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.
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.
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?
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.
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?
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I get this feeling reading the news to be honest. That’s why I trekk art exhibitions instead!
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).
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.
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?
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.
© 2017 Ingrid Westlake
All pictures by Ingrid Westlake, unless otherwise stated.