Xu Zhen


Xu Zhen
b. 1977, Shanghai
Performance, video, installation artist
Xu Zhen graduated in Graphic Design at the Shanghai School of Arts and Crafts in 1996. Although he has only formally produced art for five years, Xu has attained a striking level of international success. Since 1998, he has been in seminal group exhibitions, including the now legendary ‘Art for Sale (Supermarket)’ at the Shanghai Square Shopping Centre (1999) and ‘Fuck Off’ (Buhezuo fangshi), a ‘fringe’ exhibition at the Shanghai Biennale (2000). In 2001, he was the youngest of the Chinese artists to participate in the 49th Venice Biennale with Rainbow (Caihong, 1998), a video showing a human back gradually reddening under the strain of heard but unseen slaps against the body’s surface.
Using animal corpses and human flesh as artistic materials, nearly all of Xu’s works deal with the body, its physicality—skin, nudity and desire, often revealing the extent of moral taboos still held with respect to distinctions between art and life, beauty and violence, private and public acts. In 1999, he produced From Inside of the Body, a three-monitor video installation showing, respectively, a man and woman sniffing themselves, and the same man and woman undressed sniffing each other.
While social taboos in China rarely extend to using animals or human bodies in art, a practice now gaining currency among some experimental artists, the corporeal violence contained in Xu’s works has not been without controversy. In his performance video, I’m Not Doing Anything (1999), the artist swings a dead cat against the ground for forty-five minutes. Xu currently collaborates with BizArt, an art centre in Shanghai, as art director, designer and events organizer.
Dal Lago, Francesca (2002). ‘The Fiction of Everyday Life: Video Art in the People’s Republic of China’. ART AsiaPacific 27 (Summer).
Pederson, Amy (2002). ‘Contemporary Art with Chinese Characteristics: Shen Fan, Ding Yi, and Xu Zhen’. Yishu: Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art 1.3 (Fall/Nov.): 27–43.
ALICE MING WAI JIM

Encyclopedia of contemporary Chinese culture. . 2011.

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