Shanghai based artist Xu Zhen has emerged as one of the most inventive and provocative artists working in China today. His work is characterised by tackling authoritarian gestures and clichés of human ambition often with a wry sense of humour that counters any notion of value. The Last Few Mosquitoes will be his first solo exhibition in Canada and opens on 14 September at the Contemporary Art Gallery.
Encompassing a wide range of media, his broad practice is dramatic and knowing, aesthetically and conceptually ambitious. In fact it is exactly in order to accommodate this range of activities that Xu Zhen set up Made In Company in 2009 after deciding he had taken his individual identity as far as it would go. Embodying the core propositions present in his solo work, the company likes to upset the assumptions of the art establishment in ways both theatrical and humorous.
The Contemporary Art Gallery presents an installation, a cluster of small sculptural pieces, slightly-larger-than-life-size replicas of a mosquito. At first glance the gallery room appears empty and yet closer inspection reveals the space occupied by these insects which appear to be sucking blood from the building, glowing red as they drink in the nutrition needed. This creature is an effective symbol and with context vital to meaning, here, in this white cube gallery, Xu Zhen offers a subtle and witty take on cultural politics. Does this mosquito represent patrons or consumers of what the institutional art world has to offer? Or should we read the walls as skin and re-conceive the space as a kind of living organism, a surrogate body as vulnerable and susceptible as we are to parasitic opportunism?
The Last Few Mosquitoes also suggests the result of some government directive, the kind that characterises a totalitarian state, whereby the elimination of these ubiquitous, annoying insects was decreed, and we now have an opportunity to see a remnant of an endangered species. Or perhaps Xu Zhen is asking us to imagine a better world, one without mosquitoes, after these last ones have sucked their last drops.
14 September until 11 November, Contemporary Art Gallery, 555 Nelson Street, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, V6B 6R5. www.contemporaryartgallery.ca
Credits: Xu Zhen, The Last Few Mosquitoes (2005), Courtesy of the artist and ShanghART, Shanghai