Xu Zhen is emerging as one of the most inventive young Chinese artists. His gestures in a wide range of media – sculpture, video, installation – are dramatic and knowing, breathtaking in their audacity, aesthetically and conceptually ambitious. Installation 8848–1.86 (2005) took the conquering of Mount Everest as its subject and included a sculptural interpretation of the mountain‘s summit inside a vast glass case.
Clichés of human ambition recur in Xu Zhen's work, often with a sense of humour that tends to undermine assumptions of worth. What exactly is the point of reaching the top of Mount Everest? Likewise, 18 Days (2006) is a video work in which a military skirmish over national frontiers is re-enacted by the artist and friends, on location in northern China, playing around with toy tanks and other battle vehicles. The childish game we witness clearly raises questions about territorialism and a symptomatic resort to warfare. In another work Xu Zhen invokes the sublime by engraving an astronaut's footprint on a grain of sand. Seen through the lens of a microscope, it is very reminiscent of Neil Armstrong's "one small step or [a] man, one giant leap for mankind".
For summertime at Eastside, Ikon presents another small sculptural piece, a slightly-larger-than-life-size replica of a mosquito. One of The Last Few Mosquitoes, it sits on the wall of our ‘white cube' project space. On close inspection it appears to be sucking blood from the building, glowing red as it ingests the nutrition it needs. This insect is an effective symbol, but in the light of Xu Zhen's notorious reluctance to interpret his work, we are left free to develop our own theories. Context is vital to meaning, so here, in this art gallery, does this creature represent consumers of what the institutionalart world has to offer? Should we read the walls as skin, and re-conceive the gallery as a kind of organism prone to parasitic opportunism?
The title suggests the result of some government directive (the kind that characterises a totalitarian state), whereby the elimination of these ubiquitous, annoying insects was decreed, and we now have an opportunity to see a remnant of an endangered species. Or we could be more positive. Perhaps Xu Zhen is asking us to imagine a better world, one without mosquitoes, after these last ones have sucked their last drops. Should we care? What exactly is the point of mosquitoes?
Official website information:http://www.ikon-gallery.co.uk/programme/current/event/303/the_last_few_mosquitos/