Cai Dongdong: Obstacles — Around

Conceptual Projects
3 min readMar 26


Cai Dongdong. Practice Shooting, 2015

Numerous exhibitions take place in the framework of the European Month of Photography in Berlin during March. Its extensive programme allow visitors to find hidden gems whether they are artists or alternative spaces.

Located in the east of Berlin, in the Alt-Hohenschoenhausen area, is Villa Heike, a multifunctional building erected in 1910. The villa was renovated between 2015–2019 with the aim of having functional spaces to provide studios and offices, but at the same time it was essential to preserve its original appearance. Nowadays, Villa Heike takes advantage of its historical architecture and wide-open rooms to run an interesting cultural programme.

Villa Heike

Throughout March, Villa Heike is hosting a solo exhibition by Chinese photographer Cai Dongdong. Born in 1978 in the inland city of Tianshui in Gansu, Dongdong joined The People’s Army at a very early age and worked as a portrait photographer for soldiers. This was his first formal approach to photography, a role that apparently required objectivity and was expected to show the reality of the Chinese army. Back in Beijing, he decided to open his studio and develop his own career.

The first time we see Dongdong’s works, we immediately realise the numerous techniques used in each individual piece. In many of his works, the artist introduces external elements such as arrows or mirrors, folding and altering the surface to produce photographic installations. By presenting them in this way, the viewer is forced to explore the work from different angles and discover its numerous possibilities. Dongdong’s constructed images highlight the very nature of photography and its potential to transform its tangible character, investigating different lines of study through its materiality and how it is exhibited.

Cai Dongdong. Off the target, 2015

At its core, Cai Dongdong’s practice is based on the desire to create half-fragmented realities out of images. Throughout his years of service in the army, Dongdong managed to obsessively amalgamate an extensive archive of mostly amateur photographs. It was around 2014 when he began to consider these analogue images as an artistic medium and entrust them a sculptural value.

With the meticulousness of a craftsman, Dongdong assembles the photographic paper to bring us constructions which, although they may seem innocent, have a much deeper meaning if one seeks to delve deeper into the cultural background or the history of the image.

Cai Dongdong. A Group Photo, 2022

Obstacles will be open at Villa Heike from 2nd March to 2nd April and is part of the EMOP programme in 2023. The exhibition is curated by Yasmine Benhadj-Djilali and Michael Schäfer in collaboration with the Wemhöner Collection and the Yu Zhang Collection.

Cai Dongdong: Obstacles | Villa Heike, Berlin March 2— April 2, 2023

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Text by:

Juan Blasco — Founder & Curator of Conceptual Projects