Body, Sculpture and video:"The Trilogy of Life" by Geng Xue
Geng Xue is good at storytelling through sculptures and videos. Three of her major video works are just like a trilogy in contemporary art. Using history, legends and myths as metaphors, these works reflect the artist's thorough thinking upon life.
Mr. Sea (2014)
Based on the story from Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio, Mr. Sea has a particularly fascinating story. Once there was a gentleman called Mr. Zhang who set out on his own adventure and found a lotus land. On this little island, he met a femme fatale. While they were making out, this lady yelled, "Mr. Sea is here!". In a flash, she disappeared, leaving Mr. Zhang alone attacked by a giant viper. Fortunately, he survived this fight, left with fears and worries that Mr. Sea and the lady were both monsters.
Using ceramics, Geng Xue interprets this tempting ghost story. In the flow of light and illusions, she creates an odd but sophisticated, fancy but real scenario. All the ceramic characters in Mr. Sea are elaborately designed, painted, glazed and produced by the artist. Her ceramics are vivid and particularly appealing, corresponding to the video, sound, and colors. For example, in the film, a piece of burning clay falls out of Mr. Zhang's hands. It then falls to the ground and grows rapidly, as if a penis were constantly expanding. Suddenly, a woman in red jumps out and makes love with Mr. Zhang. Meanwhile, the audience can hear the sound of ceramics clashing and rubbing against each other, as if it were the sound of joint movements of the human body and a heartfelt scream, implying the pleasure and pain sensations of body and mind. When Mr. Zhang is attacked by Mr. Sea, the blood gushes from his eyes and nose, and the bloody red looks exactly like the color of the woman's clothes. It reminds the audience that this woman might be the projection of his own desire as she perhaps never exists. The whole image gives the audience a strong visual and auditory stimulation, not only fully picturing a brutal Mr. Sea, but also the passion of life.
With a spirit of romanticism rarely seen in Chinese orthodox literature, Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio is a tale of mystery and the supernatural. It represents the exploration of the unknown and the struggle between men and fate. It seems that the author Pu Songling who was active at the end of the Qing dynasty makes fun of life by telling stories of ghosts in this fiction. In fact, it’s the implicit criticism of the social reality at that time. The folk ceramics of the same period also refer to the secular content and erotic themes, showing the awakening of human desire. In such literary works, sex, violence and sensual pleasure are often used to reveal repressed emotions and highlight the value of individual existence. As Freud says, the "uncanny" is often what suppressed by the rational world for long. We are so familiar with them that we can't even notice them. We ignore them. But when they pop up, they would be so frightening.
In the form of motion pictures, Geng Xue has brought ceramics, the ancient materials with cultural heritage, and bizarre legends back to life. Between tradition and the contemporary era, reality and fantasy, folk and high culture, Mr. Sea not only lets the audience enjoy the visual aesthetics, but also reveals the problems of the society. Who is Mr. Sea? Is it a symbol of morality and justice, or the embodiment of violence and cruelty? In real life, as long as there is a threat, there will be fear. "Mr. Sea" is actually everywhere.
The Poetry of Michelangelo (2015)
The holy hammer, made in heaven, creates all beauty by its own power... If this divine power can help me, it can certainly lead me to the creation and perfect achievement.
—An excerpt from the Poetry of Michelangelo
In 2015, Geng Xue created the Poetry of Michelangelo, a work mixing sculpture with video. As a master during the peak of the Renaissance, Michelangelo created the sculptures of powerful human nature. Especially, many of his later works retained the "marks" of the fingers and chisel. Those traces of handwork, as touching as the sonnets he wrote to his gay boyfriend, represent the artist's inner struggle between the mundane world and the divinity, the lust and the faith.
The aged Michelangelo chiseled the stone with an ax, leaving deep marks on it; The young artist Geng Xue shaped the soft clay with her hands, just like doing a massage to a human body. It seemed that a man had already been wrapped by the clay. When the young artist started to work on it, this man came to life. Geng Xue said,
"When I was making the eyes, he would open his eyes staring at me.
When I was making the hands, he would grab me with his own hands.
When it was nearly finished, I blew the air into his mouth. Hence, his chest started to rise and fall and he began to breathe."
