Civilization: The Way We Live Now presents nearly 300 works by more than 130 of the world’s most renowned photographic artists, offering a complex and sprawling vision of contemporary life. The images gathered here, produced in the past 25 years, speak to the changes brought about by globalization, and draw attention both to the increasing amount of complexity and conflict, and to the unprecedented degree of interdependence, that characterize life today. They attest, as well, to the development of the medium of photography, and its ability to document these sweeping changes. Organized in collaboration between UCCA and the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, the Beijing presentation of Civilization is curated by William A. Ewing and Holly Roussell.
In his 2011 book, Civilization, the historian Niall Ferguson notes: “These days most people around the world dress in much the same way: the same jeans, the same sneakers, the same T-shirts… It is one of the greatest paradoxes of modern history that a system designed to offer infinite choice to the individual has ended up homogenizing humanity.” This paradox lies at the core of “Civilization,” which strives to explain the “complex whole” that is modern society, in all its spiritual and material richness. The photographers in this exhibition depict, reveal, examine, criticize and otherwise reflect our hyper-modern and complex social terrain, from Edward Burtynsky’smassively transformed landscapesto Lauren Greenfield’s revealing urban portraits,from Toshio Shibata’s highly ordered tableaus to Xing Danwen’s electronic pollution.
The exhibition is divided into eight sections. “Hive” explores the systems of cohabitation and collaboration that have developed in urban settings. “Alone Together” documents the solidarities and estrangements found within communities, as well as the effect of the internet on sociality. “Flow” testifies to the accelerated production and widening wealth gap in the post-industrial world. “Persuasion” explores the power of symbolic capital, from marketing strategies to consumption habits, from religious beliefs to personality cults. “Control” examines humanity’s ability to create order, resolve disputes, and organize political and social structures. “Rupture” focuses on the breakdown of this order, and the conflicts between individuals and collectives. “Escape” follows the ascent of recreational culture, where relaxation, entertainment, adventure, and thrill-seeking offer freedom from the given. Finally, “Next” presents visions of the future, questioning teleological narratives of development.