THE RESOUNDING CHASM
Ora-Ora is pleased to announce a new solo show by acclaimed Beijing-based artist Xiao Xu. The title is The Resounding Chasm. Ora-Ora presents seven new artworks, all executed during or shortly before the onset of the pandemic, a period which the artist spent in China’s capital city of Beijing. In the midst of a public health emergency, there were few outlets to escape the seclusion of home. The artist explored Beijing’s parks, experiencing unexpected revelations and unforeseen psychological realizations which were the impetus for this show.
The title alludes to the idea of time as a fungible concept. The pandemic has intervened to slow, speed up or distort time within individual perception. Visualizing time as a river or landscape before him, the artist hears passions and emotions as echoes in its chasms. Employing humour and surrealist imagery to illustrate his realization, Xiao Xu calls to mind a line from Gong Zizhen, a poet of the Qing Dynasty: “Countless stars die, and the moon falls into the forest." The visit of the moon to earth becomes an illustration and metaphor for the suspension of normality and the artist’s embrace of the surreal and the pathetic fallacy.
Xiao Xu’s instantly recognizable signature style has won great acclaim from his peers and immense popularity with collectors. He works with ink on paper, employing an innovative layering method which creates a unique visual effect. By repeatedly adding ink colour to previously dry ink, he creates a rich texture-like depth. He is a maestro of darkness, forging a path of deep shadow, tipping the balance of chiaroscuro in favour of velvety midnight hues. Xiao Xu’s paintings harness the brush, ink and paper of classical times, pairing the past with a contemporary theatricality in his choice of subject, arrangement and inspiration.
In the words of Ora-Ora co-founder and CEO, Henrietta Tsui-Leung, “Xiao Xu is an artist with a reverence for classical technique, whose painting is highly contemporary in theme and subject. As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, The Resounding Chasm couldn’t be more topical. This is an exhibition which explores a world of darkness and shadow, and yet is anchored in self-knowledge and humanity.”
Beset by the strictures of enforced solitude, the parks of Beijing gave the artist free rein to explore within and without. The topography he saw before him was as much psychological as it was material. Personal insights and subjective realizations become a guiding light. Roaming in parkland presented unlikely juxtapositions and eerie events, moments which are refracted in Xu’s paintings through soap bubbles, and conjured up by the summoning of sika deer and tigers into the murky realm before us. The parks became a framework for a series of pivotal moments of realization and mental insight. Within the park, episodic interior revelations were a constant accompaniment.
Confronted with an unknown future and uncomfortable present, the artist experienced moments of involuntary laughter and levity, an innate self-healing response to an enveloping helplessness. Xu embraced the restorative vigour of humour. In the painting Day of Rest (2021), Xiao Xu explores the comedy of the unexpected, riffing on Edouard Manet’s Le déjeuner sur l’herbe (1863). The arrangement of clouds, tablecloths, flowers and detritus creates a tableau which is an extension of the artist’s involuntary laughter. Xu’s joke on himself seems indivisible from the joke that the world was playing on us.
In Follow the Light (2022), the artist recalls one afternoon in a Beijing park, in which the sun shone on the lake and reflected golden light before him. The artist found himself transfixed by the shimmering, bejewelled glare, overcome with a feeling that time had stood still. In periods of emotional upheaval, time is a fungible concept. The echoes of the past live on in a way which cannot be explained by mathematical or horological means. Follow the Light captures shades of Walter Benjamin's theory of Messianic time and prompts discussion on the nature of memory.
In another work, Rebirth (2019), the artist looks back on his youth, and recalls the trepidation he felt on first contact with René Magritte’s surrealism. In this work, he borrows characters and characteristics from Magritte’s paintings. Hovering between the real and the virtual on the cusp of the pandemic’s onslaught, the artist thereby turns his original sense of apprehension into a catalyst for combatting the unknown.
Ora-Ora invites visitors to join the artist’s journey, entering a realm of past, present and future. The darkness before us is resonant of the human experience; a world of mystery, fantasy and shared understandings.