Book review: Impossible is Nothing: China’s Theater of Consumerism by Priscilla Briggs

Over a span of six years, American photographer Priscilla Briggs traveled along the eastern seaboard of China to explore various facets of Chinese society within the context of a new brand of Communism that embraces “Capitalism with Chinese characteristics.” The fascinating resulting work is published in Briggs’ first monograph, Impossible is Nothing: China’s Theater of Consumerism.

The photographs document a culture that lives at the intersection of East and West. Rejecting the traditional values espoused by the Chinese Communist Party that common national goals take precedence over the needs of the individual, the forces of economic change in China have given birth to a burgeoning consumer class that is dramatically re-defining people’s lives — shaping their identity, values and aspirations for the future.

One can view many of Briggs’ images as ‘theatrical’ scenes; presented as outward representations of how members of the rising economic class wish to appear. They are almost literally casting scenes right out of a movie studio. These constructed realities project security and wealth, but allow the viewer to simultaneously see the vulnerability and insecurity the situation highlights.

Impossible is Nothing describes a forward-looking culture in the midst of a love affair with consumerism. Briggs’ images highlight constructed realities within contemporary China as they relate to ideas of luxury and status modeled after Western capitalist values. At the same time, there are hints in her work of what lies beneath the façade and the costs of global consumerism, as shown in Briggs’ photographs of factories and polluted waterways. Portraits, still life images and urban landscapes, rich in detail, are woven together to create a lyrical ode to the optimism and imagination of a country where anything seems possible.

Briggs’ photographs depict the mega-malls of the wealthy coastal cities, the government-designed city of Yiwu, (famous for its petty commodity trade), the lingerie manufacturing district of Shantou, the oil painting industry of Xiamen, the theme park Window of the World in Shenzhen, and ubiquitous wedding photo studios.

Among the most memorable photographs are Briggs’ portraits of oil painters who are commissioned to reproduce Western masterpieces by the hundreds, such as Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa and the 17th-century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer’s The Girl with the Pearl Earring. These copies of works of art, made mostly for export, are intended to elevate the status of the buyer. In her series The Road to Shantou, Briggs focuses on the fifty square mile area in which many of the world’s brassieres are made. Her images of hard working members in the industry are contrasted with large billboards featuring airbrushed underwear models that tower over piles of garbage in the streets.

Through juxtaposition and repetition, references between Briggs’ images create a visual language that speaks to overarching themes and motifs. We see swans in wedding studios set in very different locations, yet the traditional symbol for love, fidelity and loyalty is still just a prop. Purses and paintings become signifiers of value while escalators and doors act as conduits of transformation. While Briggs’ work critiques Western influence and consumerism, her portraits also express a new world of boundless potential.

The book has strong supporting text for Briggs’ project – which frames her work in contexts of both economic and societal influences in China. An essay by award-winning journalist Rob Schmitz provides context for Briggs’ images, giving the reader a sense of time, place and history. A foreword by independent curator Susannah Magers addresses the conceptual underpinning of the book.

Schmitz describes China through Briggs’ lens as “a land momentarily frozen between countryside and frenetic metropolis … wherever they look, Chinese consumers and workers in Brigg’s photographs are surrounded by slick romanticized imagery of the West — environments of pure exotic aspiration.”

11 X 11 In. / 116 Pages  / 60 Color Photographs
ISBN 9781942084334
List Price: $45.00

 To buy the book, please visit:

Priscilla Briggs is a fine art photographer based in Minneapolis, MN. Her work investigates global representations of capitalism and consumerism. Her work has been exhibited internationally, most recently in the Landskrona Photo Salon in Sweden, the Minneapolis International Film Festival, the DeVos Museum in Michigan, and many more. Briggs is an Associate Professor of Studio Art at Gustavus Adolphus College, and is represented by Rosalux Gallery. For more information, and to see more work, please visit her website:

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we like small things @ Filter Space

© Nick Albertson

we like small things
September 15 – October 21, 2017

Reception: September 21 | 6pm – 9pm

“Artists were asked to submit works 10 x 10 inches or less for this call for work. Juror, Jennifer Keats, Director of The Donut Shop, chose a compelling assortment of small works from 30 artists.”

