A4 Contemporary Arts Center (Chengdu, No. 18 Extension Road off Shuangliulushan Avenue) Oct 27– Dec 27, 2013 (Curator: Bao Dong)
Roland Barthes once wrote: “The Photograph is an extended, loaded evidence—as if it caricatured not the ﬁgure of what it represents (quite the converse) but its very existence…The Photograph then becomes a bizarre medium, a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest shared hallucination (on the one hand ‘it is not there’, on the other ‘but it has indeed been’): a mad image, chafed by reality” (Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography). The works in Chen Xiaoyun’s current exhibition can be seen as the fragments remaining in the aftermath of the abrasive interplay, exchange, and compromise between Reality and the Photograph. If these fragments could once again be pieced together, the reality derived from this reconstruction would be no more than an unrealistic amalgamation of wishful thinking.
The exhibition, which takes at least two hours to view, is made up of three part: completed videos, screen shots and film scraps taken during shoots, and photographic works. These works are full of presupposed metaphors and plays on perception: a man stands on a pine tree, arms flailing with a tree branch during a midnight storm (The Night Already Past, the Little While We Last, video, 2013); a young woman engages in a cathartic diatribe full of invectives and abuse in an otherwise empty shot (The Smelliest Part, 2013); a group of poor and disabled elderly street performers gathered in an auditorium playing a cacophonous and nearly unrecognizable version of the American national anthem on Chinese folk instruments (Love You, Big Boss, 2007); a group of migrant workers carrying their tools on their backs while marching down a road at night (Night – 2.4KM, 2009). Works and meanings that once existed on separate dimensions are set in the same space, thus bringing forth a possible intersection of meaning. As images move across the mind’s register— erotic, political, repulsive, or altogether dumbfounding—art is bursting at the seams.
However, Chen Xiaoyun remains vigilant about reality: “I’m afraid of turning criticism of reality into an attitude. It’s very easy to criticize reality. So easy that criticism of reality can turn criticism itself into a commonplace or vulgarian pursuit. For example, if someone kept showing me something I abhored, I would eventually grow numb to it, and then one day, I wouldn’t detest it anymore….” (Chen Xiaoyun conversing with the author). Rather than asking the artist what he has expressed through his work, it is better to ask what he is yet to express. With the act of viewing under the assault of reality as well as an unactualized reality, with consciousness wrapped up and yet exposed by a confusing array of metaphors—these limits and dimensions of tolerance make commentary on his work fraught with difficulty.