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Zhe Chen

One thing is certain;
What begun as just cause became just excuse.

(Jeanette Winterson)



When I stumbled over Zhe Chen´s project “The Bees” I was hit by the visual quality of her work and hit again by it´s terrifying content.

I was moved, and I still am. My imagination went on the road.

I am asking myself how it feels to be one of these young people and I am wondering what kind of deprivation they have experienced as children to be ruled by an urge to hurt themselves.

As excellent the visual quality of Zhe Chen´s series “The Bees” is, there is not a trace, nor a hint, that leads us to the real pain, the pain behind the self inflicted one.

Of course it sounds absurd to accuse a photographer to stay merely on the surface, but there are means to punctuate this barrier, to cross it and go into depth.

That what can´t be shown, that can be told.
That what isn´t to be told, that can be hinted at visually.

Zhe Chen is doing none of this in her single projects.
Looking at all of them, something starts to happen.


In an essay for burn magazin, Zhe Chen writes:

They left their lives in the very wounds they had created for themselves.
– Virgil (Roman poet, 70BC – 19BC)

To jeopardize existence for existence itself: ‘Bees’ records a marginalized group of people in China, who, faced with chaos, violence, alienation and irredeemable loss in life, feel propelled to leave physical traces and markings on their bodies, in order to preserve and corroborate a pure and sensitive mind from within.

In 2010, having ‘The Bearable’ (a photo series documenting my own self-inflictions over the past 4 years) as my passport, I had the opportunity to develop a close relationship with some of these obstinate souls – the bees. During the process of exchanging secrets with them, I crossed paths with certain possibilities that were formerly untouched but towards which I had struggled greatly in my personal life. I’m struck by the unyielding actions and reactions that the bees carry on with while encountering sudden and acute emotional fluxes, and moved by the recurrent effort they make to recover themselves afterwards. No matter how different our lives seem to be, we undoubtedly share common psychological experiences.

I hope my photographs inquire upon society’s prejudice and preconception towards this community, and not become illustrations or pictorial evidence for the topic at hand: every subject is an individual, not just ‘one of them’ – his or her life cannot be predicted or dictated by any constructed social code or notion. Depression plants the seed of introspection. The bees take it in; They reason it, embrace it and explore it, forming an isolated universe in their own minds. These self-sustained universes contain every reason that explains the ‘abnormality’ that no one who lacks in common experiences could decode. I hope a first glance of my work conveys the idea of secrecy and sentiments, under which lies information awaiting exposure and recognition: like an index page pointing towards all the unanswered questions.



Zhe Chens reasons for her self-injurious behavior are probably more intimate and painful than the wounds she cares to show us.

I start here not with “bees” but a project of her called: “Cause/Excuse” because this could be the entrance to a hidden world, a world even more secret than injuries covered by clothing.


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July 25