The Golden Age of Hollowness |虛空盛世

“Its most distinctive characteristic is ‘hollowness’ – in other words, pure spectacle. And the spectacle, to recall Guy Debord’s classic formulation, is ‘capital accumulated to the point where it becomes image’. The ambiguous status of the supermarket – stripped of all its defining qualities – seems to indicate that consumption – whether of food or images – is essential, but also destroys” (Sine Bepler, ShanghART Supermarket, 2007). This was the footnote that Xu Zhen supplied for ShanghART Supermarket, the prototype of XUZHEN SUPERMARKET, when it was first exhibited at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2007. In the work, the artist recreated, in full scale, an archetypal Chinese convenience store, including a cashier, staff, and racks filled with merchandise packaging. The artist had purchased the merchandise from real-life convenience stores and meticulously recreated their presentation in his replica SUPERMARKET. Xu Zhen’s team painstakingly emptied their contents and resealed the packaging of each item, such that they could be sold at their original retail prices to visitors. This labour, as well as the sale of empty packaging, was part of the artwork.

British art critic Alastair Sooke has suggested that Xu Zhen’s SUPERMARKET is an even more direct parody of the model of the supermarket than Andy Warhol’s work. This led him to include Xu Zhen in the BBC Documentary Soupcans and Superstars: How Pop Art Changed the World as a foremost representative of Chinese Neo-Pop Art. The dialectic relationship between art and commercial merchandise is a major theme in Xu’s oeuvre, and his iconic SUPERMARKET encapsulates the epitome of the artist’s deconstruction of this longstanding relationship. The key here is the haunting “hollowness” that is offered to customers. Soon after the project’s inception, the Chinese art market peaked in around 2008 and subsequently withdrew into a quiet recession. Under this context, the “hollowness” in Xu Zhen’s Supermarket gains new significance, invoking a further metaphor for the short-lived dramas of globalisation. Retaining its original inquiries into the nature of representation, the manifestation of ownership, and the processes of production, circulation, and viewer reception, Xu Zhen’s Supermarket raises new and equally pressing questions: the price of prosperity, the life cycle of an economic bubble, the nature of value, the symbolism of consumerism, and the system of desire that undergirds them all.

In 1999, at the young age of 22, Xu Zhen was already sensitive to the idiosyncratic relationship between art and commerce. He was one of the main artists behind the ground-breaking Art for Sale exhibition at the People’s Square in Shanghai – a pioneering event that merits mention in art history. For the exhibition, the artists traded artwork in a space that combined the space of a supermarket and the space of an installation area, thereby putting into practice the philosophy of “applying the way of commerce onto the way of life” (Xu Zhen, Yang Zhenzhong, Flying Apple, “The ‘Supermarket’ Exhibition: Messages from Sponsors (selections)”, in Wu Hung, An Exhibition about Exhibitions: Displaying Contemporary Art in the 1990s, 2016, p. 206). Xu Zhen continued to develop precisely such a philosophy within his wide-ranging practice; for this reason, Xu was tagged as a leading proponent of Neo-Pop after his 2015 solo exhibition at the Long Museum in Shanghai.

In the exhibition, Xu Zhen presented a critical commentary on the issue of ambiguity over editioned artworks, showing all five editions of his works side by side. The gesture acted as testament to the radically interrogatory and boundary-breaking nature of Xu Zhen’s oeuvre – one which is far more complex and intricate than the original Pop movement. Xu Zhen’s unique brand of Pop encompasses not only rebellion and irony, as in the Pop art of the West; but also the ambiguity, the satirical dialectics and Zen-like wit of the East.

This was noted very early on by Hans- Ulrich Obrist, Artistic Director of the Serpentine Galleries in London, who wrote in the January 2007 issue of Artforum: “Clearly, Xu’s sociopolitical appraisals distance him from the herd of contemporary Chinese artists. And the breadth of his practice, in all its seeming spontaneity and surprising inflections and turns, only complicates the attempt to pin him down to any single position within his country’s art scene – or, indeed, within cultural production at large” (Hans-Ulrich Obrist, “First Take”, Artforum, January 2007). Such a complex global positioning, together with Xu’s consummate mastery of Eastern and Western thought, has resulted in a fluid oeuvre that knows no boundaries, whether regional or cultural. Xu’s adeptness in adapting and adopting cultural elements from around the world has led to a series of powerful acclaimed works, including Movement Field, Evolution, and Eternity.

