‘The Library Series’ by Xie Xiaoze

Work has been an overwhelming feat lately as I get closer to surgery kingdom. My world is handover notes, emails and lists, lists, lists as there’s only fifteen days to go…PhD has barely got a look in surprise, surprise. So I thought I get back into my words on here as it’ll be a big part of my recovery time. Get ready for it as you’ll hear from me on, no doubt, a daily basis. I also thought it was about time I got back into a China culture focus rather than Rachel’s daily negotiations of UK-global urban culture, though they will still make an appearance…

I recently came across the work of Chinese artist Xie Xiaoze, who has an exhibition opening at Chambers Fine Art in Beijing on 7 September 2013. His work struck an immediate chord with me due to his explorations of the book, the printed page, the textual to visceral quality of the paper. Born in Guangdong, China in 1966, Xie Xiaoze graduated from Tsinghua University and the Central Academy of Arts and Design, Beijing before moving to the United States and settling in Texas where he continued his studies in a very different environment. He is currently the Paul & Phyllis Wattis Professor in Art, Department of Art & Art History, Stanford University, California, USA…somewhere where I’d love to teach one day. Actually I had a job interview with them last year for a curatorial post. We’ll see where life takes me…West coast USA is on my list of places to live.

Xie uses realist painting and photography to combine his passionate interest in Chinese history and current world events with more formal concerns by focusing on the materials stored in archives and libraries. He started ‘The Library Series’ in 1993, intrigued by rows of “sleeping” books on the shelves of a library. He sees books as a material form of something abstract, such as ideology, having a clear fascination with what people do to books – “banning, destroying, glorifying with gold-leaf, or worshipping as ultimate truth.” In ‘The Library Series’ and ‘The Chinese Library Series’, Xie has painted a wide range of images, from books whose spines give no hint of content to the largely neglected volumes by Lenin in a Chinese library, from the gilded edge shining with blinding light to the pages fallen into silent decay. In the compressed newspaper stacks, you can find images of the ruins of the World Trade Center, the spectacle of the day and night bombing of Baghdad, suffering faces of victims of suicide attacks, Chinese government’s propaganda campaigns. More recent projects are based on historical documentation of specific events and aim to go beyond narratives and resonate on political and philosophical levels. For the current exhibition at Chambers Fine Art, Xie expands the range of his source material by bringing it completely up to date with images drawn from Weibo whilst building on his previous series. It could be said that Xie turned to Weibo as it is the most current means of conveying new kinds of information and opinions that used to be conveyed through books and newspapers. “This is perhaps our perception of the world in the media age: a bombardment of discrete bits of data – superficial, fragmented, and quite often, literally distorted…What can you say, in the face of what’s happening every day? Nothing comes as a shock.” Xie’s work seeks to engage the dialogue between painting and photography, the discourse on the social and political potential of art, as well as critical issues on Conceptualism and aestheticism.

“I am by no means a revolutionary: I don’t want to give up painting for installation or video; I don’t want to give up the figurative for the abstract; I don’t want to give up the political for the cultural; I don’t want to give up my Chinese-ness for the universal; I would never give up sincerity or beauty for irony. I want all of these in my work. For me, a good work of art should be able to generate complex layers of meaning.” – Xie Xiaoze (14 October 2010 – Excepts from lecture at Bucknell University)

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Xie Xiaoze ‘Chinese Library No. 51’ (2012) Oil on Canvas

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Xie Xiaoze ‘Chinese Library No. 43’ (2010), Oil on Canvas

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Xie Xiaozhe ‘Chinese Library No. 45’ (2010) Oil on Canvas

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Xie Xiaoze ‘Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto #2’ (2007) Photogravure print

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Xie Xiaoze ‘June-August 2008 G.Z.R.B.’ (2010) Oil on Canvas

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