Location: Filter Space | 1821 W. Hubbard St., Ste. 207

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Deception @ Filter Space

© Ange Ong

September 15 – October 21, 2017

Reception: September 21 | 6pm – 9pm

“Deception, juried by Brian Paul Clamp, Director of ClampArt, features the work of 29 artists that consider deception in all its various manifestations. Congratulations to Ange Ong, winner of the Juror’s Choice award and Kerry Mansfield, Honorable Mention. ”

Location: Filter Space | 1821 W. Hubbard St., Ste. 207

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A Green and Pleasant Land, British Landscape and the Imagination: 1970s to Now @ Towner Art Gallery

Thomas Joshua Cooper, Ritual Indications, Alton, Shopshire, 1977

A Green and Pleasant Land, British Landscape and the Imagination: 1970s to Now
30 September 2017 – 21 January 2018

“A Green and Pleasant Land, British Landscape and the Imagination: 1970s to Now, a major survey of over 100 works by 50 artists who have shaped our understanding of the land we live on and its relationship to identity, place and time. The exhibition interprets the British landscape through the ideologies associated with both urban and rural landscapes, exposing the inherent tensions between landscape represented as a transcendental or spiritual place, and one rooted in social and political histories. Though mainly photography, A Green and Pleasant Land includes film, painting and sculpture, to explore how the diverse concerns that found expression in photography extended into other art forms.”

Towner Art Gallery, Devonshire Park, College Road, Eastbourne BN21 4JJ.

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Disruptive Perspectives @ Museum of Contemporary Photography

Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, Relationship #23 (The Longest Day of the Year), 2011

Disruptive Perspectives
October 12 – December 22, 2017

OPENING RECEPTION: October 12, 2017, 5:00 p.m.

“Disruptive Perspectives is an exhibition that explores gender, sexuality, and identity. The artists included use photography to articulate an expansive range of identities that cannot be sufficiently characterized using simplistic binaries. Working with a medium that is resolutely still, these artists paradoxically find strategies to explore the idea that identity and often gender itself are adaptable expressions negotiated over time and along a spectrum of possibilities.”

Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst
Barbara Davatz
Lorenzo Triburgo
Jess T. Dugan
Laurence Rasti
Alexandre Haefeli
Leonard Suryajaya

Museum of Contemporary Photography

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Mitch Dobrowner

Newkirk, Oklahoma

Mitch Dobrowner: TEMPEST
Sept 15 – Nov 11, 2017

Opening & Artist Reception Friday Sept 15, 5–7pm


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Annual Juried Exhibition @ Baxter St at CCNY

La main gauche se lave la main droite et la main droite se lave la main gauche, by Keith O. Anderson

Annual Juried Exhibition
August 17 – September 8, 2017

Reception & Screening: September 8, 2017 from 6 – 8 pm

“The winners, Keith O. Anderson, Res, and Qian Zhao, offer three distinct yet complementary approaches to the contemporary photographic practice. The works included play with the body, subjectivity, and speak to the complex performative nature of contemporary image-making. ”

Baxter St at the Camera Club of New York
126 Baxter Street
New York, NY 10013

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Out of Dust, MA Documentary Photography & Photojournalism @ Ambika P3 Gallery

Out of Dust, MA Documentary Photography & Photojournalism
23 August – 5th September

“Out of Dust is an exhibition by MA Documentary Photography and Photojournalism students from Westminster University, whose projects advance ideas of documentary photography interpreting society within exciting and developing methods that address the subject, yet also consider what it means to engage with the world in the 21st Century.”

Ambika P3 Gallery
35 Marylebone Road,
London, NW1 5LS

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Armando Chant @ Black Eye Gallery

From Liminal, by Armando Chant, courtesy of Black Eye Gallery

Armando Chant: Liminal
AUG 23- SEPT 3, 2017

Opening night- Thursday August 24, 6-8pm

“Liminal builds an interest with the potential for engagement that exists with the relationship between imagery and objects that sit within an in between state of emergence and realisation.

This series proposes an encounter with the liminal image in construction, where there is an exploration and interaction with the blurred boundaries between the real and imaginatively unreal, and images that are in a process of slow and gradual emergence.
Chant depicts an abstract landscape composed of marks and gestures that are indeterminate and indefinable, embodying both bodily contours and vast panoramic gestural landscapes.
“My practice aims to explore and open up potentials for the dressed body to be reframed or represented within an ephemeral and transient context across site and surface, and contribute to another way of experiencing image and body within the disciplines of both art and design.” – Armando Chant, 2017”

Black Eye Gallery
3/138 Darlinghurst Rd, Darlinghurst 2010 02 8084 7541

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AMANDA BOE, Cafe, 2015

September 7 – October 14, 2017

Opening Reception: Thursday, September 7, 2017, 6 – 8 PM
Artist Conversations: Wednesday, September 13, 2017, 6 – 8PM Tuesday, October 3, 2017, 6 – 8 PM

Begin Anywhere, an exhibition and accompanying publication about mentorship and artistic collaboration, featuring artists Amanda Boe, McNair Evans, and Kevin Kunishi along with their mentors – Jason Fulford, Todd Hido, Mark Mahaney, Mike Smith, and Alec Soth. Through a series of collaborative projects, shown in tandem with individual bodies of work, Begin Anywhere explores the possibilities and influence of artistic mentorship, tracing the paths of visual thinking exchanged among artists and how ideas are developed and manifested in the process of an evolving artistic practice.

San Francisco Camerawork, 1011 Market Street, 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94103

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