The Australian artist capturing Beijing's lost landscapes

The Australian artist capturing Beijing's lost landscapes

The Australian artist capturing Beijing's lost landscapes

Updated 26 August 2014, 17:02 AEST

A young artist from the Northern Territory has taken out one of Australia’s biggest prizes for digital portraiture with a series of videos on the theme of loneliness, shot in urban Beijing.

Twenty-five-year-old Tiyan Melissa Kilie Baker has won the National Portrait Gallery’s $10,000 prize for digital portraiture. Her work, a series of videos set at night in Beijing, explores the subject of impermanence, reflecting on the quickly-changing urban landscape of the city.

“I wanted to tie people’s emotions to the spaces,” Tiyan says. “Because those spaces are often gone.

“It’s like trying to preserve humanity and dignity in a space that’s constantly changing.”

Tiyan met her subjects on the streets of Beijing and asked them to recall a moment that was special to them. “So we went back to the place where that memory happened and they would try to recreate it for the camera,” she says.

“It was a way of preserving an emotional space, which is the memory, and a physical space, which is the place it happened in – which will often not exist at some point.”

Image by Tiyan Baker
Image by Tiyan Baker

Still from Lost Love – Waiting for midnight at the the Long Distance Call Building on Chang-an Jie ... Beijing 1998, (Image supplied)

Senior curator of National Portrait Gallery, Dr Christopher Chapman, said the three video portraits “reveal heartbreaking moments where individuals long for connection.” In ‘Lost Love’ a man waits on the steps outside a building. 

“He was in love with a French woman for a long time,” Tiyan explains. “They only met on a number of occasions, but they sustained this incredible love that went on for decades. And he used to go to a building close to Tiananmen Square, where there used to be a long distance call centre. He used to go there every night and wait until midnight, because after that the calls were cheaper.

“And when I asked him to pick a memory that was what he wanted to do. He spent most of his twenties doing that routine, so we went back to that space and re-enacted that. “

Image supplied by Tiyan Baker
Image supplied by Tiyan Baker

Still from Yiyi is tired after running at Yong He Jia Yuan park, Beijing, 2014 (Image supplied)

In ‘Yiyi is tired after running at Yong He Jia Yuan park’ a woman is shown patting her dog in the dark. “She wanted me to capture that point where her dog is tired from running and goes back to owner and they sit together in the park,” Tiyan says. “It was a way of preserving a moment that is special for her, that is not going to be there one day.”

“The first story is very dramatic – the others are very ordinary. They’re things people do every day. I just focus on the sentimentality of them,” she says.

Tiyan has studied Chinese since she was 12, and at 15 she went on an exchange to Shanghai which marked the beginning of her ongoing relationship with China. “It bred some sort of fascination in me,” she says.

Along with the cash prize Tiyan will now have the opportunity to undertake a residency at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art. She says her connection with China will continue to be the focus of her practice.

“I’d like to keep focused on China because I think it’s very relevant to Australia,” she says.“I think China’s still a big mystery to this country.”