Western Sydney based artist, Danny Huynh, uses a range of techniques in his contemporary photographic practice to explore the connections between people, place and culture. His new body of work, A Sense of Place is aninquiry into the points of intersection between old and new China, between the local and global, redefi ning how audiences enter, exit and re-enter cities as tourists, as locals and as characters of a globalised world.
Shanghai is both backdrop and protagonist in Huynh’s imagining of place and identity. His combination of stylised and staged colour photographs, alongside black and white social documentary images, destabilise cultural stereotypes, creating a precise manipulation of exoticism. Here we see caucasian or western models transformed into the ‘characters’ of the Shanghai people, as the ‘exotic other’. They are presented to audiences as an acknowledgment of the contradictions that occur between western consumer aspirations and the everyday experiences of the city.
The City of Shanghai is no longer limited to a geographical context, but through the artist’s lens, it becomes a bricolage of place, a contemporary utopian metropolis of change. It is a place which has no singular identity but one that exists in fragmented multiples. It embodies the subjects and the artist’s recollections of working in the streets, from the stories told by first generation migrants to the next, of memories that are embedded in culture, tradition and in movement. It is a place of juxtapositions, of contradictions, of new ideas and tradition, of the repetition of the everyday and the promise of difference, of the division of labour and economic liberalism. In Huynh’s work, the city becomes a metaphor for fl uidity of identity, the prominence of place in memory and the desire for connection and exchange.
Huynh has created new narratives for the city, where audiences act out the parts of the tourist, of the local and of the other, to find and create similarities of experience. It is in these similarities and inclusions of recognisable visual references to popular culture that A Sense of Place creates connections across generations, cultures and continents. Huynh is challenging the viewer to address their own bias in constructing otherness, to review their actions as cultural tourists, as consumers of advertising propaganda and contributors to urban development to fi nd a space that we all can share and occupy equally.