(Original language: Mandarin)
XU ZHEN: The end of the 1990s was not a very active period in the Shanghai art scene. At the time, there were no art spaces; unlike now, when we have exhibitions every day. Everything was kind of underground. After 1997, when young artists, including me, left school we thought, if there are no exhibitions, we can organise some ourselves. Around 2000, after organising a couple of shows, artists from outside Shanghai started coming to the city. Not many, though. The focus of the Shanghai scene has always been on Shanghai artists.
Back then, information on the Internet wasn’t as widespread. Everyone was basically creating in their personal ways. You paid attention to things close to you. For example: desire, the tactile, sex, the flesh. You subconsciously wanted those kinds of things to offer you some stimulation; a new sense of being.
It definitely doesn’t look like a back at first glance. It looks more like an arm or a piece of flesh. When people hear the sounds, they expect certain things to happen. Something to hit the body. But because I have edited out those parts [the slapping actions], the sense of anticipation never gets resolved. I think it’s a rather abstract treatment.
The country or the environment you were in didn’t matter much. If you were a young person entering society your body would naturally be in conflict with your physical surroundings. The older generation was somewhat affected by the Cultural Revolution. Some were against political symbolism, some embraced it. And our younger generation was more concerned with individualism and urbanisation. It’s hard to say if one was greater than the other. What’s certain is that we’ve been expressing our own values in our respective times.
Artist Xu Zhen's 1998 work Rainbow led him to be the youngest Chinese artist ever to have participated in the main thematic exhibition of the Venice Biennale when he did so in 2001.
When he created it in the late 1990s, he was a young, recently graduated artist participating in the underground art scene of Shanghai. In this video, he talks about his work in the context of this unique time and place.
In Rainbow, an unseen hand repeatedly hits a bare back, which reddens with each strike. The static framing paired with dubbed sound suggests a long progression of time and examines the tension between the seen and the unseen by removing the act of violence and leaving only its trace.
Xu Zhen (born 1977, Shanghai) graduated from the Shanghai School of Arts and Crafts in 1996. Since then he has produced conceptually-driven and controversial projects as an artist, curator, and founder of MadeIn, a company he set up in 2009 to collaborate with a group of artists and technicians. He works in photography, installation, video, and performance; his work contains a level of theatrical humour and criticises social conventions, reflecting the infinite possibilities of contemporary culture.
This video was originally published on M+ Stories.
- Produced by
- M+ Video Production
Chris Sullivan, Jaye Yau, Elaine Wong
- M+ Curatorial Research
Isabella Tam, Ethan Cheng
- M+ Transcript and Closed Captions
LW Lam, Ellen Oredsson, Amy Leung
- Special Thanks