Xu Zhen is not only one of China’s most controversial and representative artists, but also a curator and the founder of the MadeIn Company. In 1998, he co-founded the Biyi Art Center, the first independent non-profit art organisation in Shanghai. He won the Best Artist Award at the 2004 China Contemporary Art Awards (CCAA) and was the youngest Chinese artist at the time to participate in the 49th Venice Biennale in 2001. Precocious and self-possessed, Xu Zhen was recognised early for his talent and has always lived up to his name. In 2006, he and other Shanghai artists founded the online art community Art-Ba-Ba (www.art-ba-ba.com), which continues to host the most active discussions on contemporary art in China. In 2009, when Chinese artists were criticised for delegating artistic production to studio assistants, Xu Zhen founded MadeIn Company as a response. Taking a step further than Warhol’s Factory in parodying the age of capitalism, MadeIn has attracted comparisons with Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Takashi Murakami. Defying criticism, Xu Zhen appointed himself CEO, and in 2013 developed his personal brand Xu Zhen®. In 2014, the company opened MadeIn Gallery, and in November 2016, the first Xu Zhen Store opened in Shanghai.

Such pathbreaking endeavours have earned Xu Zhen recognition as a Chinese artist with “chutzpah”, in the words of Barbara Pollack of the New York Times. With a rare blend of confidence and ambition, and always a finger on the zeitgeist, Xu Zhen marshals a host of complex emotions and complicated issues like self-consciousness, cultural identity, and local politics. Whether faced with controversy or praise, the wily trickster never allows himself to be pinned down by identities or definitions. Instead, in the moving and intelligent ambiguities of his art, he projects the brand of “Xu Zhen” and all the meanings it contains into the vast stratosphere of postmodernity. Yet, as we consider Xu Zhen in this way, we seem inevitably to fall into his trap. As he has said, “truth is sometimes a trap”. In XUZHEN SUPERMARKET , you are invited to consume and to purchase at market prices the hollow residue of merchandise. Manifesting the appearance of a lie, XUZHEN SUPERMARKET paradoxically reveals the true nature of contemporary society: we live in a Golden Age stuffed with hollowness, and we are all paying for it.

「最重要的還是「空無」:即一個最具純潔表象的景觀。 被抽 去實質內在的超市,曖昧不明,似乎暗示著這樣一個悖論,無 論是食品或圖像,消費至關重要,但亦是毀滅性的。」(Sine Bepler,《香格納超市》,2007)這是徐震在2007年首次在邁 阿密巴塞爾藝術博覽會上推出“超市”時提供的注腳。作品以1 :1的比例重現了一間典型的中國便利商店,收銀機、店員、商 品貨架以及擺放的滿滿當當的商品包裝。藝術家從日常超市中 購得這些商品,並通過精細的設計與模擬安排在貨架上,制作 團隊往往需要日以繼夜的工作,對貨品進行加工,留下包裝完 好的空殼,讓它們得以以正價的方式出售。而這所有的工作和 出售行為都構成了這件經典作品的一部分。

英國藝評家Alastair Sooke認為徐震的“超市”甚至比安迪·沃 霍爾對超市模型的戲仿更加直接。這致使他將徐震作為「中國新 波普」的代表人物納入BBC 紀錄片《波普藝術是如何改變世界 的?》(Soupcans and Superstars: How Pop Art Changed the World) 的劇本中。藝術與商品的辯証關系是徐震創作中的 一個重要主題,而在作品「超市」中,這個關系正是以藝術商 品的形式被打破了。其關鍵之處在於被出售的如幽靈般的「空 無」。「超市」創作於中國二〇〇八之盛年的前夕,而在十年 之后,世界局面正在悄然逆轉的當下,這一「空無」又將成為 某種寓言式的象征,攜帶著全球化短暫卻風起雲涌的歷史,在會 場上激發新的意義。它不僅裹挾著原本的問題:再現的性質、 所有權的形象,以及生產、流通與觀眾接受的過程;更提出了一 系列的質問:盛世的代價、泡沫的產生與破滅、價值的本位、 消費的象征意義與這背后的欲望機制。

