Vancouver International Centre for Contemporary Asian Art

The Liminal Body


Video installation.
Curator: Zheng Shengtian


Xu Zhen
The Liminal Body

August 4 – 25, 2001

We are pleased to host Xu Zhen’s first solo exhibition, curated by New York-based curator Lu Jie.

Four pieces were featured in this show, all of which highlight Xu’s interest in issues surrounding the human body.

In Shouting, the artist and his friends shout at crowds and videotaped the responses from the people encountered – urban commuters on their way to the subway, tourists in the Yuyuan Gardens and on the Bund in Shanghai. The shouts elicit tension, surprise, laughter, annoyance, anger and puzzlement from Xu’s target ‘audience’. Amongst the bodily reactions are faces of indifference and inquiry; visually we can witness the sense of connection and rupture amongst the sea of people when an interactive and ambiguous event is imposed on them in the public arena.

Acutally, I am also dim is an installation piece that reveals Xu’s light and playful exploration of the reciprocity of body and space. Hundred of pornographic images are printed on yellow post-its and scattered across walls, windows and office equipment in a dimly lit space. In doing so, Xu challenges the comfort boundaries of public and private, and viewers might snicker at this not-so coincidental pairing of office-life boredom and the resultant viewing of pornographic websites. Yet this heap of bodily fragments also may suggest our inability to reconstruct this viewed body in its entirety. This work was first presented in a large group exhibition called “Fuck Off”, which took place as an unofficial counterpoint to the 2nd Shanghai Biennale (November 2000).

Like many Chinese artists whose work shows an interest in the body, sex and torture are popular topics. Rainbow (caihong) (also concurrently showing at the 49th Venice Biennale,) is one of Xu’s seminal pieces. The video features the back of a male body becoming reddened in time, while the sound of slapping fills the room. However, the perpetrating hand is absent, and as viewers we are left to make these deductions ourselves. Rainbow represents Xu’s characteristic style of exploring the liminal spaces between body and the private/public world. Xu turns these spaces inside out to emphasize the constructed divisions between individual and collective, body and mind, performer and observer, male and female – all while questioning the conventional interpretation of the body and its existence.

Touring Performance is a piece creating specifically for this exhibition, conceived after the Venice Biennale. Similar to Rainbow, the participants of the performance are absent, but their screaming and yelling create an overwhelming sea of sound. The artist, personifying a pop star, rouses the audience in a simultaneous response to his performance of lovemaking sounds. It is evident that, through his work, Xu has pushed himself and the viewers against a wall and we are all contained within a liminal space where we become hyper-aware of our bodily existence.

Xu Zhen was born in Shanghai in 1977 and graduated from the Shanghai School of Arts and Crafts in 1996.

Lu Jie is a curator based in New York. He received his BA from the China National Academy of Arts, and hi MA of Curating from Goldsmiths College in London. He is also a founding member and trustee of the Long March Foundation, and has curated numerous exhibitions of contemporary Chinese art in China, Hong Kong, and around the world since the 1990s.  In 2002, he will produce a series of artistic interventions to take place at various points along the route of Mao Zedong’s original “Long March”.