June 2009 Xu Zhen works under the company name MadeIn Inc. (for further information visit http://www.shanghartgallery.com/galleryarchive/artists/name/madeincompany)
It is hard to think of another contemporary talent as prolific as Xu Zhen. His projects articulate a frivolity that entails multiple subject matters. The artist takes intrinsically slight material and plays with it without condescension: His work entails theatrical humor as well as social critique, neither entirely serious nor obviously ironic. Xu Zhen's extensive body of work includes photography, installation art and video evoking moments of complexity. His projects are informed by performance as well as conceptual art.
His recent video installation "8.848-1.86" (2005) documents an expedition to Mount Everest. Here, Xu Zhen removed 1.86 meters of the mountain's peak and transported it home to be exhibited in a large display cabinet. The video, among other allusions, is a subtle and humorous commentary on China's official policy of reclaiming Tibet.
As a signifying device he often uses the concept of the 'body', such as in the short video "Rainbow"(2000) displayed at the 49th Venice Biennale. It features four tense minutes, during which an anonymous naked back gradually changes color according to emerging and clearly defined flesh marks. Caesuras coincide with slapping sounds that strike the skin in a sudden and unexpected manner.
Set in a quasi-scientific environment – perhaps a laboratory – Xu Zhen's 3-channel video work "An Animal"(2006) unambiguously plays with China's proud national symbol, the panda bear. As a recognizable symbol of China, and used as an agent of diplomacy, the panda has long been a favorite of the public. Mainly due to the notion that the specie has an appealing baby-like cuteness, and the fact that it is usually depicted reclining peacefully eating bamboo, the panda provides China with an image of innocence. "An Animal" drastically subverts and negates this notion of innocent baby-like cuteness by framing the edgy action of a panda ejaculating. An act, putting it mildly, not usually associated with the toy-like imagery of pandas. “Animal” (2006) transcends the cliché notion of the panda as a living innocent toy, and enters the arena of a charged agenda with undertones of socio-political and environmental issues. Xu Zhen's work conveys multi-layered meanings with a very subtle and simple gesture. You do not need any theorizing to understand the odd performance carried out for the camera.
Xu Zhen was born in 1977 and graduated from the Shanghai School of Arts and Craft in 1996. He currently resides and works in Shanghai. Xu Zhen won the top prize at the China Contemporary Art Award (2004). He was invited to the 49th Venice Biennale and has since exhibited his works widely. Recent exhibitions include: Xu Zhen Solo Exhibition, Long Museum, Shanghai (2015); 13 Rooms, Kaldor Public Art Projects, Walsh Bay, Sydney, Australia (2013); Xu Zhen: Forbidden Castle, Montanelli Museum, Prague (2012); Xu Zhen Video Works, Galerie Waldburger, Belgium(2010); The Last Few Mosquitos, Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, U.K. (2009); Just did It!, James Cohan Gallery, New York, U.S.A. (2008); China Power Station: Part II, Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Norway (2007); China Power Station: Part I, Battersea Power Station, London, U.K., (2006); On Mobility, De Appel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands (2006); China Contemporary - Art, Architecture and Visual Culture, Museum Boijmanns van Beuningen Rotterdam, The Netherlands (2006); The Thirteen–Chinese Video Now, PS1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, U.S.A. (2006); Xu Zhen: 8848 - 1.86, ShanghART H-Space, Shanghai (2006).