As one of the most important conceptual artists in China, Xiao Yu touches on issues of the human condition in contemporary society, using rich visual forms to explore the expressive potential of artistic language. This exhibition continues a creative shift the artist has been undergoing since 2010, that has taken him from intellectual thinking to a more intuitional, and bodily aesthetic experience. The latter is a hidden thread in the artist’s nearly thirty years of his career, but it also reveals the artist’s true creative intent, which is to find a new vocabulary that will allow contemporary art forms to transcend their specific cultural context. For his previous work, Ground (2014,Beijing/2017, Istanbul), the artist chose “cultivating,” the most fundamental and productive labor of human civilization, lending the work a precious openness not limited by any regional cultural differences. On the other hand, bamboo, the artist’s main working material in recent years, is doubtless an even more ambitious choice: this plant of powerful and aesthetic character has long been recognized as a spiritual symbol of Eastern civilization. The artist's primary aim now is to liberate this material from its fixed cultural implications, and to bestow it with a completely new contemporary way of seeing.
To begin with the hanging bamboo installation, the audience is invited to a scene of reconfigured meaning. These tall and straight plants, which were originally gentlemen alike, were cut, twisted, and flipped repeatedly over the past few years. They then reappeared in unfamiliar forms, covering and replacing the existing visual imagination of the bamboo as a traditional symbol. In the new works of 2018, the artist started the second reconfiguration with purer visual experiments: by replacing all the material with bronze, the artist even removed the physical existence of bamboo from the work. The visual form of bamboo is presented in a more precise way. In a sense, the fine-cut bamboo is a projection of the artist himself. Here, the symbolic importance of the material has not been completely diminished. It is no longer literary or moral, but sensory and experiential. The former emphasizes consensus, while the latter is individual and open. For the creator and the viewer, what’s really significant is the bamboo itself, and the excess cultural narratives are only interfering the genuine communication. In the end, the viewer relies on the body and instinct, which is enough to discover the eternal, essential and aesthetic joy behind the somewhat unfamiliar form of the artwork.
Xiao Yu (b. 1965, Inner Mongolia) graduated from the Mural Painting Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in 1989 and now lives and works in Beijing. Since 1990s he has engaged in contemporary art creation and was awarded the Chinese Contemporary Art Award (CCAA) in 2000. In 2001, he participated in the 49th Theme Exhibition of Venice Biennale “Plateau of Humankind”, curated by Harald Szeemann, presenting his most controversial work. He was invited to participate in international exhibitions including Lyon Biennale of Contemporary Art, Shanghai Biennale and Guangzhou Triennial and the Offsite Project at the Royal College of Art in London. His works have been exhibited at the Centre Pompidou, the Groningen Museum, Graz Art Museum, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Seoul Art Museum, Bern Art Museum Switzerland, the Museum Tinguely in Basel, the Royal College of Art in London, the National Art Museum of China, Shanghai Art Museum, Guangdong Art Museum, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, and other eminent exhibition spaces. Xiao Yu joined the Pace Gallery in 2014.