Towering before the viewer in an energetic collage of colours and visceral brushwork, "Unification is a reductive process rather than a process of gain, in which loyal believers never feel complete or secure" series No. 1 appears to be a dynamic mix of loose painterly tradition infused with modern technology. Dissolving in and out of focus, the blurred edges invoke an atmospheric curiosity, pushing the composition to pure abstraction. In considering what art is and how it is defined today, this large digital fine art pigment print from the True Image Series suggests a thorough examination of the interrelations between art, its medium and materiality.
Having both vision and an appetite for global information, Shanghai-based artist Xu Zhen is dedicated to produce artwork across multiple media and platforms. Born in 1977 in Shanghai, he graduated from Shanghai Arts and Crafts College in 1996. Having participated in major group exhibitions such The Real Thing: Contemporary Art from China at Tate Liverpool (2007) and lately 14 Rooms at Art Basel (2014), he had further established international recognition being the subject of a solo exhibition at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing in 2004. Xu’s background in arts and crafts developed into an infectious enthusiasm for conceptual art. Often marked as the ‘rebellious’ artist with an insatiable artistic appetite, he has constantly engaged in his sculptures and installations interventions that confront social and political taboos in contemporary China.
Dreaming a dream of ‘changing the world’, Xu Zhen founded MadeIn Company in 2009 in Shanghai whilst simultaneously declaring the death of author as an individual; four years later in 2013 MadeIn launched a new brand Xu Zhen by MadeIn. The idea of defining frivolously ironic conceptualism was furthered in its 2010 solo exhibition Don’t Hang Your Faith on the Wall at Long March Space in Beijing as fifteen True Image Series works – all digital final art pigment prints titled after historical quotes - were exhibited. Every one of the prints represents a photograph of a particular piece of art that Xu created. This collection of ‘actual’ artwork – installations and paintings – was soon destroyed completely after the photos were taken. Only the exhibited prints were for sale. Unification was one of it with an original work of acrylic on canvas that extends the artist’s fundamental attitude towards representation.
Amongst quotes/works such as ‘The path to appearance is always accessible and traveled but one can go around it’ (Jacques Derrida) and ‘Democracy is our goal, but the country must remain stable’ (Den Xiaoping), the title "Unification is a reductive process rather than a process of gain, in which loyal believers never feel complete or secure" series No. 1 comes from Eric Hofer’s famous social psychology book The True Believer. We could ‘imagine’ the gestural and expressive intent of the ‘original’ work offering a more profound emotive and atmospheric quality which was dissolved in the clearly produced digital image. The colours of scribbling faded, shapes have become unidentified after dissolving into the white backdrop, pale orange as one of the very few with distinct edges has gradually dominated the image…. an intermarriage of the blurry and the clear is substantially a betrayal of not only the artist’s emotional life but also the viewer’s eyes. Xu Zhen’s anticipated approach not questions the truth and authenticity, but also notions of sincerity and stereotyping.
The discussion of original artwork and its representation was already engaged in Boris Groys’s ‘Art in the Age of Biopolitics: From Artwork to Art Documentation’ from his book Art Power (2008), in which he wrote: ‘Art documentation is by definition not art; it merely refers to art, and in precisely this way makes it clear that art, in this case, is no longer present and immediately visible but rather absent and hidden.’ The power of the mysterious and blurry image of Unification hinges on the direct and substantial challenge to Groys's statement. Taking a conventional operational model to problematise cooperative relationships within the field of contemporary visual culture and to urgently examine the continual materialization of visual spectacles, Xu Zhen by MadeIn has turned the key word of ‘creation’ into ‘production.’
This process simultaneously touches on the ways of seeing and the acts of collecting in modern society, dealing with the power and influence of ‘media’ as diffusion of information. Visual mass media has become our main source of information and with the increase use of internet this phenomenon has never been stronger than now. Xu Zhen sends a clear message: most of the times a few pictures are perfectly enough.