早在一九九九年,時年二十二歲的徐震,就已經嗅到了藝術與買 賣的關系。他作為發起人之一,策動了上海廣場《超市展覽》展 的發生。在這個值得被寫入歷史的展覽中,藝術家們利用超市 空間與裝置空間結合、買賣藝術作品的方式展示了「以商業之 道還治其身」的哲學 (徐震、杨振中、飞苹果:“超市”展: 赞助商信息(节选),巫鸿,《关于展览的展览:90年代的实 验艺术展示》,2016,p.206)。而徐震的創作,在很長一段時 期裡延展了這樣的哲學。這也是為何,在二〇一五年上海龍美 術館的個展之后,徐震被推舉為新波普代表人物的原因。在這 個展覽中,他將藝術市場從來隱而不談的作品版本推至前台, 讓作品的五個版本以重復並列的方式展陳於美術館的現場。這樣 的激進做法揭示了一個事實,那就是徐震的藝術已經遠比波普 源起時的語境復雜且深遠的多。他的波普不僅包含著西方的挑 舋、嘲諷與反叛,更融合了東方的混沌、辯証與禪悟。

倫敦蛇形畫廊的策展人漢斯-烏利齊 布裡斯特(Hans-Ulrich Obrist)在很早就意識到這一點,在其二〇〇七年一月為Artforum雜志撰寫的文章中就曾說到:「很明顯的,徐震對社 會及政治的評價將他和中國當代藝術圈裡的藝術家們拉開了距 離。還有他作品裡的寬度,整體看上去完全是自發並充滿意外轉 變的,這隻會在將他歸類於中國藝術界或更大的文化范圍上某個 位置時增加了復雜性。」(Hans-Ulrich Obrist, “First Take”, Artforum, 2007年1月)這種外在定位的復雜性,與其自身對東 西方思想的圓融貫通,使徐震不受地域與文化身份的限制,將全 球范圍內的文化素材取為己用,這造就了他一系列具有震撼效果 的作品,包括「運動場」、「進化」與「永生」。

作為中國最具爭議與代表性的藝術家之一,徐震的身份不止於 此,他同時還是策展人與沒頂公司的創始人。一九九八年,徐震 作為聯合發起人創辦了上海第一家獨立的非營利機構比翼中心。 二〇〇四年獲得中國當代藝術獎(CCAA)「最佳藝術家」獎 項,並作為當時最年輕的中國藝術家參加了第49屆威尼斯雙年 展(2001)主題展。他無疑是一位早熟的藝術家,在很早就表 露其藝術的天賦,並在之后的實踐中始終沒有辜負這些盛名。 二〇〇六年,他與上海藝術家一起創辦了網絡藝術社區Art-Ba- Ba(www.art-ba-ba.com),至今還是中國最活躍的探討、 評論當代藝術的平台。在二〇〇九年,當人們都在批評一些主 要的中國藝術家已經不親力親為,隻依靠工作室的助手完成作品 時,徐震創立了沒頂公司(MadeIn Company)作為回應。這 個公司相比沃霍爾工廠向資本時代又邁進了一步,也有人因此將 徐震與杰夫·昆斯、達明·赫斯特和村上隆比較。他徹底超越了 那些批評,任命自己為首席執行官。並在二〇一三年,推出自己 的品牌「徐震®」。二〇一四年,公司成立沒頂畫廊 。二〇一 六年十一月,首家「徐震專賣店」於上海開業 。

這一拓張之路應証了紐約時報賦予徐震的稱號「有膽識 (chutzpah)的中國藝術家」 (Barbara Pollack《徐震,有 胆识的中国艺术家》2014),其胸有成竹的野心不僅跳動著時 代的脈搏,也集結著如毛細血管般錯綜復雜的情緒、自我意識、 文化身份與地緣政治等命題。而在所有的爭議和美譽之中,這位 精明又擅長戲謔的藝術家似乎始終沒有被任何言辭限定,他深諳 舉重若輕的技巧,在所有的身份和定義中游刃有余,將「徐震」 這兩個字所能輻射的所有意涵網羅為后現代的星叢;這在其難以 被厘清的作品面貌中表現的淋漓盡致。 而當我們正這樣思考他時,似乎又不可避免的陷入了徐震的圈 套,正如他所言「真實有時會是一個陷阱」,在徐震超市中,你 將會被邀請消費,以市場價購買這些喪失了實際商品或使用價值 的空殼,這個看似空的超市,帶著偽裝性的面目,卻揭示了當下 社會的「真實」面貌,這是一個盛世,一個裝滿著虛空的盛世, 而人們正在為此買單。

Author: Jenny Chen

Arts Writer

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