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The Ghost at the Gymnasium

From Shanghai Daily Author: Wang Jie 2008-02-22

Treadmills, exercise bicycles and weight-lifting equipment are all in motion in a ghostly scene from a gym. Eight machines are "exercising." There are no fashionable people in fashionable workout togs, keeping fashionably fit.

Installation artist Xu Zhen assembles eight pieces of gym equipment in his untitled (it speaks for itself) installation at ShanghART gallery on 50 Moganshan Road, an artists' hub.

This is not interactive art, however. Viewers can only watch the machines running by remote control, as if ghosts were working out.

Through the automatic repeated movements, Xu talks about the relationship between control and being controlled, games and exercise, present and future. "I think those people exercising at the gym actually lose the real spirit of sports," says Xu, who lives in Shanghai. "In fact, a casual walk, running or bicycling on the street or in the park is much more fun than being sheltered in a small enclosed space where the air is not fresh."

The atmosphere in the gym is nervous and serious, he says. "It's about how many kilometers are you gonna do on a treadmill or how many kilograms are you gonna lose."

Xu declares that he finds all scenes at the gym ridiculous, though many trendy young people treat the gym as a routine, a regular venue and a hangout.

"Perhaps for some the gym represents a recent fashion," he says. "White-collar workers or even gold-collar workers are building up their bodies inside this funny space."

So Xu's idea is to let the workout equipment do the work, as in his view it's no longer important to train one's body at the gym. What's important to gym-goers is to be part of the aura, and to be seen there, he says.

With the mindlessly running machines, Xu conveys the idea of modern man, mindlessly repeating routines that prescribed by his social structure and the media. He sees a loss of individual identities in a day of subtle social control when people want to be fashionable.

Born in 1977, Xu graduated from Shanghai Arts and Crafts School in 1996. He won the top prize at the China Contemporary Art Awards (2004) and displayed work at the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. He has exhibited internationally.

Date: through February 29, 11am-5pm
Address: Bldg 18, 50 Moganshan Rd
Tel: 6359-3923

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