Civilization Iteration – Xu  Zhen

I see a lot of Art but this was something else – for my eyes and my brain.

Civilization Iteration by Chinese artist Xu Zhen questions the extent of novelty in the world at large and the art world specifically.

Xu Zhen, Eternity – New 40403 Stone Statue, Aphrodite Holding Her Drapery, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

His work shows classical statuary from East and West joined where each singular head would have looked proud and tall as cultural representative of their civilization. Such a “head on / head off” collision is a striking comment on the circular nature of human creativity. 

Yet, in a world gone global, can civilizations fusing into each other lead to a potential loss of cultural meaning? 

Xu Zhen treats this subject with intelligence using mixed media, each refining his loaded critique which has stayed with me since setting foot at Galerie Perrotin in Paris.

Given my background in jewelry, I absolutely loved the formal approach that Xu Zhen chose in his Metal Language series.

Xu Zhen, Are we there yet?…Are we there yet?…Are we there yet?, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

We are all linked and chained by the giant web of the Internet which draws our searches for big knowledge and small facts. Yet look at these links, so weak, so cheap and fake!

Who still actively reads? Who actually scratch the surface before copying and pasting in an unstoppable feedback loop, “recalculating” ad libitum in a global waste of time?

Xu Zhen, detail from This Is My Finest Hour, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

Like magpies irresistibly attracted to shiny jewelry, we flock to all the messages.

The estate jewelry buyer that I used to be can’t help but picture how a magnet would suck up all these fake links and hollow relationships. In their place, I dream of real gold which like thankful and personal relationships would remain undisturbed by the magnet pull.

Xu Zhen, detail from Are we there yet?…Are we there yet?…Are we there yet?, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

With his Metal Language series, Xu Zhen conjured up how careless communication and information globalization carry the seeds of depersonalization and loss of identity for the artist.

Will our civilizations sum up to content and added value becoming secondary as long as the rubbish looks good?

Xu Zhen, detail from Under Heaven -2232UW1169, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

Moving on from the many reflective qualities of his mirror and chains media, Xu Zhen takes us Under Heaven in which he tackles the abundance of aesthetics lacking overall substance.

His richly colored landscapes are reminiscent of the most extravagant cake icing designs. But wait, where is the cake? What happened to the cultural heritage supposed to nourish and elevate you? It’s been obliterated by a striking yet sickening sugar coating!

Xu Zhen, detail from Under Heaven – 2232UW2169, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

The post-truth information tsunami is caking up the cultural heritage that used to be there. Applied with a heavy twist of the icing pouch, there is no possible sense or identity left beyond a sickening sweetness bound to leave you with the mother of all sugar lows.

Xu Zhen, This is My Finest Hour, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

Such overload of information was one of the reasons I started Reinventingrid to spotlight art that highlights life. I feel strongly that beyond its visual punch, there are many other dimensions to Art for which artists must be thanked for. An absent-minded copy paste is just not good enough…

That’s the other problem presented by Xu Zhen. The world has entered a “plagiarist” loop, where quoting artists or where you get your inspiration from is lost in the “recalculating” of coordinates towards an unknown destination.

Xu Zhen, detail from This Is My Finest Hour, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

Take a look at this Northern Qi Dynasty Bodhisattva (Chinese, 550-577) propped on a Belvedere Torso (based on Ancient Greek original from Second Century BC). An eternity shrunk as two cultures crashed into each other.

Xu Zhen, Eternity – Northern Qi Dynasty painted Bodisattva, Belvedere Torso, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

What coexisted as separate mutually enriching cultures linked by Silk Road connections is reducing our world to a big cultural void, sans queue ni tête. Arbitrarily combined as a visual shocker, our world and art could be left with no thinking center, if we are not careful.

Xu Zhen, Eternity – Northern Qi Dynasty painted Bodisattva, Belvedere Torso, Galerie Perrotin, Paris
Xu Zhen, Eternity – Northern Qi Dynasty painted Bodisattva, Belvedere Torso, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

I get this feeling reading the news to be honest. That’s why I trekk art exhibitions instead!

Xu Zhen, Evolution – Seated Buddha from the North Wall of Mogao Cave No 390, Baoule Mask, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

On canvas, Xu Zhen sticks a variety of masks from different African tribes onto buddhas, apsaras and bodhisattvas from the Mogao Caves (Chinese, earliest caves ones dug in 366AD).

Xu Zhen, Evolution – Buddha and Apsaras from the South Wall of Mogao Cave No.249, Fang Ngil Mask, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

Once again collapsing time and forcing civilizations onto one another, these surprising oil paintings on canvas show two distinct cultures and civilizations merge seamlessly to form a new but incongruous image.

Xu Zhen, Evolution – Apsaras from the North Wall of Mogao Cave No. 321, Iatmul Canoe Prow Mask, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

The fact they are made to look like pictures coarsely photo-shopped on ancient frescoes makes evident the risk for “destruction of cultural learning” highlighted by Galerie Perrotin in their leaflet on Xu Zhen.

