Four Rivers (Rhine River), Gu Xiong, photograph, (60.96 x 166.37cm), 2008
Four Rivers (Yangtze River), Gu Xiong, photograph, (60.96 x 195.58cm), 2008
Four Rivers (Red River), Gu Xiong, photograph, (60.96 x 184.15cm), 2008
FInvisible in the Light, Gu Xiong, tomatoes and pins, (12 x 9 m), 2014
Four Rivers (Fraser River), Gu Xiong, photograph, (60.96 x 90.17cm), 2010
While Gu Xiong was born in Chongqing, China, he is now a Canadian citizen living and working in Vancouver. He is a multi-media artist whose practice centres on created hybrid identities arising from integration of different cultural origins. Through a critical angle in visual art practice, his work encompasses sociology, geography, economics, politics, and literature, as well as the dynamics of globalization, local culture and identity politics. He thereby constitutes an amalgamation of multiple cultural histories and seeks to create an entirely new identity. The construction of a new level of being is Gu Xiong’s primary interest.
He has exhibited nationally and internationally including more than forty solo exhibitions and three public art commissions. He has participated in over one hundred prominent national and international group exhibitions including the 55 Venice Biennale Parallel Exhibition “Voice of the Unseen, Chinese Independent Art 1979-today” (Venice, 2013); Border Zones: New Art Across Cultures, (Museum of Anthropology, Vancouver, 2010); Post Avant-grade Chinese Contemporary Art - Four Directions of the New Era (Hong Kong, 2007); the Shanghai Biennale (2004), MultipleCity (Panama, 2003); the Montréal Biennale (2000), the Kwangju Biennale (Korea, 1995); and the ground-breaking exhibition “China Avant-Garde” at the China National Museum of Fine Arts (Beijing, 1989).
His work is included in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the China National Museum of Fine Arts, and the Vancouver Art Gallery, among many others. He also created many commissioned public art works for U.S. and Canadian commissioners. He has repeatedly been awarded Canada's Arts Award, and was selected for the highest artistic achievement award in Canada by the Canada Council Governor Award Jury.
Gu Xiong has published two books, ten solo exhibitions catalogues and eleven book covers. His artwork has received significant critical recognition including reviews in Flash Art, Art in America, and The New York Times. The documentary “The Yellow Pear: The Story of Gu Xiong” from the series A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada was broadcast on The History Channel in March, 2001. Gu Xiong is also a curator, he has organized critically-acclaimed exhibitions of work by emerging artists in Canada and China.
He received his BFA and MFA degrees from the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Chongqing, China. In Canada, Gu is a professor in the Department of Art History, Visual Art, and Theory at the University of British Columbia; his teaching and researches covers areas of installation, painting, drawing, printmaking, photography and contemporary art theory. He has also been invited as visiting professor to many colleges and universities in Canada, the United States and China.
Gu Xiong Artist Statement
All cultures are complex, but the one into which you are born is the one you come to understand most profoundly. This influence finds its way into the work of an artist and, I believe, is expressed almost instinctively. If a person should move to another culture, he or she must make both a conscious and instinctive adjustment in seeking to understand what, at first, is a strange new world. It is within this dynamic milieu that I have found myself. This conflict of cultures in my work is in a state of constant evolution. It is a continuous generation of ‘artistic electricity’ that fuels change in both my personal life and my work as a contemporary artist.Through the years, the direction of my research has centred around the creation of this hybrid cultural identity.
My research always draws on the critical angle of visual art as a point of departure, then encompasses other areas of knowledge such as sociology, geography, economics, politics and literature. I address integration and assimilation, histories both collective and personal, and cultural synthesis across boundaries. My art seeks to delve into the dynamics of globalization, local culture and individual shifts in identity, and rethink the spaces where global culture flows.
These shifts do not merely constitute a simple amalgamation of two original subjects, but instead, seek to create an entirely new space. Alone and isolated from its birth, this new individual identity is nevertheless open and free. Visible and invisible global forces of social and cultural homogenization have inherited the world. In this environment, individual spaces embody the seeds of difference and alterity. It is the construction of this new level of being in which I am interested. My art expresses this process through my own life experience of displacement and rebirth in Canada.
For the work Intertwined Rivers (2014), I walked along the banks of four separate waterways: the Fraser River near Vancouver and the Red River near Winnipeg in Canada, the Yangtze River near Chongqing in China, and the Rhine River in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, documenting my travels through photography. I present photographs, which show these four disparate bodies of water coming together.
Here, four rivers are positioned as a metaphor for the dissolution of cultural forms that mark globalization. The wide format river views are comparative to the long meandering images of Chinese scrolls, or the sweeping, panoramic landscapes of European tradition, allowing for a more intimate sense of place.
The video song “Red River Valley”, made in Karaoke format, suggests how collective and individual imaginations, visions, values, and languages are shared through economic forces, leisure and technology, collapsing time and space across the globe.
As we move towards global uncertainty, these four rivers’ past and present represent various histories, geographies, economies and cultures transformed through cultural entwining, splicing, convolution, and idiosyncrasy. They merge and emerge together virtually. These rivers map out a process whereby cultural clues serve only as mutations, aberrations, and misquotations.
In Invisible Light (2014) I use tomatoes to construct a map of Canada. The tomato first came to my attention in the hands of a Mexican migrant worker. He was standing in a house crammed full of other workers like himself, as well as the produce they helped grow: tomatoes, bell peppers, chilies, Chinese luck bamboo shoots and money trees. He was staring intently at the tomato, turning it this way and that. Then he crushed it in his hand.
I then noticed the tomatoes stacked in boxes at the local grocery shop, all labeled ‘local produce’—international origins of the labour that produced them erased with this happy, comforting label. Under the lights of the store, one only sees the bright red skin, the smooth and round flesh of these sweet fruit, not the long eight months away from home, the precarious connection to family only through international cell phone calls, the total separation from family and society at large.
In British Columbia and Ontario, there are hundreds of thousands of international, temporary migrant workers who labour on farmlands and in greenhouses. They come from Mexico, Jamaica and other Central American countries to work for eight months out of a year; most returning annually.
This is related to my own experience of working in the rural countryside in China, sent there during the Cultural Revolution, like millions of others. We were far away from our homes, and every day we worked hard in the fields, from sunrise to sunset.
The tomatoes function as a symbol of the struggles that the workers go through in overcoming their intense psychological journey. The crushing of the tomatoes symbolizes freedom from the silence, isolation and barely endured existence to something solemn and stirringly beautiful. Their remains assert their presence—the smell, the wetness, and the splattering.
Enclosure, installation/performance view, installation and performance of struggle to break through the “enclosures from outside and inside, 1989
Waterscapes, installation view, mixed media installation, including 1000 plastic white boats, 22 photographs and 1 video, 2014
Red Lands, installation view, Gu Xiong, mixed media installation, including paintings, drawings, prints, LED signs, Coca Cola cans, wooden Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, wooden bridge, red balloons, pandas and 10 original silk-screen prints of Mao by Andy Warhol on loan from the National Gallery of Canada, (10.36 x 8.23 x 3.66m), 1997