Xu Zhen by MadeIn Company

21 November 2013 - 4 January 2014 Charles Decoster - Brussels

The Nathalie Obadia Gallery is delighted to exhibit Xu Zhen by MadeIn Company for the first time in Brussels, three years after his solo show in Belgium, at the SMAK in Ghent, during Europalia China.

Considered as the most original and most inventive artist of the young Chinese art scene in the wake of the previous generation with Cai Guo Qiang and Zhang Huan, Xu Zhen has gathered round him some twenty associates who have voluntarily opted to remain anonymous for the benefit of the group.  Together, they take a critical stance that cocks a snook at today’s political, economic and cultural world which, according to its detractors, has yielded to the sirens of mass communication that numb the mind. MadeIn Company wants to stir the conscience of that world.  It demythologises art and artists by providing an alternative blueprint for creativity where the strength of the group takes precedence over individual endeavours.

This attitude, which goes against the conventional rules of the art market, is a risk taken by Xu Zhen and his colleagues, who in turn enjoy greater freedom – a fragile concept, let us not forget, in the Middle Kingdom.

The synergy of MadeIn Company, which in a way is reminiscent of Andy Warhol’s Factory, is rooted in the end of the 1990s.  Its initiator, Xu Zhen (born in 1977) left the benches of the Shanghai Arts & Craft Institute to produce his first subversive works (videos at the outset) that jostled the powers that be at once through the disturbing violence of their images.  Regularly censured in China as pornography, his videos became the talk of the town, elucidating why Ai Weiwei and Feng Boyi invited the young Xu Zhen to take part in the memorable exhibition entitled Fuck Off which was held at the same time as the third Shanghai Biennale in 2000.  

In 2005, Xu Zhen was one of the artists invited to exhibit in the first China Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.  The artist, who had not lost any of his critical edge on contemporary society, produced his most famous work to date entitled 88481.86, which refers to the height of Mount Everest from which he subtracted his own height.

Whereas the solo show of Xu Zhen by MadeIn Company at the Ullens Centre for Contemporary Art (UCCA) will be held in Beijing as of January 2014, the exhibition at the Nathalie Obadia Brussels will showcase, as of November,  works of various forms and inspirations, which reflect the diversity of bursting energies that compose the collective.

It features a series of large “paintings,” woven in part, in a baroque aesthetic that creates a conscious contrast with the real subversive point of view on the history of humanity.  These compositions maliciously mix the iconographic repertoires of China and the West from images collected on the Internet.  The works thus combine sensual materials (fabric, feathers, sequins, leather, pearls, etc.) with a patchwork of images composed of traditional Chinese prints, medieval illuminations, 19th century French caricatures, and even an exotic and fantastical bestiary.  The entire series borrows the epic verve of the large tapestries from the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  Symbols of power and wealth in olden days, such hangings provided efficacious propaganda decors.  While preserving this political aim in its works, MadeIn Company transforms the meaning completely to scoff at the dominant ideologies of the contemporary great powers.

In response to the paintings, imposing hieratic sculptures erected like totems in the centre of the gallery, prolong, in their way, the effort to demystify imperial, military and colonial propaganda.  Four large fetishes, taller than 2 metres, that reclaim the canon of African tribal statuary, are decked with the symbols of the oppressor:  a kepi, a soldier’s helmet, a colonial hat and an officer’s cap – all of which have one thing in common:  they are too small for the heads that they cover. A simple but efficacious manner to denounce the illegitimacy of tyrannical powers over religious and cultural minorities – as does the altar dedicated to the Buddha painted yellow.  Here, MadeIn Company points the finger at the Chinese imperialism that is victimising Tibet.
These imposing, hulking sculptures are actually made of polyurethane foam – a light malleable material, similar to the accessories of stage sets, which MadeIn Company uses to underscore the following paradox: The massive appearance of these sculptures contrasts with the fragility of the material -- an ever so symbolic metaphor of the social and political systems in place.  

On stage at the Nathalie Obadia Gallery – Brussels, Xu Zhen and his “troupe” perform the Human Comedy for us.

The exhibition at the Nathalie Obadia Gallery – Brussels will be held in parallel with the Lyon Biennale, where MadeIn Company will be showing an important installation entitled, Movement Field, at La Sucrière.

MadeIn Company has exhibited in many international institutions, including the Pinchuk Art Centre in  Kiev (2013), the 7th Asia Pacific Triennal of Brisbane (2012), the Kunsthalle in Bern (2011), the Minsheng Art Museum in Shanghai (2010), the Busan Biennale (South Korea) in 2010, the SMAK in Ghent (2009), the PS1 in New York (2006), the Venice Biennale (2005) and the MOMA in New York (2004).