Involved Artists:

Monika Fischer (CH), Mathias Braschler (CH)

The Project

Completely identical and yet totally different
The modern history of Chinese-American relations began in 1972 with the visit of Richard Nixon to the then Chinese Premier Mao Zedong. This meeting of two leaders from totally opposing poles – in terms of geography, society and ideology – has since become legendary.
No one could have predicted the developments that have followed: China has radically reformed what was formerly a Communist command economy characterized by shortages, and has become a global superpower: it is now the largest creditor to the debt-ridden and economically weakened US. The ideological power-struggle became an economic one, and the “paper tiger”, as Mao once referred to the US, has become the role model and competitor that the Chinese want to outdo in all areas. Today, the two nations dominate global events: one because
of its rapid economic growth, and the other because of its severe crisis that seems a long way from ever being resolved.

Who are the people behind world history? In 2003, Zurich photographers Mathias Braschler and Monika Fischer travelled the US, documenting the country’s population. The result is over a hundred pictures – and not spontaneous snaps: every single one is a carefully considered composition. They bring out that which typifies the individual; at least that’s what viewer thinks, until his/her expectations are broken down and preconceptions contradicted. The list of subjects includes farmers, workers, families, rich and poor, politicians, and more – a true cross-section of the infinitely varied population.

A few years later, in 2007, the experiment was repeated in China. During their journey through the giant country, the pair once again created well over 100 pictures. The subjects varied once more from car dealers to politicians, from ladies of the night to farmers, and so on, and are portrayed in meticulously composed pictures. In the run-up to the Olympics, the Chinese regime put on a liberal face, but this didn’t stop the two photographers being locked up several times during their journey for their actions, despite having obtained the necessary written permits. Mostly, it was simply a case of the choice of subject not meeting with the local authorities’ approval.

And now the photos from the US are hanging next to those from China for the first time, organized in pairs: family next to family, worker next to worker, and so on. It is the job of the viewer to decide which are the same and which are very, very different. Enabling such a direct comparison was never in the pair’s plans.

This idea came from Klaus Littmann – much later, long after the photo reports had been completed. It is important to know this, as both the similar and the different pairs appear so typical and so striking that it would be possible to suspect that they form part of a pre-planned documentation of a particular theory. This is not the case. The people are every bit as different and as similar, as random and as predictable as they appear here: Americans and Chinese, men, women, people. So revealing, so confusing and endlessly fascinating. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication by Reinhardt Verlag Basel.



Chinese - American

Chinese - American

Peter Wirth

Time of publication: 2012
144 pages Hardcover
CHF 35 / 23 €
ISBN: 978-3-7245-1684-2