Xu Zhen: Movement Field

Xu Zhen (b. 1977) is a Chinese multimedia artist living and working in Shanghai, China. He is a prominent young Chinese artist who primarily works with photography, installation art, and video to address social and cultural issues.

Zhen’s pivotal work is the short film Rainbow (1998). This piece shows the impact of Zhen’s bare back being beaten until it turns bright red. The hand striking his back is edited out of the film but the audio of the slapping noise persists. He created this at age 21 and presented it at the Venice Biennale in 2001, making him the youngest Chinese artist to participate in the event. Another important early work is Shouting (1998). In this work he films pedestrians reacting to the noise of him shouting on a busy street. In both pieces Zhen is challenging and shocking the viewer with his behavior.

In addition to producing art, Zhen organizes art events as a curator and co-curates with other artists. He founded the MadeIn Company in 2009, a contemporary art creation corporation named as a word play off of the phrase “Made in China.” He created the company because “in China, the form of a company has more freedom than individuals.”[1] In 2013 he ended his solo career and incorporated himself as a brand, establishing himself as Xu ZhenⓇ. He established the MadeIn Gallery in 2014 to promote international artists and serve as a platform for creativity in China.

At the James Cohan gallery Xu Zhen (the brand) presents Movement Field (2013-), an ongoing investigation of protests. On the floor of the gallery Xu Zhen installed white pebbles and fake grass to create a lattice of pathways one can follow to move about the room. The direction of the paths is inspired by the actual movements of protesters during public demonstrations. Presented alongside Movement Field are other artworks by Xu Zhen such as pieces from the Eternity series. These sculptures combine Eastern and Western art. Xu Zhen seeks to aid cultural awareness by mixing artistic influences. Zhen says of his art that “there is power in the cultural interaction. You don’t know which culture influences which.”[2] The work Painted Terracotta Statue of Heavenly Guardian, Sleeping Muse, (2016) combines a statue resembling a Chinese terracotta warrior with a head reminiscent of Constantin Brancusi’s Sleeping Muse (1910). The influences of two cultures is immediately apparent in the work, linking them together to create a new form.

Other works on display are I Believe the Sun is the Center of the Universe (2017) along with ……I Mean It, I Will…..., (2017) and Who Is My Lover (2017). These pieces are pack many phrases onto a metal sheet, symbolizing the fast paced information consumption of the digital age. Zhen says of the Internet that it “has caused many changes. The overload of information changes the way we see reality.” Zhen has a fear of flying and cannot travel in an airplane. He considers this to be an advantage because he can “observe the entire world from a virtual, Internet perspective.”[2] His Internet perspective of the world is apparent in these works.

Xu Zhen the man and Xu Zhen the brand are both significant entities in the Chinese and International art worlds. Zhen’s work addresses cultural issues and aids cultural awareness by combining the artistic influences of Eastern and Western art, and because of his relatively young age, we can expect to see much more of his work in the future.

[1] Wikipedia contributors. "Xu Zhen." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 27 Mar. 2017. Web. 8 Apr. 2018.

[2] Tate. “Xu Zhen - ‘Artists Change the Way People Think.’” Youtube Clip. 28 Mar. 2017. Web. 8 Apr. 2018.

[3] Oscar Holland, Serenitie Wang. “From prankster to CEO: Chinese artist Xu Zhen's surprising evolution.” CNN. 9 Oct. 2017. Web. 8 Apr. 2018.