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The Information Age An interview with Xu Zhen
Rajesh Punj

Entrepreneurship is the best form of practice to create profit, and the profits from the brand Xu Zhen and MadeIn company are channeled back into art to make it bigger. All of the meaning of our work is built on this basis. I don’t have any restrictions about size, just as I don’t have any restrictions upon my imagination, as much as I don’t have a preparation for the next creation.

In-situ Shanghai based artist Xu Zhen creates artworks that for their presence appear as aesthetic appropriations of an enlightened past, influenced by his interest in an insurgence of new technologies; as time and events are reconstituted to create ‘information objects’ as contemporaryart. As he explains “in the last two years our creative processhas resembled the decoding of cultural genes, as we believe such an objective makes sense. Crucially we started to create sculptural works with elements from different civilizations, and by bringing such elements together we wanted to emphasize the relationship between traditional culture and contemporary social experiences, as a new combination of genes, that arrives at this kind of result.”

Going onto argue “civilization is a known experience; with the development of technologies these civilizational experiences are not enough, they have to be stimulated so that they don’t become a museum’s dead relics. And ‘iteration’ is a certain method to obtain a desired goal through a repeated formula.” And far from being modeled and manipulated by a madman, the artist’s intention for a new aesthetic has him see African artifacts and Japanese sex dolls as one and the same thing. Saying of the Evolution works“from a certain point of view these visual conflicts reach a harmony. Topics related to primitiveness and sexual aspects are only a small part of the work. The elements used in the work don’t only represent a cultural phenomenon, they also relate to the human spirit. African cultural objects and Japanese manga constitute ‘totems’ of various periods.”

The impressive scale of the mineral and aluminum statues sideby-side at Galerie Perrotin, Paris, generates the kind of attention that is deserving of a deity. Yet their sexual overtone, of a Japanese figurine applied to where the penis should be elects for a new kind of appreciation that Xu Zhen alludes to is entirely about the dynamic of applying one loaded motif to another. As cultural cannon’s – history, mythology, geography, art and order – are recalibrated in a single act of visual vandalism. And by demonstrating such brilliant bravado it is as if the artist says of all things that it isn’t about reaffirming categories, as we have for time immemorial, but allowing for their inventive overlap, to create new configurations as art. Intentionally looking beyond the physical sensibilities of an object as artifact, Xu Zhen intends to reactivate it as ‘information’. Siting how the works “aren’t sculptures or paintings, they are objects of ‘information’. Locations such as Beijing and Paris for me are also a different kind of ‘information’. When facing information as facts there is not spatial distance. I first make a complete understanding of the information, which eclipses a concrete period of time. Reality is only in the moment.” As he applies a certain kind of understanding to everything that is fuelled as much by the democratization of information by technology, as it is by his appetite for insurrection.

And in a new body of works Xu Zhen choreographs narratives that are as appealing, if not more aesthetically pleasing, than that which holds the world together now. As there is in these collected artworks a prevailing sense of subversion that is intended to celebrate a new order of things. And by intentionally exercising iteration upon a motif until it is diluted of its original meaning, Xu Zhen fills the void with his own version of events.

Rajesh Punj:
In light of everything you do; do you see yourself more as an artist, interventionist or entrepreneur?

Xu Zhen: I am an artist, from the perspective of the function of art, and an artist entrepreneur. I create and can do many other things.

RP: In terms of the scale of your operation, with your having conceived of multidisciplinary studios for your developing work, and the work of a new generation of artists in China, how do you effectively involve yourself in everything? Or have you arrived at a point whereby you instruct others to create your artworks?

XZ: From 1999 to 2010 I was the art director of a non-for-profit art centre in Shanghai. At that time I organised hundreds of exhibitions involving hundreds of artists, and as one of many people in charge of the art space, I worked with everyone. I gave my advice and we solved problems together, while respecting the artist’s original idea. In 2006 together with a few artists we established an internet media company called Art-Ba-Ba, and within two years it became the most active art forum on the internet, where curators, artists, and art professionals where able to actively engage with one another. And by virtue of all these years of work I have acquired, together with my colleagues, a certain amount of experience and a network of contacts. Which led in 2013 to our establishing Made In Gallery, and we intended to use the gallery as a model to promote young emerging artists. With theXu Zhen brand I am responsible for the brand’s art direction and objectives, while there are various professional staff responsible for the management, production, quality control, transport, insurance, promotion and commercial activities that accompany the brand’s development.

RP: Can you recall your early works, of your use of video in works such as Rainbow (1998) and Shouting (1998)? For their content were they political works?

XZ: The video Rainbow 1998 presents the procedure of beating a human’s back until it becomes red, where the aggressor’s hands have been removed but the sound of the slaps can still be heard. Shouting (1998) presented different crowded places, that are captured by individuals with cameras shouting loudly, until those being photographed all turned their heads towards the camera. These works don’t have any direct or concrete political motives.

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