The future will arrive sooner or later. Looking at Beijing Silvermine’s pics, we find an analog and confused China that shows itself, halfway between big ideologies and modernity. The project is an unaware reportage about China of the ‘80s, a country full of expectations ready to face a better future. A place where everything, once again, was possible. A brand new post- socialist China.
In 2009 Thomas Sauvin, a French collector, started recovering abandoned photographic films bringing to life the portrait of a forgotten China. Since then he’s buying kilos of films in Beijing suburban markets and, after developing thousands photographs per day; he selects, digitalizes, and classifies the best ones. After about 9 years of work he created the biggest archive of the country made by images of Chinese people’s everyday life from 1985 to the early 2000.
Few years ago the French collector decided to share with the rest of the world his amazing photographic collection opening the namesake Instagram account. Almost daily updated, the Beijing Silvermine’s account on Instragram gained an incredible success even though the channel is not officially available in China.
These pics give a sketch of common people’s life, like in a national big family album. Vacations, love stories, birthday parties, marriages: this is what Beijing Silvermine is about. Private pictures with no documentary intent or artistic purpose are able to give a sincere and meaningful message more than other expressive forms.
But Thomas Sauvin is going further. During the last 4 years he held monographic and collective exhibitions bringing his epic quest around China and around the World: first in Beijing, Brussels, and Chicago in 2014 and last year in Paris.
After collaborations with many other artists, Beijing Silvermine became a real interactive artistic work. It is in no more only an archive of photos, but a real contemporary message. Images were colored and animated by Chinese artist Lei Lei, as we can see in the exhibition Hand-Colored and in the short movie Recycled.
However, photography is only one side of this artistic project. Together with designers, video makers, and editors, Sauvin crafted special albums to collect Beijing Silvermine’s pics: this is how five amazing photobooks were published to express through their contents and design the soul of the project.
Silvermine Albums is the first publication which collects five little albums similar to colorful card deks. Each album contains a collection of photos according to four main themes about innovation, technology, work and entertainment in everyday life.
Thanks to Quanshen / 全身 we can come back to the traditional and imperial China. The book is a fan-shaped album collecting texts and black and white or re-colored portraits reporting China from ‘30 to ‘80s between revolutions and contradictions.
METV is the mirror of the new China. A loose-leaf notebook born from the collaboration with Erik Kessels. The collection reports the arrival of television in Chinese houses through a series of pics in which a lady is portrayed with her new tv in the same position with different outfits.
Until Death Do Us Part / 双喜 is packet of cigarettes. Inspired by the famous brand of cigarettes 喜喜, the name of the project recalls the traditional marriage greeting. The album, in fact, collects pics of marriages in which the bride and the bridegroom smoke together and play funny games to celebrate.
Xian / 线 is latest Sauvin’s publication and it is the most spectacular too. The design of the new album recalls both chinese boxes and origami and it was inspired by a real album found in a Beijing’s market. The album hides about 90 pics of different size. The designer is Mei Shuzhi, already mentioned in the article about the exhibition Bamboo, Silk, Mud, Popper, Paper held during the Milan Design Week 2017. With this album the artist does not want only show old abandoned photos, but he wants build new memories creating an imaginary past in the mind of who unveils all the pics box after box.
photo: Beijing Silvermine official website