IN 2008, Jin Jiangbo photographed the chaos left behind following the hasty closure of factories in Dongguan, the so-called "world's workshop," in Guangdong Province. In doing so, the artist became, in the words of Britain's Guardian newspaper, "the first artist in China to predict the coming global financial crisis."
The images, entitled "Prosperity," captured in Dongguan won Jin the Outstanding Artist and Gold Medal at the 4th Lianzhou International Photo Festival, in Guangdong, one of the most prestigious international photography competitions in Asia in 2008.
Although he found fame in photography, Jin had in 1995 graduated from the traditional ink-wash painting department at the Academy of Fine Arts in Shanghai University. And on graduation, Jin had surprisingly chosen another art career path - new media, believing this would broaden his scope of his work.
Despite having jumped from one discipline to another, Jin has found that his career trajectory has maintained an upward curve.
"I have to admit that my career path has gone quite smoothly," Jin told Shanghai Daily.
He created an interactive video work for the 2002 Shanghai Biennale and was spotted by famed international curator Hou Hanru.
Hou selected Jin along with other Chinese artists for the 2003 Venice Biennale, a special honor for a young rising artist, especially when so many contemporaries were struggling to establish themselves.
Jin mockingly said that "I was then absorbed by China's contemporary art community as a member."
Born in 1972 in Yuhuan near Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province, Jin admits to being a naughty kid and didn't do well at school. However, he showed talent at art.
Seeing her son's ability, Jin's mother, an aggressive career woman, urged him to fulfil his talent.
"At that time, she worked in another city, but she wrote every week. Today, I can hardly remember most of what she wrote, but one sentence never changed. At the end of each letter she would encourage me to become 'a pillar of the country,'" Jin recalled with a smile.
He is now the dean of new media art at the Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University and is preparing a solo exhibition in Auckland, New Zealand in March.
Q: What inspired you to take pictures in Dongguan?
A: At the end of 2007, I started to shoot a series of pictures in Yiwu Small Commodity Market, where all those "Made in China" goods were sold to nearly 80 percent of consumers around the world. Yiwu Small Commodity Market was almost a symbol for China's speedy growth.
Then I heard some rumors about closed-down factories in Dongguan where all these goods were being produced. At first, I didn't believe the rumors, so decided to check myself. When I arrived, what I saw before me was worse than what I'd heard - a total mess of hastily closed-down factories. I was fortunate to capture these traces before they were erased. This was part of a worldwide domino effect and I realized immediately that global economic collapse was just ahead.
Q: Your impressive multi-exposure landscape pictures shot in New Zealand have been compared to traditional ink-wash paintings of the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1279–1368) dynasties. Do you agree?
A: Yes. I'm glad that they relate to the ink-wash paintings of the Song and Yuan dynasties. I travel a lot, but New Zealand really attracts me. I was born in a city near the sea, and when the wind blew into my face as I stepped off the plane in New Zealand, I smelled the familiar sea breeze. The landscape is stunning, peaceful and empty. There I found another lifestyle where human and nature become one. I walked along the long beaches alone, and had time to encounter my own self. Believe it or not, there was once a moment when I found my spirit freed itself from my body. Now I go back to New Zealand with my family every year and want to live there when I retire.
Q: You mentioned that your mother was very strict with you. Is she satisfied with what you have achieved?
A: She used to think that art was not an appropriate career - especially for a man - but she respected my choice. We seldom discuss art, but I know that she is proud of me being "a useful person." In my eyes, she's someone very special.
Q: You majored in ink-wash painting, do you still paint?
A: I rarely pick up my brushes. But the aesthetics of traditional ink-wash painting are deeply rooted in my mind.
Q: You also studied at Tsinghua University for a PhD. Why was this important to you?
A: The condition of being an artist nowadays is quite different to the past. It is no longer the creation of technique or a private pursuit of the artist. Contemporary art is no longer art inside the museum, it should guide public focus on social issues. I need to acquire new knowledge and experience to nurture my thoughts. My dissertation was on the defining characteristic of new media art - a fusion of individuality and commonality.
Q: You were born near Wenzhou, where the natives are famous for their business acumen. Are you good at making money?
A: You're damn right! (laughs). I've made good investments in property and stocks. To be honest, I don't earn a fortune through art. But art is something like my first lover; I can't turn away from it as it's sacred to me.
Q: You have exhibitions around the world every year. How do you balance your work with your family?
A: I have a three-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son. Frankly speaking, I am more like their friend than their father. Here I want to thank for my wife who contributes so much to our family. I love kids, but I cannot afford another one! Jesus, I almost have no time for my favorite films! (laughs)