Ahead of the opening of its first New York outpost, the Los Angeles-based David Kordansky Gallery is planning to expand its presence in Asia.
Beijing-based multimedia artist Guan Xiao is now represented by the Los Angeles stalwart, joining a roster that includes Derek Fordjour, Huma Bhabhaand Lauren Halsey. Guan, who will have a solo exhibition at Kordansky’s New York outpost in 2023, will continue to be represented by Antenna Space in Asia and Kraupa-Tuskany Zeidler in Germany. The gallery also has appointed Junjun Cai as the new director, based in Mainland China. She joins Mi Jeong Kim, who has represented the gallery in the region since 2019.
Guan works in video, sculpture and installation, sourcing material online to derive meaning from the experiences of her everyday life. She has been called a “post-Internet” artist, but the term has a cynical edge that absolutely does not correspond to the curiosity she has for the relationship between the individual, the collective and the object, at the both natural and industrial. His work seems to ask, what modern notions are really traditions painted over? Do objects change when seen or touched? Do we?
Her work is very narrative, and the videos she makes, in particular, reflect a hyper-online, hyper-global life as a relentless onslaught of information. Guan sometimes demands a lot from the viewer, but only because she devotes herself entirely to the act of looking. She’s a relentless observer, chewing up the implications of massive amounts of data: she teases compelling connections between an incredible array of material, like Western art history, capitalism, ancient Chinese sculpture, jazz, and technology. monitoring.
She also leaves room for the viewer to project their own stories onto her art. A 2020 solo exhibition at Antenna Space featured fifteen sculptures of fantastical beings who were assigned biographies of varying opacity, freeing them to become monuments with no fixed history.
To learn more about his practice, ART news spoke with Guan via email. The artist’s responses were translated from Chinese.
Can you guide me in the creation of one of your works? How do you decide that a work is interesting?
Every piece of my work leaves deep impressions on me. Because they are all different in their structure, their modes of association and their material. The practice of art is not courtship, where one hopes to find the most suitable, or thinking that your current partner knows you better than your ex, or even, the butterfly you had for your first love was the top. Artistic practice is not a kind of life experience but something rigorous and inspiring. Each piece exists for a unique reason and something to communicate with others, and making it is always an unrecognized challenge.
Probably the most exciting moment for me is when all the pieces materialize from my sketches, which are then put together in the studio. Their physical dimension and visual perception often differ from their initial designs in my drawings. Such a difference can be very stimulating because their result exceeds my expectations and overwhelms me. And other times they don’t work at all. As all the pieces are produced, I can no longer modify their shapes.
If the gap between my sketch and the actual objects overwhelms or becomes non-negotiable, I would abandon my initial sketch and try to adjust the structure of the sculpture, or use whatever I have to start over. This process always fascinates me.
An interesting piece must be playful, including aspects that I would like to experience. This should provide the excitement of a child who can’t wait to get their hands on these toys, use them, understand them, and see what they would become in their hands.
How have you seen your practice evolve?
At first I was intrigued by the diversity and tension of combining things from different materials. The greater their difference, the more impact they generate; in other words, the “dissonance” between these materials delivers a new coherence. Conceptually, I’ve always been interested in the notion of dichotomy. Since 2013, I have adopted collage/montage to create sculptures and videos. Working in different artistic mediums, using various materials and constructing complex structures that dissolve the questions of “What is this?” and why?” thus freeing the aesthetics of the concepts.
In preparation for my museum solo in 2018 [at the Kunsthalle Winterthur in Switzerland], I began to extend the concept of “ready-made” from material products to digital images, by analyzing the formal implications of objects from their material, their dimension and their functions in real life; therefore, such a relationship becomes an adjustable parameter. The popularization of 3D printing helped me execute this approach. Once my solo exhibition opened at the Bonner Kunstverein in early 2019, I realized that I didn’t want to dwell on the ambivalence and complexity of sculptural structure instead of focusing on delivering powerful expression. Therefore, given the materials I use and my working method, I began to integrate my understanding of sculptural structure with the human body and fashion design, presenting multiple possibilities within a single structure and to invoke the concept of character. In terms of materials, I added ceramics and plants to enrich the tension within a specific piece. I always work in these two directions.