Being influenced by other cultures is normal and actually healthy. It elevates the art of the inspired artist, much like herbs and spices transform a culinary dish. Much like Picasso Primitif at Quai Branly in last week’s post where we explored the driving force and inspiration Picasso found in African Art. Yet, late in his career, Picasso was always reluctant to admit this and give those masks their due. Why?

Xu Zhen, detail from This is My Finest Hour, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

Why do people find it so hard to quote, reference or simply thank who/what inspired them? A real shame when accolades extend learning opportunities for all participants, oil human relationships with mutual respect and keep ridicule and “cultural stagnation” at bay.

Discovering a new artist is always a treat. Broadening what the eyes can see, pushing the limits of what materials can express. Above all, making me reflect on wider meanings.
Xu Zhen delivers on all counts and more. Discover his work in his first solo show at Galerie Perrotin until July 29, 2017.

Xu Zhen, Eternity – Tang Dynasty Bodhitsattva of the Hebei Province Museum, Northern Qi Losana Buddha of the Longxing Temple Bodhisattva of the Xiude Temple, West Pediment of the Temple of Aphaia, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

Xu Zhen, Eternity – Tang Dynasty Bodhitsattva of the Hebei Province Museum, Northern Qi Losana Buddha of the Longxing Temple Bodhisattva of the Xiude Temple, West Pediment of the Temple of Aphaia, Galerie Perrotin, Paris

© 2017 Ingrid Westlake

All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.


8 thoughts on “Civilization Iteration – Xu  Zhen

  1. Very disconcerting these grafted statues of another body by the head !!
    Is it to pass “un témoin” of civilization in civilization ???
    We could also imagine a loss of identity !!!!!
    At the same time if each civilization has its own identity, it is likely that identities “fusionnent” and this fusion brings about a new identity …

    I like the idea of ​​”METAL LANGUAGE”This Is My Finest Hour” we are chained by internet, we all have the same source of information that we use rightly or wrongly but we lost the sense of personal research !!!! Damage certainly …. and yet the visual result of his work is nice to watch ! Is it to make us think or is it a trap ???

    Under Heaven is very colorful and overloaded with icing, it shows that the overabundance of information given by a single source (internet) makes us die slowly but surely…

    So, you’re right to react and visit exhibitions to read the messages that artists put into their works !!

    1. Marie-Annick, your choice of word is spot-on! To me, these statues are indeed “grafted” but with no intention to repair. More likely, it’s using the body of one culture with the head of another to make a third that is neither one or the other and does not make much sense, unless there is a message of power struggle resulting in no ‘thinking center”…I definitely think there is a loss of identity for the two cultures used and unfortunately I don’t think the identity of the combined is looking promising…
      The problem highlighted by Xu Zhen is, I think, that it’s all done arbitrarily. Cultures should influence each other and potentially merge but it takes time and I think the process results in mutual influence not collision of two bits. It’s a threading exercise, not coarse grafting. That’s what really got me thinking …
      I am so glad you liked it too. I just found Xu Zhen’s expressions of the same theme absolutely riveting and powerful.
      Thank you for reading and posting 😘

  2. What curious statues New 40403 Stone Statue, Aphrodite Holding Her Drapery for..never seen that..What a crazy imagination! but to explane what…I don’t know..
    And for Under Heaven what a colorful attractive eyes love this.
    All the messages done with metal chains are the symbol of a jail.The effect in the big earth is spectacular for Are we there yet?…Big question …In fact, Xu Zhen asks us a lot of questions!

    1. Xu Zhen asks many questions indeed… and creates more with varied artworks and use of media that I personally find so stimulating and challenging at so many levels…It’s very different and that’s why I wanted to share this exhibition. It is still in my head, so powerful…💥

  3. I loved what you said about enjoying art that highlights life. Exactly. Looking at a painting or a work of art makes us voyeurs – often not just into the subject matter of the painting and the image itself – but into the mind, life and times of the artist. That’s what excites me the most while seeing Xu Zhen’s work. Coming from India and being part of a culture that originated some of the elements in the conflation of iconography I see in his work – he has deconstructed medieval art in South/South-East/East Asia – by dramatically showing the what was not blatantly obvious in sculptures of the 6th-12th centuries CE. Thanks for sharing Ingrid!

    1. Thank you dear Amita. I am really interested in your interpretation of Xu Zhen’s work and the deconstruction you saw in some of his works. If I read you correctly, you mean that he’s actually highlighting the influence that Greco-Roman art had on Indian Art, especially Gandhara art per the links you sent me. This would indeed be Xu Zhen showing in a very artistic way that such influences were progressively absorbed instead of just imposing themselves and replacing pre-existing cultural visuals. Yet, the fact that Xu Zhen chooses the heads as elements removed and replaced makes me feel his message is more critique. One thing for sure, I am going to love discovering more Indian art with you 😘

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