Arriving in Australia in 1992, Guo Jian’s art practice has been fuelled by his position as a reflective, sharply satirical Chinese expatriate who grew up during the Cultural Revolution and under a deeply communist regime. Jian’s early experiences of art were inevitably entwined with communist authority, ideology and militaristic power - his first acquaintance with art was time spent as a propaganda-poster painter for the People’s Liberation Army then later, as an art student in Beijing, he took part in the protests which led to the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989.
Jian takes the Socialist Realism he grew up with in China, subverts and transforms it, often humorously, into Socio-Realism in an almost celebratory act of protest and liberation. His flat surfaces and heightened colours owe much to the Chinese visual and political language of the Communist era. Dancing girls in dressed in traditional ballet costumes or in uniforms with weapons are either placed in the foreground with soldiers leering (usually in disquieting repetition of Jian’s own face) or in the background as a lingerie-clad model straight out of a Western fashion magazine poses in the foreground; a contrast of unrestricted sexuality and enforced conformity. The Western woman is a temptation, a siren and a subversive outsider in scenes such as Untitled #1 (2006) and Untitled #5 (2005). Underlying conflicting themes of sex and violence, East and West are dominant forces in Jian’s works. Soldiers are captivated and awestruck by female performers, sometimes in quiet contemplation, sometimes in overly excited wonderment, but a sense of false happiness, hypocrisy and hysteria often pervade the scenes.
Jian’s most recent series (2009) has continued this concern of contrast and comparisons between the East and West. Taking iconic photographs from history of famous Hollywood femme fatales visiting US troops in war zones, including Marilyn Monroe, Scarlett Johansson and Mariah Carey, Jian repaints them in photoreal precision with great attention to detail. Jian erases some figures and inserts himself as a People’s Liberation Army soldier amongst a group of US Marines, or in the case of No. a (2009) where Monroe is photographed singing to the 3rd U.S. Infantry Division in Korea in 1954, Jian substitutes the American soldiers with the green and red uniformed soldiers of the People’s Liberation Army. Jian’s manipulation as he inserts himself wearing the red star cap into a grinning group posing with Monroe or bikini girls is highly illusionary and playful. As one Chinese soldier reads The Little Red Book and an American soldier reads Maxim besides each other in No. g (2009), Jian seems to challenge the ideologies behind both cultures and countries. Jian is an artist who revels in juxtapositions and the search for identity: ‘Put your feet into someone else’s shoes to think about the world and your own life differently. For me, if the surroundings change, are combined, are old or new, it doesn’t matter.’
1 Guo Jian,’ The China Project, exh. cat., 28 March – 28 June 2009, Queensland Art Gallery: Brisbane, p. 149.
2 Guo Jian, quoted in Media Release, 30 June – 25 July 2009, Arc One Gallery, 2009.