All about Xue Song
“My works are born of fire.” When Xue Song talks about his works like this, he is essentially summing up the character of contemporary art. Our traditional wash painting, canvas and sculptural arts all needed to be created from fixed materials, whereas contemporary art has broken free of such predetermined means. With the theme of “Anything can become art”, artists set out from a personal perspective, utilizing all manner of media and materials to realize their creative processes.
In Xue Song’s creations, portraiture is suddenly transformed into some kind of moulage, pushing our clear memories toward a blur. Images from present-day life and people’s deportment and social information are made complicated and confusing amongst the repeating collage of materials, leaving our rigid traditional judgements with nothing to go on.
Through his “burning” and “baking” he reveals to us a prosaic world in which there also exists something mysterious and indescribable. I think it is a kind of solemn, stirring strength.
However, with regard to his means, he has chosen Chinese characters readily familiar to Chinese people. Themselves the written symbols of everyday life, Chinese characters are sufficient to represent the spirit of oriental culture. Here too, Xue Song has demonstrated his wisdom: he chose inscriptions and Chinese characters and then dealt with them masterly and organically, combining them with familiar images to achieve a farcical and ironic effect.
Xue Song seems to have experienced a phoenix and nirvana, sufferings and anguish, and tasted the creative force and joy of the “old” degenerating to create the “new”.
Fire created human civilization, and is also able to lead human civilization to destruction. Amongst the ashes of destruction are the seeds and makings of a new civilization. It is precisely in this way that human civilization endlessly presses on and develops.
Contemplating Xue Song’s works, one can immediately recognize the personages upon the canvas. Xue Song’s works are also abstract, as he has abandoned the rendering of the personages’ details, leaving more room for thought to allow his audience to slowly ponder and reflect. When viewing the blanks Xue Song has left in his works, insightful viewers should have no difficulty in letting their imaginations fly with the winds and join together with the artist, to lay down a finishing stroke to complete the masterpiece and gain a further understanding of how human civilization is reborn from amongst the cinders.
In the presence of Xue Song, little by little, you feel a kind of distinct and acuminous expression, and you become aware of an intense pertinence. Directed at society, at tradition, at authority. This kind of expression is a counterattack upon spiritual fatigue, renewing our perspectives of the world and allowing our imaginations to be fully drawn in.
Xue Song lays emphasis on the continuity of original creation. He is only interested in the origins and the present day. He says if one is aware of the invention of steam and the latest developments in science and technology, then one will understand the trends of the future. Art is also like this, the zwischengebiet is negligible.
Xue Song stands aside from any genre and makes no statements; he simply goes about the work of putting forth his own perspectives of the world. He demands no comprehension or arduous explanation.
The most eye-catching and apparent features of Xue Song’s works are those hollowed-out profiles. They are famous politicians, news photographs or imitations of famous paintings. The works have a certain comical and mimical property, but at the same time they suggest solemnity. People must interpret them from their own respective viewpoints, and most important of all, these deeply significant works are all born from ashes.
The artists of the 1990s are completely distinct. In their works, they blend Chinese traditional concepts and contemporary influences, and use a great variety of different materials to give expression to different meanings - from satirical social criticism to theoretical and rational painting.
Xue Song is a vigorous representative of this new development and he has received much acclaim overseas.
Xue Song received a rounded artistic education. A blaze almost reduced many years’ work entirely to cinders. This somewhat dramatic occurrence saw him abruptly move from working mainly with oils, propylene and Chinese painting materials, to the use of cinders to create his works.
Artistic works are centered on personal character and cultural identity, with the purpose of expressing how peoples’ traditional culture impacts, compresses and combines with the physical world. The rise of this artistic movement is of particular importance to the China of today.
This generation of Chinese artists has immense potential to allow modernism to influence China. Chinese artists also carry with them their own history, national tradition, mysterious culture and artistic character - the works created under the exertion of pressures fully reveal their infinite potential, startling the world.
