Chen Shaoxiong

Visible and invisible, Known and Unknown  A Chen Shaoxiong Solo Exhibition

UniversalStudios-beijing, Beijing (China) 
2007.3.10 —— 2007.4.8
Tuesdays to Sundays 11:00-18:00


The first solo exhibition of 2007 to be held at UniversalStudios-Beijing will feature Chen Shaoxiong’s latest works. This includes his video ‘Ink Things’ and his installation ‘Visible and invisible, Known and Unknown’ along with the paper and canvas works which form the ‘Collectivity Memory’ Series. Although there is a wide difference in the artistic language and representation of these three media, together they reflect the artist’s concern with the theme of urban life.

As a strong conceptual artist, Chen Shaoxiong has always focused on the means of realising his concepts. He differs from other artists in that while they emphasise form, Chen Shaoxiong chooses to use the concept as the vehicle of expression, experimenting with different media in order to realise his ideas. The origin of works such as ‘Ink Things’, ‘Visible and Invisible, Known and Unknown’ and the ‘Collectivity Memory’ Series represent different means by which the artists explores the impression and marks that the city leaves on peoples’ lives. 

Born in the 1960s in GuangdongProvince, Chen Shaoxiong is versed in traditional Chinese Culture but has also witnessed the reality of the rapid societal changes in China’s Southern Coast. From 2002, he began to concentrate on these urban changes and the individuals’ attitude towards these transformations. Fusing new media techniques with traditional Chinese ink painting he created the video works ‘Ink City’ and ‘Ink Diary’ which represented a means of exploring the influence and combination of traditional elements of Chinese culture within a modern context. 

In ‘InkCity’ the artist portrays his personal impressions of aspects of urban existence. These impressions are first recorded using the objectivity of the camera, and are then converted into ink paintings. During the process of this transition the reality of the cityscape and the mind’s impression of it temporarily co-exist in the same space and this echo is precisely the impression which the city leaves with people: it skips over things, it warps them, it eventually fades from one’s memory but it is inevitably real. At the same time these city impressions differ from his earlier work ‘Ink Diary’ in that they emphasise the artist’s individual impressions of urban life. These impressions are born of both personal impressions and mutual experiences: family life, travel experiences, news reports and other aspects of daily life have been selected by the artist and transformed into ink paintings. ‘InkCity’ inevitably reflects how city life closely correlates with people’s own individual impressions. 

Regardless of whether it's a cityscape or a fragment of urban life, Chen Shaoxiong is concerned with the impression that the city makes upon us. Daily existence in this urban environment forces us to overlook many things; a bottle of hand wash in the bathroom, a pair of slippers left by the door or a tree outside the window, we only interact with these things momentarily and as such they are frequently regarded as mere paraphernalia of urban existence. However, even though we disregard them these objects do not loose their individual worth or meaning. The video work ‘Ink things’ featured in the exhibition is an ink animation of these overlooked objects, forming the latest instalment in the series which begun with ‘InkCity’ and ‘Ink Diary’. 

Differing from the video work ‘Ink Things’, ‘Visible and Invisible, Known and Unknown’ is a synthesis of different media. In this installation work the artist has designed a model train which runs continuously on a sealed, looping track. Perched three metres above the viewer, the train weaves its way on an imaginary, unknown journey. The original ink paintings from the video ‘Ink Things’ run parallel to the track in a simulation of billboard advertisements while a small camera mounted to the head of the train records these images and simultaneously projects them onto three eye-level screens. Differing from previous videos, the means of broadcasting means that in ‘Visible and Invisible, Known and Unknown’ the audience actually witnesses the process of a continuous ink animation. This synchronization of images recalls the voyeuristic scenes glimpsed from train windows, however, instead of high rises, sky scrapers and fleeting snatches of external lives, the train passes by the neglected imagery of our everyday existence. The original way in which the artist analyses even the smallest thing causes people to re-examine the way they look at things, forcing a new understanding and appreciation of the everyday. 

In the past the audience could choose the sequence in which they viewed an exhibition, but in ‘Visible and Invisible, Known and Unknown’ Chen Shaoxiong strives to deprive them of this right. As a result of the restrictions imposed by the installation; the model train, the miniature paintings as well as the 3m high tracks, the fixed screen becomes the audience’s only means of viewing the work. Forced to confront the reality of this continuous stream of visual stimuli, the viewer comes close to confronting the reality of these ‘unimportant’ objects.

Chen’s ‘Collectivity Memory’ series differs from ‘Ink Things’ and ‘Visible and Invisible, Known and Unknown’ in that emphasis is placed on the collective consciousness of city dwellers; in the series Chen delves further into their collective psyche. These large works (average 2.5m x 3m) depict the urban landmarks, symbols and architecture of China’s metropolises; including Shanghai, Guangzhou, Beijing and Shenzhen. Rendered using thousands of monochrome fingerprints they evoke a visual landscape of the mind, their textured, grainy and indistinct surfaces recalling the deconstructed beauty of a pixelated image. While fingerprints are traditionally regarded as a marker of individual identity their employment here suggests narratives of mutual recognition and the hazy lines that are created by transitional space; these landmarks define not only the city itself but also become indelible marks etched on the collective consciousness.

Featuring works in three different media, this exhibition expresses Chen Shaoxiong’s different impressions towards urban life. Regardless of whether he depicts an urban landmark or an object taken from everyday life, in the artists view these things are all granted equal importance illustrating how city life often causes people to be shown merely as referential actors in its midst.

Reflecting the changes in the mode of living for urban dwellers, the artist effectively portrays their reactions to this constantly mutating city by focusing on their visual perceptions, exposing the multi-layered construction and overlapping dialogues which underscore the panoply of contemporary Chinese culture. Through this combination of reality and fiction, Chen paints an accurate description of an altering world. 


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