The Chinese contemporary art scene in the 21st century has gradually moved away from popular art trends and its previous emphasis on the avant-garde in the scope of Western aesthetics. Instead, artists and scholars have begun collaborating to reconstruct traditional aesthetics, hoping to reinvent artistic forms and styles with rich historical and cultural resource as well as to change existing narrative structure and incorporate contemporary vocabularies. Xiao Xu, in this light, is a significantly representative artist from the post-80s generation in China.
The exhibition title, Envisioning the Immortal Island, not only demonstrates the artist's circumspection in preparing for his first solo exhibition in Taiwan, but also foregrounds his endeavors in finding his own position in an era when contemporary art has flourished in diversity. Through minute depiction and repetitive inking and ink layering, Xiao has created an imaginative realm enshrouded in mist and cloud with ancient flora and fauna in the nine elaborate paintings showcased in the exhibition. His artistic vocabularies remind viewers of the landscape painting by many great artists from various Chinese historic periods, such as the Tang, Sung, Yuan, and Ming dynasties when artists tended to illustrate their cosmic and spiritual view and understanding with sceneries. However, the artist uses shades of ink to depict the shading of mountain stones and deliberately omits changes in depth, different facets of his subject matter, and spacing. In addition, he also implicitly guides viewers' line of vision through interweaving the delineation of the real and the void so that the image is often embedded with narrative signs and symbols informed by magical realism in literature. These approaches have all unfolded Xiao's strong intention to break the dichotomous, opposing values and cultural narratives of the traditional and the contemporary as well as the East and the West. By doing so, he allows different spaces and times to collide, and like after repeated rehearsals, an amalgamation between rationally calculated results and contingent events is created, triggering different perception of the viewers.