, rather than the building. She provides testimonials for these men and pays tribute to their efforts which often remain unknown and obscured. The importance is to highlight their individual story, to neglect the construction itself. Nathalie aims to emphasize and draw attention to these men who live in the shadows of dazzling towers built in their own hands.
Two parallel stories here exist and are intrinsically linked. First, is the story of a man representing intimacy and sensitivity. Then there is History, who is immense and submersive.
Her purpose is not only lighting up the uniqueness of each man, but also linked to a universal artistic message – making the invisible visible. She deflects our vision to reveal the hidden mask of the concrete jungle, giving it a face. Shanghai is well known for its ever-growing towers and buildings. The growth of a city, with the incalculable number of building sites, symbolizes and testifies to its power as well as strength: a fascinating, yet unstoppable force.
To the monster, Nathalie Perakis-Valat opposes the men.
To the height of a building, she opposes the greatness of a man, his life.
Nathalie Perakis-Valat tries to stop the “monster” of submersion and immensity which characterized a city by portraying these men, contrasting the height of the building by focusing on the individual’s life.
To realize her new series of works, Shanghai Keystones, Natalie has met these so-called men of the shadows, whose lives are affected by the frenetic rhythm of construction—the rhythm of ‘modernity at any cost.’ She interviewed several workers, of whom she made a portrait as well as a printed 3D sculpture. A copy of each sculpture was given to each worker. These sculptures serve not only as a witness, but also as tribute, as a direct link of the future owner to the worker.
Shanghai Keystones is comprised of 15 infinity boxes and 15 photographs—one of each of the 15 workers, who participated in the project. This series embodies the artist’s new vision of the city and her new artistic approach. Indeed, she went one step further and introduced the third dimension in her new photo project by creating “infinity boxes” that will house the statues of the workers. The printed 3D and 15 cm tall statues emphasize the scale of people lost in huge construction sites, while the white translucent material renders the anonymity of the workers. Placed in a box of lights, the individual is highlighted and surrounded by its own reflections.
In architectural terms, the keystone is the stone at the top of an archway. Although it is a single stone and not necessarily any different from its counterparts, the keystone is a structural element that locks an arch together, allowing it to bear weight, to span distance and height, and to maintain its form. The artist carries this meaning into her works, by relating this architectural element with the individual workers she portrays. To her, these workers are keystones of a similar sort, supporting the weight of society’s growth. Due to these workers—both in reality and metaphorically—China has reached the height and vastness that it has today.
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About Art+ Shanghai Gallery
The Art+ Shanghai Gallery was founded in October 2007 in the Shanghai's famous Bund area, Art+ Shanghai Gallery is a dynamic art space dedicated to the promotion and development of Chinese contemporary art.