For young urbanites, nightclubs can often feel like safe havens, a realm of fantasy where space and time are rendered meaningless by pounding bass and strobing lights. All their worries can be left at the door as they escape into a world of drunken hedonism, a moment where they can enjoy themselves to the fullest.
With a similar outlook, Chinese photographer Chen Wei has created Noon Club, a photo series offering his poetic take on the dancefloor. In his work, swathes of vivid colors and enveloping darkness are the backdrops against which club-goers sway to and fro. But strangely enough, the dancers don’t seem particularly excited. In fact, their troubled demeanors and closed eyes suggest their minds seem are elsewhere entirely. “The club is a narrative device,” Chen explains. “Whether it’s a dancer lost in the music, a dirty dancefloor after the people have left, or the expressionless people hiding within the fog—these images express my own complex feelings about life’s realities.”
Through his artful snapshots of clubs and club-goers, Chen delivers a sobering vision of modern life: he believes that today’s world has been stripped of happiness, with mass commercialization and digitization being the main culprits behind our joyless existence. His work distills this bleak outlook into a visual format.
With so many people in search of a place to vent their frustrations and anxieties, clubs have perhaps best filled that need. These spaces represent a subversion of the norm, a middle finger to the unspoken guidelines that have long dictated how life should be lived, a place that can’t be replaced by the digital world.
Chen sees nightclubs as society in miniature. People from all walks of life gather in these places, all with their own goals and expectations for the night. These different individuals have all come together under the promise of a good time, but a sense of unease often simmers beneath the surface. While Noon Club offers glimpses this restless energy, Chen reveals that the images weren’t even taken in real clubs. For “In the Waves,” he invited over a dozen young creatives to take part in the shoot, which was completely staged inside a studio. Without even any background music, the models were instructed to party their hearts out within the blinding lights and enveloping fog. The dancers can be seen in varying states: some are fully into it, some aren’t even dressed for the occasion, and others look downright lost. Chen seems keen on speaking a simple truth— even when partying, it’s not completely possible to shed the weight of reality.
Connecting a thread between club culture and modern society, the series offers different perspectives of a night out. Images include wide shots of crowded dancefloors, close-ups of individual party-goers and their sweat-soaked clothing, and even interior shots of empty clubs. Each scene, though greatly different in nature, all capture the anxieties, struggles, and loneliness of the modern Chinese youth in their own way. As the dancers sway and gyrate, they almost seem desperate, as if the right combination of moves can placate their emotions.
《正午俱乐部》系列始于 2013 年。“正午” 和 “俱乐部” 是两个对立的概念。通常，很少有俱乐部会在正午开放。陈维说：“我们通常把夜晚用来蹦迪，所以中午便可以坐下来谈论俱乐部。” 这种概念，让俱乐部成为话题，让思考贯穿于他的摄影作品中。
Prior to photography, Chen created lighting and installation art. This background offers him unique insight in photography, especially with regards to spatiality, materiality, and how light can help evoke a specific mood. For Noon Club, Chen and his team designed everything from the ground up. “Shooting a photo requires a lot of preparation,” he explains. “From the early concept, set design, discussion, set construction, and execution—it takes a tremendous amount of time.”
In the four shots of Dancefloor, Chen Wei themes each image around different props and lighting. In Dance Hall (Pearls), disco balls of varying sizes populate the dancefloor, an unseen light source out of the frame illuminates the dancefloor with warm tones. In Dance Hall (Blueness), purples, cyans, and azures engulf the dilapidated space. Without any human subjects, his set design and lighting setup became the primary story drivers. “Without light, we’re blind, unable to see the manmade or the natural world,” he says. “Light is the prerequisite for visibility, and it’s also the starting point of my work.”
His preferred presentation format, ink-jet prints, gives his images a grainier feel and heightens the vibrant colors to surreal levels. Plenty of care also goes into every offline showing, with Chen deeply involved in how his works are lit or framed in gallery settings.
在《舞池》作品中，陈维分别以 “金”、“碎”、“蓝”、“珠” 等字眼命名舞池的不同状态，呈现了创作中不同材质的运用。这些材质在缤纷的灯光下，与整个俱乐部环境相映成趣，让画面变得立体感十足。当谈论到作品中的灯光运用时，陈维说道：“没有光我们就看不见东西，不论自然还是人造，它们是可视的前提。也是我的工作的起点。”
Ultimately, Chen hopes viewers can keep an open mind when looking at his work. “Clubs are places of uncertainty,” he says. “They’re places of volatile emotions, endless stories, and it’s all too difficult to express accurately using words. That’s why I chose photography.”
Later this month, Chen Wei will host a new solo exhibition titled Good Night at HOW Art Museum. See below for details.
March 27th, 2021～June 11th, 2021
Hao Art Gallery (Third Floor)
Zuchongzhi Rd., Lane 2277, #1
Shanghai, Pudong District
People’s Republic of China
对于作品的解读，陈维希望观众保持开放的态度。他说：“因为俱乐部总有太多不确定性，有太多情绪、太多故事会在这里发生，用只言片语很难准确的表达。这也是为什么我选择用摄影来呈现的原因。” 马上的三月，陈维将在上海昊美术馆三楼展厅举办小型个人展览《陈维 Good Night》。