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Surreal Photographs of Chinese Amusement Parks in Hibernation

Huairou in 'Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun'
Huairou in ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’ (all photos by Stefano Cerio, courtesy Hatje Cantz Verlag)

Italian photographer Stefano Cerio has captured ski resorts at night, empty cruise ships, drained water parks, and, most recently, the uncanny bleakness of China’s off-season amusement parks and other constructed entertainment. Chinese Fun, out this month from Hatje Cantz, includes over 50 of his plate camera images.

Cover of 'Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun'
Cover of ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’ (click to enlarge)

People are absent in the photographs, which are draped in gray skies and smog. It’s easy sport for a Western photographer to go to a country like China with its recent building boom, and document its shoddy corners, but Cerio does have a good idea for some truly strange scenes. Clocks keep time on empty beaches; roller coasters stand vacant and serpentine alongside shiny new skyscrapers; a huge, concrete bowl of fruit bleached by the sun looms over a street; and fragments from global architecture are recreated in concrete, metal, and plastic — from the Colosseum to the Eiffel Tower. A fake piano in an empty field attracts couples for wedding photographs in spring and summer, yet in winter is adrift and otherworldly.

Walter Guadagnini, chair in history of contemporary art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Bologna, writes in an introduction: “It is the collapse of meaning, as well as of any possible identity, that opens the way, in the end, to a vision of the most accentuated surreal character.”

Some of Cerio’s photographs will be on view at Fondazione Volume! in Rome from September 23 to November 3. The photographer purposefully finds places that are not actually abandoned, even if they might appear post-apocalyptic. One exception is the inclusion of the Wonderland Amusement Park in Nankou, a Disneyland knockoff that was never completed and left to decay. It’s all rather bleak on the surface, but these are mostly places in hibernation, waiting for the crowds to return to give their absurdity a purpose.

Pages from 'Chinese Fun' (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Ocean Park, Hong Kong, in ‘Chinese Fun’ (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Pages from 'Chinese Fun' (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Wonderland Amusement Park, Nankou in ‘Chinese Fun’ (photo of the book for Hyperallergic)
Treausure Island  PirateKingdom-Qingdao in 'Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun'
Treausure Island Pirate Kingdom, Qingdao, from ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’
Polar Ocean Park-Qingdao in 'Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun'
Polar Ocean Park, Qingdao, from ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’
Shanghai Happy Valley-Shanghai in 'Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun'
Shanghai Happy Valley, Shanghai, from ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’
Shijingshang Park-Beijing in 'Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun'
Shijingshang Park, Beijing, from ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’
Shilaoren Bathing Beach-Qingdao in 'Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun'
Shilaoren Bathing Beach, Qingdao, from ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’
Huairou in 'Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun'
Basket of concrete fruit, Huairou, from ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’
Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun
Happy Valley, Shenzhen, from ‘Stefano Cerio: Chinese Fun’

Chinese Fun by Stefano Cerio is out August 25 from Hatje Cantz.

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