Geng Xue is a fascinating artist whose work is striking and thought-provoking, as her artworks embody her compassion for humanity.
by Caitlyn Coman-Sargent
Vermilion Art speaks to Sydney Biennale featured artist Geng Xue, in an exclusive interview where she divulges the intimate tales and mythologies that not only inspire her art practice, but her whole way of being. Her elegiac ink paintings are currently on exhibition, alongside Sun Ziyao’s mixed-media works for Vermilion Art’s second exhibition of the year, Pareidolia.
Geng Xue’s video installation Poetry of Michelangelo (2015) is currently exhibited at Artspace for the 21st Biennale of Sydney. Hypnotic and spell bounding, the video work depicts the artist sculpting a man out of clay. Geng Xue mesmerises her audience through her masterful sculpture, as she sensually massages and moulds the material effortlessly. The figure begins to show signs of life, as the artist gently caresses and kneads the body of the sculpture. Poetry of Michelangelo is displayed at the bottom of the screen.
“…the artist crafts a man from clay and and dismembers him. It’s a piece full of associations, from the story of Pygmalion to that of the Golem.” – John McDonald, Sydney Biennale 2018 Part 2, March 2018
The film unveils an intimate connection between Geng Xue and her sculptural creation, which is remarkably reminiscent of Michelangelo’s renaissance sculpture David. And while it might sound absurd, there is a powerful chemistry that manifests between the artist and sculpture. She confesses that the ideas and influences behind the work have been brewing and marinating in her mind since she was a teenager. In high school Geng Xue, was immensely interested in the writing and poetry of Michelangelo and was extremely moved by his profound passion for sculpture and art. She was consumed by him and his work. The artist regales the tale of her experience of seeing visiting Michelangelo’s iconic marble sculpture The Rebellious Slave. She says that the experience had a highly visceral effect of herself as she was overwhelmed with emotions which she translated through her art. The experience undeniably shaped her sculptural and artistic practice since and Geng Xue’s zealous and dedication for art and sculpture permeates from her work.
Geng Xue plays with the concept of materiality throughout her artistic practice as she blurs the line between process and product by communicating the notion that the process of art making can be just as enlightening or edifying as the artwork itself. This is apparent in Geng’s work Poetry of Michelangelo as the film does not merely serve as a documentation of process; as it is artwork within its own right. The artist stresses nuances between the often assumed binary between artistic process and the final result. She says that the divide between the enactment of sculpting or painting and the ‘final’ artwork that is displayed on the white walls and polished cements floor of the gallery, is not so black and white.
For Geng Xue, here is no dividing line between her art practice and the ‘final product’ and they intertwine and synthesise until there is no distinction. She believes that artwork does not start in the art making and end in the gallery space, but it evolves and cultivates in the memory and imagination of the audience. Geng Xue reveals that her ink paintings on exhibition at Vermilion Art are, to some extent, ideas and concepts that she intends to develop further, possibly transforming her ink paintings into sculpture or film.
From her deeply moving ink series to her multifaceted sculptural-filmography artworks, it is appropriate to surmise that Geng Xue must be extremely widely-read as all her series are clearly galvanised by a myriad of different cultural tales, symbolisms and mythologies. The artist draws on many cultural and literary texts, deriving from Buddhism, Chinese folklore, Greek mythology and poetry. The artist adds, that while her work relates to her reading of books and poetry, the concepts and ideas formulated in her work are also heavily inspired by her relationship between herself and her artistic practice.
In the interview, Geng Xue asserted that she has an extremely special connection to sculpture as a medium, as her extensive experience with clay and ceramics foregrounds the themes and ideas underpinning her artworks. This is particularly apparent in Poetry of Michelangelo, as the film graphically depicts the artist’s manipulation of clay as she reveals the seemingly effortless malleability of the material. Geng Xue also revealed that her evolution from ceramics to film was almost by chance, after she was invited to present a lecture on ceramics, where she included slides of the small porcelain figures in her other short film Mr Sea. She realised then, that her tiny ceramic creations gained more agency when projected on the big screen, which in turn influenced the progression of her art practice.
Geng Xue’s stunning stop-motion animation film Mr Sea is based on a Chinese folktale written by Pu Songlin from his book Liaozhaizhiyi, which is also known as Strange Tales of Liaoshai or Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio. Geng’s short film tells the tale of “Killing the Serpent”, which recounts the story of a young explorer who comes across a mysterious island. The young man descends into a spiral of passion and death.
In her ink paintings, currently on exhibition at Vermilion Art, Geng Xue is influenced by a multiplicity of different meanings and understandings as she draws on literature, history and poetry. Her ink painting, Rolling Futile, embodies a kind of elegiac potency as the artist explores ideas of futility in our modern world. Geng Xue draws on the famous Greek mythological tale of Sisyphus, whom was condemned by the Gods for being deceitful and cunning. As punishment, Sisyphus was forced for eternity to repeatedly roll a boulder up a steep hill, only for it to roll back down when he reaches the top. Geng Xue draws on this tale in her work, which depicts three haunting figures, almost climbing out of the picture frame. With their heads hung low, viewers are not privy to the identity of the subjects. They are faceless. The three mysterious figures are depicted rolling massive boulders. Similarly, to Geng Xue’s other series such as Poetry of Michelanglo and Mr Sea, her new series establishes a sense of discomfort in viewers as the artist creates kind of distressing and eerie atmosphere as the three faceless figures haunt the gallery space.
Geng Xue commented that her new ink series aims to reflect some of her current ideas and thinking on contemporary society. She acknowledges that while the world has come so far with technology and science, she is troubled by the ongoing presence of war, conflict and violence that plagues so many nations and people. The artist recognises that although society might be moving ahead, in many ways, she believes that we are neglecting some of the most important facets of being human, such as poetry and literature.
Geng Xue gained a Master’s degrees in Fine Arts at the prestigious Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where she studied under the guidance of acclaimed artist, Xu Bing. Geng Xue emphasises the fact that Xu Bing is an excellent artist, he is an outstanding and enlightening educator. She states that he has deeply influenced her and her art practice as he encouraged Geng Xue and other students to find their own voice in their artwork. She says that he created a space where his students could develop and achieve their own unique artistic expression. The artist also acknowledges her immense gratitude to her parents, whom have offered tremendous support and encouragement in her artistic endeavours.
Geng Xue is a fascinating artist whose work is striking and thought-provoking, as her artworks embody her compassion for humanity. Her captivating ink series pervades the gallery space by entrancing the audience with the mysterious and enigmatic meanings expressed through her paintings. Vermilion Art is currently exhibiting Geng Xue’s artwork in our second exhibition of 2018, Pareidolia, a due exhibition with Geng Xue and Sun Ziyao.