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20th Sydney Biennale Q&A: Xu Zhen’s Mutilated Sculptures

Author: Nicholas Forrest 2016-05-24

The 20th Biennale of Sydney “The future is already here — it’s just not evenly distributed” presents more than 200 works by 83 artists from 35 countries across seven venues or “Embassies of Thought” as well as multiple “in-between spaces” around the inner city. Curated by Stephanie Rosenthal, Chief Curator at the Hayward Gallery, the 20th Biennale of Sydney is on show from March 18 – June 5, 2016.

Throughout the duration of the Biennale, BLOUIN ARTINFO will feature a series of interviews with participating artists. In the interview below, Shanghai-based conceptual artist Xu Zhen, founder of MadeIn Company, discusses his series of “mutilated” sculptural forms which fuse replicas of ancient Greek sculptures with inverted reproductions of ancient Chinese statues of Buddhist deities.

TItled “Eternity – Longxing Temple Buddha Statue Part Three; Tang Dynasty Buddha Statue; Longxing Temple Buddha Statue Part Five; Northern Qi Amitābha Statue; Vairochana; the Cosmic Buddha; Hebei Northern Qi Dynasty Standing Buddha Torso; Parthenon East Pediment,” 2013–14 and located at Cockatoo Island, the work reinterprets the meeting of eastern and western cultures.

Could you describe the work that you will be presenting at the 20th Biennale of Sydney 2016 and the motivation and inspiration behind its creation? What do you want to convey and/or express with the work you are presenting at the 20th Biennale of Sydney 2016?

This timeless art of eternal gods and Buddhas, represents one of the highest level of civilization in human History. These masterpieces also reflect colonization history, violence, cultural conflicts and mutual relations. We combined these art history’s major Western and Asian sculptures, and created a shocking visual effect out of these “mutilated sculptures classic aesthetics”. It doesn’t only refer to art history it also symbolizes irreconcilable differences within humanity’s Babel tower and shows a certain oriental conciliatory wisdom.

How does the work you are presenting at the 20th Biennale of Sydney connect with your ongoing practice and the interests and preoccupations that form the basis of your work?

We have always been interested in rediscovering and reinventing the existing cultures against the backdrop of globalization. The revolution of methods of information sharing and communication brought by the Internet has led to new meanings, understandings and perspectives of traditional cultures and things. Everything may be different from the way it used to be, and this possibility is where our creative practice departs.

The 20th Biennale of Sydney 2016 is presented at seven main venues conceived as “embassies of thought.” In what ways does the work you are presenting reflect and connect with the theme and context of the particular embassy in which it is situated?

The Eternity series includes some quite realistic elements that are very familiar to us, such as Buddhist statues and classical Greek sculptures. Once juxtaposed and assembled together, a very strong visual language is delivered. I believe that this kind of combination represents a new form of creative culture in our age.

One of the key ideas that this Biennale explores is how the common distinction between the virtual and the physical has become ever more elusive. How does your work engage with this idea?

Today it is very hard to maintain one perspective, and there is no need to hold onto some persistence anymore. Once art has become ubiquitous, it has also become unusually anxious at the same time. This is precisely the new problem generated by our contemporary age. Instead of reflecting on certain situations with our creativity, we create a new world, a world constructed by possibilities and imagination.

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