He Xiangyu Andrew Kreps
He XiangyuAndrew Kreps
Palate Wonder 24-1, detail




He Xiangyu’s conceptual practice manifests in multi-year projects that span sculpture, drawing, installation, film and publications.



Emerging as part of a generation of artists who experienced rapid urbanization in China during their upbringing, Xiangyu’s work looks to shift the viewer’s perception of cultural signifiers through an examination and manipulation of material. Divergent in their aesthetic, Xiangyu’s projects aim to investigate an array of personal, social, and political themes, addressing cultural boundaries and the commercialized status of contemporary art.





Mia & Elephant, detail



He Xiangyu’s new sculpture Elephant draws on the animal’s complex and layered significance within Chinese culture. Imposing in stature and form, with the potential to enact violence, the elephant’s depiction as a solemn and docile creature implies the taming of its power by an outside force. These dynamics find commonalities with human morality, where the individual ego frequently is controlled for the greater good of civilization.


The distinctive outline of Elephant derives from ancient Buddhism sculptures in today’s Gansu Province, China; notably, the Beishiku Temple and Nanshiku Temple, which were originally built between the 6-7th century and later restored during the Song Dynasty. However, the ears of the elephant are shaped in the manner of Han Dynasty’s sculptures; therefore, Elephant references images from different historical periods. Each of the representations reflect its own reference from models and sometimes imagination. Standing hesitantly on top of Elephant’s back is the figure of a young girl who is of mixed Chinese and German descent, modeled after the daughter of a colleague of the artist. While her position would traditionally be one of triumph, she appears disoriented and confused as her eyes turn downwards and her gesture appears to grasp something unattainable. The elephant below remains peaceful and quiet, suggesting the often fraught power dynamics between an individual, and tradition, as well as history and the present.





He Xiangyu’s work Palate Wonder belongs to his ongoing series Palate Project, which was started in 2012 after He lived briefly in the US, where language barriers proved difficult to navigate. He began translating the ridges, bumps, and grooves of his palate through perceptions felt with his tongue, into various visual forms. The act of translation, always aimed at demystifying the subject, here only seems to further complicate it. The phenomenological processes responsible for constructing a sense of interior space intrinsic to vocalization, the curl of the tongue that produces “rat” as opposed to “that”, become a function of He Xiangyu’s body mapping. Identifiable anatomical structures dissolve and re-emerge, eventually evolving into color fields with only the slightest hints of form. Based on a seemingly obvious premise, Palate Project revels in a Cartesian split of mind and body, illustrating that, in spite of proximity to subject, art remains the annotation to a lost referent.





Lola, detail



In 2021, He Xiangyu was shortlisted for the 4th edition of the Mario Merz Prize. Past solo exhibitions of He’s work include New Directions: He Xiangyu, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Beijing, 2015 and Cola Project, 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney, 2012; among others. In addition, He has participated in numerous group exhibitions which include: Facing the Collector, The Sigg Collection of Contemporary Art from China, Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Turin, 2020; Terminal 3, Centre Pompidou, Paris, 2019; Tales of Our Time (Film Program), Guggenheim Museum New York, New York, 2017; Chinese Whispers, Paul Klee Zentrum, Kunstmuseum Bern, Bern, 2016; Fire and Forget: On Violence, KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Berlin, 2015; among others. He Xiangyu has additionally participated in the 5th Ural Biennale, Yekaterinburg, 2019; Everything We Create is Not Ourselves, the 58th Venice Biennale Chinese Pavilion, Venice, 2019; the 13th Lyon Biennale, Lyon, 2015; the 10th Shanghai Biennale, Shanghai, 2014; the 5th Yokohama Triennale, Yokohama, 2014; as well as the 8th Busan Biennale, Busan, 2014. He Xiangyu was named as a finalist for the Future Generation Art Prize in 2014, and won the 10th CCAA Best Young Artist Award in 2016. His recent interdisciplinary research publication Yellow Book, 2019 was awarded as one of The Most Beautiful German Books in 2020.

His works have been collected by a number of public and private collections such as Asymmetry Art Foundation, London, Boros Collection, Berlin, Castello Di Rivoli, Turin, KADIST Art Foundation, Paris & San Francisco, Long Museum, Shanghai, M+ Sigg Collection, Hong Kong, New Century Art Foundation, Beijing, Rubell Family Collection, Miami, White Rabbit Collection, Sydney, and others.








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