Xiao Yu is a contemporary Chinese conceptual artist whose bold and unpredictable creations have stunned and mesmerised global audiences since the 1990s. Born in Inner Mongolia in 1965, he attended China's most prestigious art school, the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing. After graduating from the Mural Painting Department in 1989, he remained at the school as a teacher until he resigned to become a full-time artist in 1998. He quickly rose to prominence, winning the Chinese Contemporary Art Award for Best Artist in 2000.Read More
Xiao belongs to a generation of artists who, in an era complicated by rapid development and globalisation, turned to art as a means to contemplate, criticise, and cope with contemporary life in China. Although he has worked with vastly different mediums and subject matters throughout his career, a sense of the surreal and uncanny persists across all of his creations, many of which also offer tacit socio-political criticisms. The artist is best known for his installations, but his diverse creations often traverse the realms of painting, sculpture, video, and performance art.
In 2001, Xiao burst onto the international art scene at the 49th Venice Biennale with Ruan, Jiu, and Wu—three sculptures, each composed of a glass specimen jar mounted atop a white plinth. Within each vessel, a composite creature—which he created by splicing together preserved human and animal body parts—is suspended in formaldehyde. For Ruan, he affixed a rabbit's eyes to the head of a human foetus, which he then grafted onto the body of a bird. Akin to the creatures themselves, the title of the works are words he invented by combining various Chinese characters that represent different animals, a calligraphic technique made famous by Xu Bing.
With these macabre sculptures, the artist deliberately cultivated a sense of discomfort in the hopes that his artworks would mobilise the viewer to question conditioned behaviours, to recognise flaws in social constructs, and to reflect upon the inherent absurdity of life. Although Xiao's intention with Ruan was to pay homage to the foetus and animals by offering each fallen entity a new life, the work was met with significant outrage and was even removed from a 2005 exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts Bern.
In 2005, Xiao, artists Hong Hao, Song Dong, and Liu Jianhua, and curator Leng Lin formed Polit-Sheer-Form-Office (PSFO), a Chinese art collective whose mission was to cultivate a sense of collectivism without its historically political associations. In the wake of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and subsequent economic reforms, PSFO imagined a new reality founded upon shared experiences, emphasising communal activities as forming the core of their artistic ideology.
While Xiao's reputation may be coloured by the controversy surrounding his early sculptures, the artist has since taken his solo work in a new direction, seeking to define a visual vocabulary that transcends cultural boundaries. In 2009, he shifted his focus to bamboo, creating elaborate abstract sculptures by deconstructing and manipulating the plant's natural form. By dissecting, twisting, and folding the bamboo, he reinterprets the visual trope in a manner that transcends cultural specificity. Liberating it from its traditional narrative, he returns bamboo to its purest physical and sensory state.
As Xiao continues to evolve as an artist, he remains true to his defining creative impetus: 'I create artwork based on one's practice, sparking the audience to mobilise their prior experiences and advance them into a state of reflection.'
Xiao has participated in several international exhibitions, including the Lyon Biennale, the Shanghai Biennale, and the Guangzhou Triennial. He has also exhibited work at the Centre Pompidou, Paris; Fukuoka Asian Art Museum; National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Seoul; National Art Museum of China, Beijing; Shanghai Art Museum; Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou; and the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing. He has held solo shows at Yibo Gallery, Shanghai (2012, 2006); AYE Gallery, Beijing (2011, 2008); Feizi Gallery, Brussels (2013); Pace Gallery, Beijing (2018, 2016, 2015, 2014); and Pace Gallery, Hong Kong (2019), amongst others.
Xiao lives and works in Beijing.
E-Fahn Wang | Ocula | 2019
We celebrate the middle of August with a collection of unique and thought-provoking shows. In Melbourne, Tolarno Galleries and artist Caroline Rothwell offer a refreshing approach to that most enduring of questions: what is the relationship between nature and man? In a similar vein, Mongolian artist Xiao Yu considers the same topic, turning his...