It is only natural that Xue Song, representative of this kind of artist, should attract attention. Most important is that, in present-day China, Xue Song’s influence should only grow.
Each of Xue Song’s images contains parts made up of scores or even hundreds of fragments. Each fragment’s image is self-existent in space, while the information on each of the fragments is mutilated and incomplete, partially conforming to the whole yet at the same time turning the whole on its head. The information not only builds the image, but also deconstructs it at the same time.
The burning has made these small fragments of paper independent from each other yet interconnected into a network.
These drab pieces of scrap paper have been transformed by Xue Song’s touch, into something of unexpected gusto leading us to an unexpected outcome.
The terminator of printed matter, Xue Song employs all manner of paper, burning and piecing it together to exhibit a myriad of visual effects. To those book collectors in publishing houses, Xue Song is no doubt an extremely ruthless “killer”, but looking from a different angle Xue Song’s studio (notwithstanding the cemetery of all that printed matter) is also a place where paper may be reborn. Xue Song has an outstanding pair of eyes that seek out information and images with a new relevancy, culled from what look to be nothing more than old books and magazines. The flames seemingly transform back into life the past events in those old journals, like salted fish coming back to life or a phoenix rising from the ashes.
－－ Li Xu
As a member of the 60s generation, Xue Song possesses the fundamental cultural characteristics of this generation: a measured humor, constructiveness and profound political memory, a rationalization in the appraisal of historical politics, and introspection. The images Xue Song uses are firstly a kind of political material that is subsequently transformed into a kind of bop, but it is difficult to say that it has become a kind of political bop.
They possess a sort of recent mystery, but will always remain planiform and perceptual. They are mysterious, obscure and poetic and will not be waved away.
The burning of printed matter has affixed a sense of history to the pure images - this sensation truly belongs to the 90s. Xue Song’s burning is not a deliberate venting of feelings or criticism. On the contrary, those scraps of paper stacked upon each other reflect with great interest Xue Song’s complicated personal reaction to books. The image of books made up of thickly dotted lines seems to form Xue Song’s unreachable and mysterious world. Books are a constant theme, code, barrier, maze or authority. From their external appearance and supporting medium, they seem like an egotistical inner world, well known and played at will by the author, but in their interior linguistic world they seem rather like an unapproachable outer world.
The personal historical expression of people of the 60s generation has been a drawn-out process in China. The 60s generation needs time to clear their memories, to remould themselves, to recognize the new era and to study and reconstruct a new individuality. They have just completed the self-remolding from the conceptual Utopian era, and now must adapt themselves to meet the economic Utopia. They possess the clarity and reason of bystanders and also have the faith and spiritual advocacy of a great era in history, but they lack their own form and vehicle of expression.
Xue Song has discovered a way via traditional painting and calligraphy.
He has attempted to give them life. The books, newspapers and images that were originally intact, through their burning and fixture upon a surface, display a solemn and stirring strength.
He employs cinders and scraps upon huge surfaces to reproduce well-known politicians and historical events.
Xue Song has left thought-provoking blank spaces of human forms against a blue sky. Is it the beckoning of a deceased former leader? Or is it leaving a space for that leader to come and fill? Can anybody come to fill the space? Xue Song has used pages with singed edges; affixed around the work together with a red frame they form the shape of a photographic negative (underneath it also looks like a rear view of row upon row of seats). Is this to say it is a negative from the past whose developing was delayed, or does it refer more generally to the absence of a spiritual leader?
－－ Wu Liang
Xue Song’s works possess a comprehensive generality in a networked commercial age; national contradictions and cultural blending have never been so frequent and lasting, they are occurring every day and every hour. In particular, his linguistic performance and science-oriented interrelationships give people food for thought. The popular images of burned books have both the meaning of death and regeneration, but also directly cut into a socio-cultural focal spot, taking views on international issues and transforming them into objects of routine reflection. Every day, there are “gods” being born from the fire, and every day there are “gods” who meet their doom in the fire - the fire that is not the fire of holy sacrifice or the fire of the deities. We can say that it is a popularization of the holy sacrificial fire, transforming prevailing trends into his philosophical allegory.
