PHOTOS: Cang Xin’s Shamanic Artwork Lands at Art23

By Simon Bishop, November 18, 2019

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After spending much of this year championing the work of up-and-coming Dutch artists such as Donald Schenkel and Said Kinos, Guangzhou’s Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery has shown that it is full of surprises, bringing an exhibition by stalwart of Chinese contemporary art, Cang Xin, to the Yuexiu gallery. 

Xin is no small fry, having exhibited works in London’s Saatchi Gallery and Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, among other high profile spaces. To be able to view his work in the cozy setting of Art23, located amid the old-worldy hustle and bustle of Dongshangkou, is a real coup for the city’s aesthetes.

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Images courtesy of Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery

A self-taught artist, Cang’s career extends back to the early 1990s and his ‘Contemporary Symptoms’ exhibition at Art23 serves as a kind of retrospective. Photography and performance art are the bread and butter of his work, though his skill set extends with equal mastery to painting, drawing and sculpture, all of which are on show here. 

The exhibition includes some of his best-known pieces, such as selections from his 2001-2007 ‘Identity Exchange’ photography series, which sees the artist supplanting chefs, London palace guards, equestrians and punks by adopting their dress and leaving the original wearer standing in their undergarments next to him. 

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Images courtesy of Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery

Audiences are also treated to his ‘To Add One Meter to an Anonymous Mountain,’ a notorious still from a 1995 performance video of the same name, featuring a pile on of nude bodies atop a hill. 

Humans in nature is a recurrent theme throughout his more recent works too, though these more thoroughly emphasise a sense of nature being the dominant of the pair. Nude figures appear merely as fine detail within vast, lush landscapes, as in his pieces ‘Prairie Bed,’ ‘Lotus’ and ‘Prairie Toilet’ (the latter, on closer inspection, reveals the figures to be seated on, yes, toilets… just because). 

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Images courtesy of Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery

Cang states that the conjoining of the worlds of religion and science is a guiding principle to his recent work, and certainly, while there is a sense of ritualistic atavism to these works, the vividness of color and depth of field could only have been produced in the mechanical age.  

A peculiarity of contemporary art is that audiences have come to expect the artist’s intentions – and therefore the ‘meaning’ of the art itself – to be laid out for them. It isn’t enough to simply enjoy a work of contemporary art on its own merits, something that undoubtedly deters the more casual viewer. 

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Image courtesy of Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery

Yet one of the strengths of Cang’s work – and possibly a reason that his work crosses cultural barriers with ease –  is that you can have it both ways: there is a strong personal philosophy underpinning all his art that will satisfy the chin-strokers, but there is also a genuine appeal to the eye, not to mention a gleeful sense of play that will allow the uninitiated to get something out of it too.

Until December 8, Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery.

[Cover image courtesy of Art23 Contemporary Art Gallery]

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