Se Qing and the Naked Truth
February 24th, 2017
Below the rooftop of a Beijing building that shudders against a glaucous sky of factory moans is an unextraordinary office building. In it, perhaps on the sixth floor, sits a man in a suit at a desk. The phone on his desk rings. He probably picks it up. Maybe he shifts his weight in his seat, undoing the buttons on his cuffs. Maybe he texts his wife, tells her not to wait up, a client needs this or that document tonight.
It’s 11 degrees Celsius, and a pair of broad-boned feet rest on the ledge of the rooftop above the office building. The owner of the feet crouches over them, back bent round as if in a snail shell. He looks down to the street below, speckled with pedestrians bundled in scarves and cars blaring their horns. He thinks about what kind of people might be in the office building.
Seven months prior, he’d written in a series of diaries published online:
I am always hearing gunshots. In the beginning it scared me a little, but over time I’ve
grown used to it. Someone has taken up a hammer and is knocking nails into my head,
it’s a construction site where someone is erecting a monstrous skyscraper, they’ve been
building it for years and it still isn’t done yet. The many homeless people in my head are
crying and jibing, they won’t let me sleep, won’t let me out the door. Staying home and
awake suits me just fine, because every day before heading out, after putting on the
clothes I’ve selected so meticulously for myself, and looking into the mirror, it looks to
me as if I’ve dressed to attend my own funeral.
It had always felt this way. For much of his life, since his childhood in a suburb of Changchun, the capital of China’s northeastern province of Jilin, Ren Hang had felt as if he was stumbling through a shadowy psychosis, a jammed film reel in disparate shades of gray.
Still, through the fog of voices and visions clouding his consciousness, in Ren’s pulsing circuit board of veins, he has always felt a deep connection to his family, to his hometown, to China.
And this has never wavered, even as he moved what seemed continents away to study marketing at 17, to live in the 4-to-a-room cramped quarters of Beijing’s university housing, high from the ground, amidst the haze and cancers and pollution of a city of chaos.
Fragmented light splashes across the bare thighs and torso of a man whose face cannot be seen. Each hand holds a disco ball, whose mosaicked faces refract the flash’s exposure. Between the disco balls, an erect penis. In another photograph, from the last series Ren published, two nude men sit curled atop one other on the ledge of a building, pasted against a jumbled, silver skyline. Their eyes meet the camera’s gaze steadily.
As Ren crouches on the windowsill, many of these photos are already on exhibition at Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam. Museum curator Mirjam Kooiman says of the work, “It’s visual poetry. It’s without limits.”
Ren is not without limits.
The man in the office shuffles a stack of paper, maybe. He sighs when the phone rings again. Perhaps he stares at the minute hand on the wall clock.
Ren, some days, can’t tell wall clock from whiskey.
He rises slowly in the frame of the window. Stands, looks. Maybe he is naked, like so many of his subjects are. Maybe, as always, he’s meticulously selected what he believes to be the proper attire for the occasion. In one month he’ll be 30. He is always hearing gunshots.
He steps into the air.
January 15th, 2010
I will only pay attention to those morbid, stuttering, material, two-dimensional- thinking
boys in single-parent families. There is a kind of boy who calls me after hours of high
tide. Hearing his voice, I know that although I am still underwater, I am still not dead.
Huang Jiaqi has the broad, hopeful eyes of youth and lips full as if they’d been stung by honeybees.
It’s been nearly a year since he ran away from home, leaving his university entrance examinations unfinished, his childhood tucked somewhere in diaries with thick-pulp pages, like those still made by tired men in the Qinling mountains.
At only 18, Jiaqi is slight of build, and can often afford nothing more to eat than a box of fried rice with a cucumber for five yuan. He devours the meal shoulder-to-shoulder with his lover, beneath the opaque and oppressive Beijing sky.
Jiaqi and Ren sleep in a house with five or six others who pad silently through the space like apparitions, also hungry.
Ren takes Jiaqi to rooftops. He snaps his shutter.
And with friends pitted naked against mosaicked Moroccan-style fl