John Young
Safe­ty Zone

15th April – 22nd May 2010
Anna Schwartz Gallery

Safe­ty Zone, John Young’s lat­est project presents a series of intri­cate paint­ings that reassem­ble his­tor­i­cal rem­i­nis­cences of human sur­vival by link­ing exper­i­men­tal con­tem­po­rary art with inves­tiga­tive visu­al reports, in his­tor­i­cal pho­tographs and documents.

This body of work draws atten­tion to inci­dents across the city of Nan­jing in Jiang­su, Chi­na, just moments before the onset of the Nan­jing Mas­sacre, which fol­lowed the cap­ture of the city by Japan­ese Impe­r­i­al Forces on 13 Decem­ber 1937. In the six weeks fol­low­ing the inva­sion, a quar­ter of a mil­lion Chi­nese cit­i­zens were killed in what the Amer­i­can his­to­ri­an Iris Chang described as the for­got­ten holo­caust of World War II’.

Through Chang’s book, The Rape of Nanking, the world was intro­duced to the per­son­al mem­oirs of for­eign­ers liv­ing in Nan­jing who had been work­ing on cre­at­ing a safe­ty zone’ that would pro­tect 250,000 Chi­nese cit­i­zens from the invad­ing Japan­ese troops. Two of the twen­ty-one for­eign­ers who stayed in the city to help set up the Nan­jing Safe­ty Zone were the Amer­i­can mis­sion­ary Min­nie Vautrin and the Ger­man busi­ness­man John Rabe. Their expe­ri­ences have been not­ed by Young, who trav­elled to Nan­jing, Berlin and Hei­del­berg, con­duct­ing first hand inter­views and research for this com­pelling mul­ti-lay­ered project which exem­pli­fies the trans­for­ma­tive func­tion of art.

The instal­la­tion Safe­ty Zone con­sists of three series of works which ref­er­ence acts of resis­tance by indi­vid­u­als to pro­tect fel­low human beings against these atroc­i­ties that were under­pinned by auto­crat­ic regimes and nation­al­ist ideologies.

In the Flower Mar­ket (Nan­jing 1936) series, care­ful­ly paint­ed spring flow­ers and bleached corals are super­im­posed over his­tor­i­cal pho­tographs tak­en in Nan­jing a year pri­or to the mas­sacre. The metic­u­lous­ly ren­dered impres­sions of logs in The Crip­pled Tree #1 & #2 pro­vide anoth­er reg­is­ter to the mem­o­ry of the event. Accord­ing to Young, the bat­tered and split logs, paint­ed in the neg­a­tive, res­onate and rec­ol­lect the vio­lence done to the vic­tims of the massacre.

The care­ful­ly assem­bled bank of 60 chalk draw­ings and dig­i­tal prints that make up the cen­ter­piece of Safe­ty Zone pro­vides an intri­cate under­stand­ing of the human­i­ty that lies beneath this trag­ic event through the rev­e­la­tion of extra­or­di­nary acts of self-sacrifice.

Dr. Thomas J. Berghuis, Depart­ment of Art His­to­ry and Film, The Uni­ver­si­ty of Sydney

Images

John Young

Safe­ty Zone, 2010
Instal­la­tion of 60 works, dig­i­tal prints on pho­to­graph­ic paper and chalk on black­board-paint­ed archival cot­ton paper
3201590 cm

John Young

Flower Mar­ket (Nan­jing 1936) #1, Dig­i­tal print and oil on Bel­gian linen
240331 cm

John Young

Flower Mar­ket (Nan­jing 1936) #2, 2010
Dig­i­tal print and oil on Bel­gian linen
240331 cm

John Young

Flower Mar­ket (Nan­jing 1936) #3, 2010
Dig­i­tal print and oil on Bel­gian linen
240240 cm

John Young

The Crip­pled Tree #1, 2010
Oil on linen
274183 cm

John Young

The Crip­pled Tree #2, 2010
Oil on Bel­gian linen
274183 cm