ArtReview Asia: Karen Archey on Guan Xiao
Published in ArtReview Asia, Autumn & Winter 2014
By: Karen Archey
Nov 01, 2014
I may get murdered by a self-righteous museologist for saying this, but what else mimics the uncanny anachronism of rifling through the many centuries’ and civilisations’ worth of artefacts in a museum than noodling around online? Where, other than at the Met and on Contemporary Art Daily, can you come across an Easter Island moai and a few minutes later find a Matthew Monahan that looks pretty damn similar? Such works’ near-imperceptible but exceedingly vast differences and the culture industry that prescribes them is the interest of young Chinese artist Guan Xiao. Her 2013 installation Cloud Atlas (which I saw at Magician Space in Beijing) convenes acrid-coloured resin and wood totems festooned with ornaments that appear plucked off an Olmec colossal head. The installation borrows its title from the 2004 David Mitchell book, or for nonreaders, the 2012 Wachowskis movie, and if you’ve experienced either, you’ll guess that Guan’s Cloud Atlas is basically a sci-fi mind-screwing experiment in antilinear storytelling, evincing the artist’s interest in aesthetics that span space and time.
Similarly, Guan’s video Cognitive Shape (2013) presents an archive of video clips mostly found on the Internet, presented in three channels, with footage of the artist narrating their significance in a culture in which the image, rather than context, is paramount. The humorous video David (2013) combines footage of Michelangelo’s David (1501– 4) shot at the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence with images of David merchandise and a cheesy soundtrack performed by Guan and the artist Yu Honglei. “We cook with him! Drink with him! Shop with him!” sing Guan and Yu, against images of a David apron, mug and tote bag. As a whole, the video pokes fun at Western culture’s fetishisation and commodification of ancient artefacts – and implicitly, its lack of interest in contemporary art.