Yuxing Chen
The Oriental Scene
17 February - 23 February 2023

The Oriental Scene investigates the concept of Chinoiserie architecture in the UK in the context of de-colonialism. The work uses a replica of the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing in Kew Gardens as the main object of investigation, which includes objects, drawing and documents to show how the pagoda was represented in a variety of mediums, exploring the complexities implicit in the cultural and artistic collision of Eastern and Western societies metaphorically represented by the Porcelain Tower.

While Europe was experiencing a wave of Chinoiserie in the 17th and 18th centuries, Sir William Chambers built a replica of the Porcelain Tower of Nanjing at Kew Gardens in London in 1762, which was destroyed by the Taiping army in 1856. No photographs of the Porcelain Tower were left before photography was widely used. There are subtle differences in the depiction of the Porcelain Tower in East and West imaginery, which can lead to misunderstandings; for example, the number of storeys of the Porcelain Tower in Nanjing is shown in European prints and book illustrations in both nine and ten-storey versions.

However, according to Chinese Han Buddhist tradition, the pagoda must have an odd number of storeys, and the Nanking Tower has nine. The fact that the pagoda at Kew Gardens has ten storeys raises the possibility that the image has been misrepresented. The Porcelain Tower became an iconic symbol of the early Western world’s imagination of the East, from the widely circulated oriental images of the Chinoiserie period to the pagoda scene at Kew Gardens.

The project is concerned with the interrogation of Orientalism and the authoring of visual narratives. Rethinking the ways in which pagodas have been portrayed as symbols of cultural otherness in the West and as symbols of the East. It also focuses on the comparison and integration of historical and modern artistic creations and visual archives, underlining the pagoda’s visual cultural transferring process.

This project uses photography to present these images in a contemporary form. The architectural redaction deals with the ownership of the Eastern discussion by erasing Orientalism, exposing the history of cultural colonisation hidden behind the oriental settings fabricated by the West, and foreshadowing institutional concerns and obligations of museums.

Chen Yuxing (b.1998) is a young photographer based in London.

She holds a bachelor degree in Visual Communication Design and completed her master's degree in MA Photojournalism and Documentary Photography at LCC, UAL.

Photography expands her horizon as a novel approach to narration and representation. Yuxing mainly focuses on themes including identity, recollection, historical public issues, and the authenticity of objects.

Her recent research is in the area of archives and decolonization.