Artforum: Xu Qu

Published in Artforum

By: Daniel Szehin Ho

Translated by: 小俞

Jun 25, 2015

The Beijing-based artist Xu Qu’s first solo exhibition in Shanghai delves into violent realities—animal, mineral, and social—with unflinching sangfroid. A video of an upturned turtle toyed with by a human foot (Custom II, 2014) signals control and helplessness. In Longevity, 2015, minimalist metallic pillars are seemingly held apart by fragile spines of umbrellas, which were collected last year by the artist during Hong Kong’s “Occupy Central” protests, which unsuccessfully called for universal suffrage. The imagery is fairly obvious—a frail opening between almost immovable blocks—but anything more would cross red lines, as news of the protests are heavily censored in Mainland China.
Violences of other sorts show up in the video Zebra, 2015, in which a human hand patiently pulls strips of hide off a dead horse, down to the subcutaneous fat. The result resembles the stripes of a zebra and enacts a literalist, violent shaping of reality into a preconceived idea; one can only wonder if the artist is also commenting on art’s overall potential to murderously mold reality. One could furthermore read a certain “tradition” of gruesome endurance and mutilation in performance art in China—and even find references to hoary stereotypes of Chinese culinary peccadilloes. Yet viewers who do so would miss out on the artist’s practice of exploring the limits of forms and structures by imposing literalist interpretations on a given reality, whether playfully futile—such as when he threw coral back into the South China Sea to symbolically dismantle the boundaries of islands artificially formed via land reclamation—or, here, grisly and clinical.

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