He Xiangyu (何翔宇) is part of a new generation of Chinese conceptual artists whose work tests the limits of taste and perception, while critiquing sociopolitical issues such as rapid urbanisation and the impacts of global capitalism. Seemingly simple in their form and aesthetics, his projects are often collaborative and sometimes take several years to realise.Read More
His Coca-Cola Project (2009-12) is exemplary of this, for which the artist boiled 127 tonnes of Coca-Cola over a year, transforming it into a bitumen-like residue that he then assembled into multiple configurations. One such configuration saw the artist grinding the residue into a powder that he used to create Song dynasty-style ink paintings. This multi-layered work involved a labour force based in his hometown of Dandong, near the North Korean border, where he employed ten workers to construct iron vessels that were used to transform the liquid. In the drawn-out mutation of a liquid synonymous with Western capitalism, He offered commentary on the relationship between art production and consumption.
These ideas also imbued his Tank Project (2011-13), the production of which also necessitated a work force—this time an entire factory of female needle workers. He used 400 pieces of fine Italian leather in order to reconstruct a life-size military tank (an object of recurrence in many episodes of Chinese modern history); its disparate form and material conflated power with desire.
He's practice often takes a localised approach, as seen in his move towards film and video for the Evidence project, which was exhibited at White Cube Bermondsey in London in 2018 (7 February-8 April 2018). Zeroing in on his hometown of Dandong, He examined the complex geopolitical position of the Kuandian area and its position beside North Korea, namely its separation from the country by the Yanlu River. This examination is particularly potent in the artist's feature-length film The Swim (2017), which premiered at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York in February 2017. Basing himself in Dandong with a film crew over the course of two years, He explored through a series of interviews the area as a site of relocation for defectors escaping from North Korea along with veterans who fought in the Korean War (1950-1953).
In the making of The Swim, He discovered that before fleeing, many defectors scavenge objects of minimal value that they bring with them to China and sell on arrival. In his video work Evidence (2017), He restages the meticulous process performed by defectors in order to enable the transportation of these objects. Upon this discovery, he collected these objects himself and exhibited them at his solo exhibition at White Cube Bermondsey. In a 2018 conversation with Ocula Magazine, He expressed his initial unease with this project, noting how 'working on the objects meant consuming or exploiting them.'
Born in 1986 in Lianoning, China, He Xiangyu graduated from the Oil Painting Department at Shenyang Normal University in 2008. He has exhibited in numerous exhibitions and biennales around the world, including the Busan Biennale (2014), the Yokahoma Triennale (2014) and the 13th Biennale de Lyon (2015). In 2013, his work was included in 28 Chinese, an exhibition at the Rubell Family Collection in Miami that was the result of six research trips the Rubells made to China between 2001 and 2012, during which time they acquired artwork from 28 artists.
He Xiangyu lives and works in Beijing and Berlin.
Tessa Moldan | Ocula | 2018
Eight art workers speak to Ocula Magazine about the rise of anti-Asian sentiment, the Asian art community's efforts to address racism, and what art media can do better.Read More Ocula Feature LACMA Explores the Allure of Matter By Jareh Das, Los Angeles
The Allure of Matter: Material Art from China at Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) (2 June 2019–5 January 2020) is an inter-generational show of 21 Chinese artists working from the 1980s to the present, including Ai Weiwei, Cai Guo-Qiang, Lin Tianmiao, Song Dong, He Xiangyu, Yin Xiuzhen, and Ma Qiusha.Read More Ocula Conversation Philip Tinari By Stephanie Bailey, New York
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He Xiangyu's conceptual works are spaces of exploration into his personal and political experiences. Read More
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