－－ Ma Qinzhong
In Xue Song’s “Interview”, the leader’s image is a blank. People can see that it is an image of Mao Zedong reviewing the Red Guard, but only because this image is so familiar to them. Although most people have not personally experienced such a scene before or witnessed such a movement, hardly anyone feels it unfamiliar. The reason is that it has become a sort of historical memory, an established culture. Therefore, the rectification of the artists here is not at all an effort to remedy things that they (or their generation) feel to be incorrect, as this rectification has already been achieved (via opening up and reform); rather it is that these memories and cultural representations recur to thrust back or vent some kind of still-felt suffocated mentality. The capriccio here consists of: No matter how you approach it, you won't feel comfortable. If you find some political slogan or blasphemy towards leaders in these blagues, then that would be taking things too seriously, to the point of being comical.
With regards to these blagues of rectification, although you cannot take the characters and images of the works too seriously, it still cannot be said that this kind of pop characteristic is flippant. As a matter of fact, these blagues are very much a paradox; that is to say, unserious things are serious. However, from a logical point of view, this paradox does not in any way relate to a propositional ego, but rather it is a representation (including characters) of the way that the things that symbols determine are themselves undetermined, and the things that they can determine are in fact insignificant. This kind of indetermination and indifference is itself very serious, and it is this that gives the blague its property of pop art.
The images and works with Chinese characters created by Xue Song, using burnt fragments of printed matter, possess a singularity among pop art. Unlike other artists, using burnt fragments of printed matter was not the result of deep reflection, but rather was born in 1991 from the aftermath of a devastating fire. Later, artists used burnt fragments of printed matter to make collages and produce ranges of works such as the “plum orchid bamboo chrysanthemum”. The fragments the artists used came from printed matter relating to “plum orchid bamboo chrysanthemum”. While touching on sociological themes of the contemporary era, Xue Song again sought printed matter fragments related to the content. In this way, by observing Xue Song’s works you cannot merely confine yourself to their composition and ensemble, but you must also pay attention to the details in the fragments. This linguistic expression possesses an irreplaceable character, in both execution and effect. As artists pay more attention to social reality, the conceptual, conscious use of “burning” to create a metaphor for “negation” and “criticism” appears to take an extraordinary attitude. From the disparagement and negation of traditional calligraphy to the expression of doubt over international politics, artists have all adopted this unique stand. For each work’s execution, the artist purchases different types of printed matter from the bookstore, taking symbols that have already become part of history and using them as material to form a new image of history; using extrinsic culture and historical symbols as his own source of artistic imagery. Such painstaking execution makes his works appear to possess a wealth of technical image resources. However, in these times of an inundation of the profane and the complete commercialization of pop art, Xue Song persists in his own artistic seriousness and retains a stable personal style and solemn artistic inclination.
Xue Song and Lu Peng both contrive to absorb some symbols and feelings from Chinese traditional art; for example, the rubbing from a stone inscription in Xue Song’s work, and Lu Peng’s use of compositions from Chinese traditional art and cultural symbols. At the same time, both also make use of political symbols in their paintings, and attempt to find a relation between present politics and traditional culture. In particular, Lu Peng’s work portrays a pluralistic and mingled state as the source of Chinese contemporary culture: Chinese writing, Western realistic molding, Chinese mythology, dress and adornment borrowed from Chinese traditional painting, red sleeve labels from the Cultural Revolution, red pipelines carrying symbolic meaning and symbols of modern consumerism all mix together in the paintings. Figures are inserted between these symbols and they appear in an exaggerated, writhing and winding state that lends the paintings a ludicrous and confused feeling, similar to Chinese society itself.