Cutting-Edge Art from Zhang Xiaotao and His Students

  • Installation view of “Cutting Edge: New Art From The Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, New Media Department” at Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing. Courtesy Pékin Fine Arts.

    Installation view of “Cutting Edge: New Art From The Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, New Media Department” at Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing. Courtesy Pékin Fine Arts.

An old Chinese adage says: “Ice is made of water, but colder than water.” This idiomatic expression might be seen as referring to a student-teacher relationship, alluding to a student surpassing their teacher. The saying was the inspiration behind Pékin Fine Arts’s recent Beijing show, “Cutting Edge: New Art From The Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, New Media Department” (literally titled “Ice Blade” in Chinese). This is an interesting choice considering that the show has been curated by Zhang Xiaotao, Chinese painter and co-founder of the New Media Department of The Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, and is an exhibition of the work of his students.  

A mix of interactive video, photography, installations, and paintings, “Cutting Edge” provided (and prompted) a lively discussion of the issues facing the quickly evolving Chinese society. The artworks included breach various topics affecting the new Chinese population from globalization and the environment, to feminism and bodily experience.

Zhang is known for his large-scale detailed oil paintings—often images of animals tinged with a darker edge—which serve as metaphors for the human condition and modern Chinese society. Here, his work borrows from the language of traditional Chinese ink paintings, a triptych including watery images of a giraffe and dead bugs are superimposed over seemingly oppressed tiny human figures. 

The artist Xing Xing presented a collection of pop art video clips, experimental animations, and a very personal video project entitled Keep Smile (2015). Shown reading a letter written by her father who has been imprisoned by the government for receiving bribes, the artist is pictured wearing what she refers to as a “keep smile” device to mask her pain.

Hu Jia Yi’s work depicts powerful images and videos of the artist engaged in performance pieces. In Boundary (2015) she sits on a ladder, her body burdened with various tools and knives affixed to her with adhesive tape, enveloping her entire body. Relating her experience in making this work, she explained, “It was growing dark, I experienced the boundaries between the inside [of my body] and the outside [of my body] because of pain and the weight.” 

Tang Wanlu’s “Caution” series reflects on how we are connected through public space, and why, ironically, we build a world of reclusiveness in them. The stark series of photographs of individuals alone in urban settings is, according to the artist, a cry for interaction. “Everybody can build a world of self-reclusiveness in public space, although the space belongs to everyone,” Tang explained. “Maybe we should have a return to [creating] real public spaces.”  

“Watching Theatrical Troupe Performance,” Zhao Kun’s series of black and white photographs, are images of old men in Mao suits drinking tea—reflections on days gone by, a China not represented throughout the rest of the show, and a China that almost ceases to exist.

—Jennifer Baum Lagdameo

Cutting Edge: New Art From The Sichuan Fine Arts Institute, New Media Department” is on view at Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing, Sep. 26–Nov. 9, 2015.

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