Fragmentary Views - Time, Memory and History in My Work
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.
Excepts from lecture at Bucknell University, Oct. 14, 2010, in conjunction with touring exhibition “Xiaoze Xie: Amplified Moments (1993-2008)”
My long-standing interest in time, memory and history is a thread that runs through my paintings, works on paper, photographs and installations over the years.
I started “The Library Series” in 1993, when I was intrigued by rows of “sleeping” books on the shelves of a library. I see books as a material form of something abstract, such as ideology. I have also been fascinated by 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” (1995- ), I have 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. My more recent project “The MoMA Library” (2005-06) engages specific art-historical references; it is both a tribute to and a eulogy of Modernism. Installations “Nocturne: Burning of Books by the Nazis”(1995) and “Order (The Red Guards)”(1999) grew out of my deep fascination with books and my interest in history. Both are based on historical documentation of the specific events yet aim to go beyond the narratives and resonate on political and philosophical levels.
My recent work deals with the vulnerability and the fragmentary nature of historical memory, as well as our superficial perception of the world in the media age. My ongoing project entitled “Fragmentary Views” (2001- ) is a series of paintings based on photographs of piles of newspapers found on the shelves as arranged, marked, or labeled by librarians. What interests me most is the temporary nature of this mundane object loaded with the all-encompassing information of changing daily life: from the front-page news to stock market columns to birth announcements and obituaries. Newspapers are recycled. Life goes on. In these paintings, the close-up view reveals fragmented news pictures and texts of seemingly unrelated events, from the quiet passage of the everyday, to the disturbing conflicts and tragedies of our time. The accidental juxtaposition of images and texts suggests, and at the same time conceals a larger, more complex social picture. 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.
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. What can you say, in the face of what’s happening every day? Nothing comes as a shock. In the newspaper paintings, I have found a way to combine my ideas and interests in the earlier library paintings of decaying books and installations dealing with historical events, in a simple format. Stylistically I have drawn on the history of painting and at the same time maintained a reference to documentary photography, I have used image as text and text as image. My 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.
Xiaoze Xie received his Master of Fine Art degrees from the Central Academy of Arts & Design in Beijing and the University of North Texas. He has had solo exhibitions at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, AZ; Dallas Visual Art Center, TX; Modern Chinese Art Foundation, Gent, Belgium; Charles Cowles Gallery, New York; Gallery Paule Anglim, San Francisco; Nicholas Metivier Gallery, Toronto; China Art Archives and Warehouse, Beijing; Gaain Gallery, Seoul; Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery, Houston, TX; among others. He has participated in numerous group exhibitions including Shu: Reinventing Books in Contemporary Chinese Art at the China Institute Gallery in New York and Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the traveling exhibition Regeneration: Contemporary Chinese Art from China and the US. His 2004 solo at Charles Cowles was reviewed in “The New York Times”, “Art in America” and "Art Asia Pacific". More recent shows have been reviewed in “Chicago Tribune”, “The Globe and Mail” and “San Francisco Chronicle”. His work is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and the Arizona State University Art Museum. Xie received the Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant (2003) and artist awards from Phoenix Art Museum (1999) and Dallas Museum of Art (1996). Xie is the Paul L. & Phyllis Wattis Professor of Art at Stanford University.
6th century and later addition
Photo credit: Werner Forman / Art Resources, NY
Silk, paper, plexiglass, lights, electronics, 2800 bug pins