by Sukanya DebJan 05, 2023
The term reality in the post-truth era, all thanks to the advancement in technology, is frequently accompanied by a series of prefixes – artificial, augmented, hyper and virtual. Each of these realities offers different user experiences depending on the field of engagement. If on one side, we have reality driven by computerised technology aimed at securing our futures, then on the other side the realities of shifting boundaries and shrinking cultures have rather polarised the world. To lend visual representations to these issues at hand, Chinese artist Xu Zhen’s solo exhibition Hello – accompanied by a group of his latest two-dimensional works Communication at MadeIn Gallery, Shanghai, explores the diversity of creative media.
With the second show of the artist’s brand in the gallery, after Xu Zhen Store in 2016, a large-scale kinetic sculpture entitled Hello moves beyond the traditional concept around sculptures. The sculpture, conceptualised on the aesthetics of western classical and cutting-edge robotics, welcomes the viewers as they enter the gallery. The roots of western civilisation go back to the Greek empire and the Greek architecture swiftly manifests its grandeur. The sculpture Hello borrows the Greek architectural elements of a column and shapes it as a mutated snake. The coming together of column shape and biological aggression of the snake stimulates viewers’ perception and experience on the classic civilisation.
Noted thinker Friedrich Nietzsche’s saying, “If you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you” comes into play when the viewers’ gaze confronts the long history of Greek civilisation. With the current trends of a multitude of interactions between a variety of societies, civilisation iteration, fusion and collision are bound to happen. Here, Hello becomes a reality and metaphor for the encounter between civilisations separated by temporal interval and geographical distance.
The artworks, driven by strong global issues and scale in terms of technology, may for many overpower the creative intensity of the artist, but Zhen, as a leading Chinese artist and curator, assertively admits, “I do not pay attention to these specific issues, but the artwork I create is an issue that all these issues have to face.” So, is it expected of the viewers who come to visit the exhibition to have an immersive experience? Zhen believes that “the audience needs to know or have the imagination of an immersive experience. It is like I have not been to Africa, but I am still full of imagination and curiosity.”
When the rationality of calculative digital technology is used to blur the boundaries between figuration and abstraction, we get Zhen’s latest two-dimensional works, Communication, which are also part of this exhibition. For these works rendered in highly saturated colours, the cartoon characters – Mickey Mouse, Angry Birds, Mario Bros., Pikachu, Gingerbread Man, Smurf, Brown Bear, among many others – are evoked from the classic mainstream animations. Communication is a meeting of popular culture and conceptual art, when the fall of each form to the ground is generated by a computerised programme. To heighten the visual effect, the final composition is superimposed with uneven rich colours and an assorted set of shapes and tones.
When Zhen’s artworks approach the key issues of human interactions across civilisations and inevitability of digital technology in the post-global era, it is the final creation of the artist that stands tall amid the noises. As Zhen notes, “My art has no boundaries. Whether it is technology or idea, it needs my creation to become art, otherwise it is just classification.”
The exhibition continues at MadeIn Gallery, Shanghai, till December 31, 2019.