Talking about your work, you once said that “time is not linear”. Can you elaborate on this idea and what it means for your art?
I have always been skeptical of everything around me. It seems that time is only “one” of the many logics we use to explain the phenomenal world. It is an explanation. Because we are convinced of the causality of actions and effects, everything becomes sequential and linear. But in reality, everything is transient. A sound may seem uninterrupted, but sound waves show it constantly disappearing and reappearing. A light may appear steadily bright, but a high-speed camera capturing it shows its rippling brightness. In order to preserve anything that is ephemeral, we tend to use “time” to string together all the fragments as proof of their existence. Plus, we stubbornly conceive that everyone lives in the same kind of weather! Yet the opposite is true, as each species lives at a different pace/speed and in a different world. Everything is made up of infinite factors associated with each other.
In my artistic practice, I favor fragmented expressions that challenge what we take for granted. By simultaneously using conceptually contradictory objects, I can achieve a certain balance. I think all things considered contradictory share common characteristics in one way or another. For example, traditional/ancient and pioneer/technological are incomprehensible and extraordinary from a particular point of view. Mutual transformation between contradictions is realized in this specific perspective. Another example would be hand made and machine made, both of which are considered synonymous with raw form from either point of view; at the same time, one transforms the other. For example, when I named my work, I made up the “name”: KIKACHICK. It embodies various contradictory points which are also self-explanatory. As a word, it has no meaning. However, in its first half, KIKA is both a Spanish name and a brand of chocolate, and it is also the name of the main character in an assassin movie. The second half, CHICK, is an infant bird and slang for girls and women. Putting them together sounds like a person’s name that probably nobody uses. It sounds like the pronunciation of a Japanese name, but it’s obviously not Japanese either.
So many of your works juxtapose disparate images, videos, pictures, people, sometimes to the effect of sensory overload. What is the logic that connects these seemingly unrelated media?
I like to suddenly stop in the middle of something and interrupt what I’m doing. I like the pause in the process. I can feel the leaves moving in my eyes as I look at them, as my hands feel the hard edge or even the surface temperature of the rock I’m sitting on, as the scent of summer flowers passes with the wind. Suddenly, a flock of birds flies over the bushes I watch, a ball rolls from afar to my feet, and a noisy motorbike passes further. I could go on writing like this, all of these could be happening simultaneously but these are entirely isolated incidents! Even to the extent that my visual perceptions and my sense of touch are divided, sending back disparate signals.
This is the reality we are in, where all things are interconnected, through your perception.
Tell me about the concept of identity in your sculptures and installations. Are these works reflections of you, or totally new and fantastic beings?
Since the first time I participated in a collective exhibition in a European art museum [“Don’t You Know Who I Am? Art After Identity Politics” at M HKA Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp, Belgium, in 2014], I have often been questioned about my identity. Honestly, I don’t think it’s necessary to make such a classification as human beings. I am not interested in the political aspect of identity. However, I look at my practice from an art historical perspective to understand the specificity of contemporary Chinese art in a broader framework. At the base of artistic creation, the ancient East and West have different origins. Moreover, the historical continuity of art from ancient to modern and contemporary in the West is different from that of the Chinese context. I think these differences come from the ruptures and variations of the latter of an untraceable and discontinuous past, which embody my position. I have never pursued what is reasonable in artistic creation.
My practice has never been about identity but explicitly deals with sculpture, structures, materials and abstraction related to the development and challenges of collage. My understanding of identity would probably be discovered from my work. What interests me is the multiplicity, the contradiction, the dichotomy, the ambiguity and the neither/nor of human identity. I therefore prefer the notion of “characters” rather than “identity”. At the same time, the idea of “roles” is just one of many concepts in my sculptural work.