KAN Xuan: Racing Gravels

curated by Tan yue

26 April 2019 – 29 June 2019

Kan Xuan, a video artist, splits her time between Beijing and Amsterdam. Throughout her practice she maintains an earnest and humble attitude towards the myriad of still objects and lasting landscapes of everyday life, perceiving all that she encounters with affective openness. She has gone from exploring identity politics in the dynamics of mainstream ideology and social customs, in early works such as Kan Xuan! Ai! (1999), to interrogating the objecthood of commodities in the global economy and the consumer culture in which they circulate, to investigating and revisiting the vanishing ruins of ancient settlements time and again in the recent work Kū Lüè Er (2016). Always taking personal experience as point of departure, Kan aims to unveil the complex relations between objective reality and subjective emotion. Precise, witty and biting, Kan’s singular visual lexicon merges playful subtlety with metaphorical profundity.

Racing Gravels assembles a series of new pieces informed by the artist’s parallel career as a commercial video director, who has worked with automobile manufacturers, internet companies and information technology businesses from China and beyond for nearly two decades. Naturally, such continual exposure to brands and technologies has imbued her with related interests, urging her to explore the rites of commerce, technological ethic, and economic policy behind these commercial enterprises. Rejecting metanarratives, Kan opts to examine the most mundane and seemingly trivial moments from a deeply personal perspective. Her work is devoid of ostentatious, assertive critique – she relentlessly attempts to expose the devils in the details of our consumerist society, alienated into spectacle. 

In Guy Debord’s concept of the society of the spectacle, individuality is hijacked by a whirlpool of extrinsic needs and visual images through the varied channels of advertisement, entertainment, news and technology, leaving us trapped with no escape. The curse Debord describes still plagues our world today, of course, and has metastasized due to the increasing saturation of technology. Digital windows and interfaces are constantly awash with an endless tide of images, enabling commercial information to force its way into every facet of life. Kan clearly does not intend to be an accomplice to this mode of image production; she remains alert to the violence and absurdity therein, with acuity and intuition. 

Kan Xuan’s work has an irresistible charm, a singular style at once composed and precise, straightforward and humorous. Her frequent use of personal experience allows her work to evoke powerful emotional responses from audiences. At the same time, it raises alarming questions: who exactly are we in all this? Are we the headless cucumbers shuffling and roaring in a queue, or the metal washers spinning endlessly on an industrial screw-rod (New Middle Class, 2018)? Can the détournement of quotidian life still suffice as an effective, critical tool? Through her unique artistic language, Kan Xuan articulates vivid situations filled with contradictions: a metaphor for China, for the entire world, for us, living in the society of the spectacle amidst rapid commodification and technological acceleration, heading towards an inexplicable end, like automobiles racing through gravel at night. The essence of life lies, perhaps, precisely in this enmeshment of absurdity and reality, speed and obstacle, joy and helplessness, disappointment and hope.

(A range of works on view are new commissions for "Walk Strangely, Stay Strangely—Sora Kim vs. Kan Xuan: A Double One Woman Show,” presented at the Guangdong Times Museum, from December 15th, 2018, to February 1st, 2019. )


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