China Girls, French artist Valérie Belin’s third solo exhibition. In the line of Super Models (2015), All Star (2016), and Painted Ladies (2017), this new series of photographs, realized in 2018, depicts young women posing “like actresses incarnating imaginary characters.” The title is directly borrowed from the vocabulary of the motion picture industry from the 1950s. Originally, a “China Girl” designated an anonymous actress who held the cameraman’s grayscale, used to calibrate the opening image in the reel leader, when processing the film. By extension, “China Girl” became the generic term to identify this first image.
This secondary role assigned to actresses gave rise to the stereotypical pose that Valérie Belin subtly reinterprets in her portraits, which depict three young women who are all strangely similar, aesthetically speaking, to the point that it is hard to tell them apart in the photographs that make up the series. Like contemporary geishas, they embody, according to the artist, “the role of a beautiful captive, inhabiting a wonderful environment.” Elegantly dressed, they kneel in the middle of a décor that is dense with motifs and knickknacks (oddities, fake antiquities, vases and bowls filled with flowers and fruit, etc.). The types of porcelain she uses (otherwise known as china) were the inspiration for each of the titles: Bohemian Glass Cup, Opaline Crystal Flask, or even Swan Neck Vase.