Firewatching: Witness and Narrative at the Inside-Out Museum Beijing

24th February-15th April, 2023
1F Beijing Inside-Out Art Museum

The tenth Inside-Out Practice exhibition presents the publishing practice of 89books, an independent press in Palermo, Sicily, Italy. Founded in 2018 by Italian photographer Mauro D’Agati and Ukrainian curator Kateryna Filyuk, 89books is committed to the discovery and experimental publication of limited-edition photo books of different forms and contents. The press has also launched the residency program, inviting artists to fine-tune an older project and turn it into a book, or to embark on shooting in Palermo with an emphasis on the locality. This exhibition features 24 volumes of 89books publications, including photography books with the themes of war and marginalized human conditions. We intend to highlight the fact that photography, as a creative medium, alongside the practice of making photography publication, has the power to testify to the multi-faceted reality and thus leave footprints in historical narratives.

    The earliest Chinese record of this region of Sicily is from the book Chu-fan-chi, written by Zhao Rushi in the Southern Song Dynasty. As it goes, “Sicilia… with the sea which a thousand miles wide… has a deep cave, and fires come out of it in all seasons. If you see it from afar, smoke and fire abound. If you view it closely, the flame savagely burn…” The title of this exhibition, “Firewatching,” both comes from the literary description and imagination of Sicily in ancient China, also refers to our desire and longing to be awakened by stimulation through photographs and their publications. Yet, there is always an ambivalence that comes along such an impulse. Indeed we are afraid of taking action or putting ourselves in real danger.

    We have divided 24 books into two chapters. The first section, titled “Seeing Clearly as Seeing Flames” mainly displays the cultural landscapes of contemporary Europe, North America, and Australia through the artists’ lens, a series of photographs based on research in Palermo, and travel pictures taken by artists in Spain, Argentina and all over the world. Scenes thousands of miles away are captured distinctly by the camera and received by our vision. After editing, a narrative is established between images, giving access for viewers to grasp the distant scenery.

  The second chapter, titled “Watching Fire from the Other Side,” contemplates the practical significance of the testifying and narrative functions embedded in photography. Departing from these works, we try to deliberate the relevance of specific regional issues to global concerns and reflect on the imminent issues such as war, refugees, criminal resettlement strategies for the mentally ill, and the status of queer considered in some of the photo books.

    Faced with the landscape, war, disaster, human dilemma, and all kinds of hardships through photography books, we are fascinated. In the meantime, we are paradoxically worried that once we get close to reality through the lens, we might be engulfed by fire. Watching the fire from the other side of the river has long been an ancient myth in today’s highly globalized world. As we all know, I am you and you are me.