Geng Xue's the Poetry of Michelangelo is a performance art about sculpture. The artist's creation process was filmed and precisely illustrated with the love poem of Michelangelo, adding emotional weight to the cold and rational production process of sculptures.
In the film, she made the eyes, ears, and the body for him, as if it were blessed by God. As Michelangelo wrote in the poem, "the holy hammer, made in heaven, creates all beauty by its own power... If this divine power can help me, it can certainly lead me to the creation and perfect achievement…solely it."
In the film, shebrought him power, strength, and vitality. As Michelangelo wrote in the poem, “your eyes of wisdom enlighten my blindness. Your feet help me to bear the burden that my disabled feet can't bear. Your spirit brings me to heaven. My will is contained in your will, my thoughts are formed in your heart, my words are revealed in your breath."
In the film, she created him. However, he is just the projection of her passion. Art and love are the imagination of the man himself. As Michelangelo said, "I used to think of art as an idol or a king, as well as my fervent fantasy. But now I admit I was very wrong. I see clearly that everyone is hurt by his own longing."
In the film, she decisively cut off his head and limbs, covered him with a white cloth and sprayed water to moisturize him, turning him into an icy object again. As Michelangelo said, "I can easily forget the food that sustains my body, but I can’t forget your name. It’s as nourishing as the nectar to my soul and body so that when I think of you, I have neither pain nor fear of death."
This work shows the sculpture itself and the creation process. Inserting the master's poem is a way to reflect on the creation form of sculpture itself. It's the "meta-sculpture", a sculpture about sculpture. The love is her theme, as well as a metaphor for the conception, development, and creation of art. She activates the ancient artistic expression form, sculpture, with the energy of her own body.
The Name of Gold (2019)
The Name of Gold (2019) is a dual-display video created by Geng Xue. The relationship between body, sculpture and video is further discussed. The film presents a black and white world where the characters created by clay are shuttling back and forth between reality and illusion, the world of Yin and Yang. They all serve a monolith. The interior of it is golden, giving off seductive light and sound. It makes one step into the breach as another fell, and let people work ceaselessly at the expense of each other. They take out one part of each other's bodies and even sacrifice their own children to the monolith. The giant monster swallows them up, making them a part of itself. Is this huge and invisible thing an alchemy furnace? The monument? Or the fabled tower of Babel? However, it seems to be the manifestation of desire, power, and the collective Utopian myth.
While the clock goes back, the golden liquid spills from the clay. Between the renascence and the disillusion, the mundane life and the sacred world, the ephemeral temptation and the persistent pursuit, images and lives are constantly changing. In this video work, the artist emphasizes the most basic material, clay, which is the most essential material for sculpture, ceramics, architecture and other forms. Its rough texture, malleability, and plasticity represent the trauma, tribulation, and creativity of human history. The artist embeds the screen in the sculpture and places it on the ground. The rolling figures in the golden world seem to be in the "umbilical cord", while the audience looks down as if they were watching through the Inner Eye, peering into the world at the bottom of the well and reflecting on the meaning of art and life.
Reinvention and Renascence
In Geng Xue's works, we can see a form of art that is openminded and general. She has never restrained herself with a certain media. Starting from the most basic material, clay and fire, as well as the origin of life, sex and death, she freely collages all kinds of materials and images, employs multiple media including video, audio and image, and crosses the boundaries between ceramics, sculpture, video and body art, as well as numerous doctrines such as romanticism, realism and modernism. She allows the audience to find "strangeness" in the "familiar" narration, the "complexity" in the "simple" form, and the "difference" in the "consistency".
The Trilogy of Life by Geng Xue seems to be worldly and romantic. In fact, it's as serious as a major historical theme. Through symbolic, multi-perspective and diversified narration, the artist continuously weaves her own stories, breaking the mediocre logic of knowledge, and reflecting on the survival crisis of human beings. Apart from the three video works, she has also created a series of independent sculptures and conceptual works such as Socrates' Square, the Fly, A Childhood Fable, Two Mounds, the Piping of Heaven, and the Tape of Freedom. These works run through the artist's thoughts on freedom, power, and life. In the reflection of the art form itself; In the researches of tradition and the employment of modern technology; in the deconstruction of collectivized politics and economic utopia in the era of globalization; Geng Xue is constantly reinventing the cultural and social significance of contemporary art.