She is a selftaught artist who has created her own world and her own set of references in an idiosyncratic way.
As well as being hard to situate in a Chinese context, her work is also difficult to link to any existing trend or movement on the international scene. It is often wrongly identified as belonging to the wave of post-internet art that recently took root in New York, Berlin and London, because of similar aesthetic features. While post internet art is a type of art created with awareness of the internet, prepared with a view to dissemination online, Guan Xiao works on the opposite side of the internet, placing herself on the side of the consumer. She hunts out and collects images on the Internet, using it as an image bank, and deals in her work with perception, the visual and auditory experience we get when we are browsing the Internet, and how this process defines how we see the world on a daily basis. Her works are intended to deliver an experience to the viewer. She values the felt experience more than theory.
When she works with her collection of images, she mixes a wide range of phenomena, relying on her own logic and instinct, and disregarding the cognitive distance between the images. The result is a meeting of worldly things that are comfortably out of place, comparable to the picture chaos of Aby Warburg’sMnemosyne Atlas. This mixing of various categories in the world is reminiscent of Chinese traditional cosmology, in which heaven is sacred. The expression ‘The 10,000 Things Under the Sky’ is applied to everything that is non-sacred. Compared with Western tradition, this view de-sanctifies the human, placing it on the same level as all worldly matters.
To understand Guan Xiao’s logic, it is useful to refer to the scientific process of core sampling. This is a method in geology that entails drilling into substances and preserving the sample of obtained material in a hollow cylinder pipe in order to study the structure of the distribution of substances. When Guan Xiao places things in conjunction, she defines the cross section in terms of aspects like rhythm, or action. She looks for the equivalence of things, for their connectedness and their state of becoming, almost as if looking for a state of pre-identity.
Throughout her artistic career, she has developed a specific way of seeing. In the work Reading (2013), she explains her methods of perception in six chapters, while in another earlier work, David(2013), the subject of the video is Michelangelo’s sculpture David, which she does not approach through the sculpture itself, but through images of the sculpture that she finds online, fascinated by the way people have photographed it and how they define how the sculpture represents itself online to the world.
Guan Xiao calls herself “old school”, and has a fascination for the old. She states, “What we consider today as new or advanced things are actually things that are ancient or unknown. The incomprehension of the past and unknowns gives rise to intriguing discussion in the present. That’s why I have been prone to putting these extreme things together – the old and new – and making them work together.”
Another quality that she assigns to all things in the world is a constant process of change, a statement that is counter intuitive to the basics of science, as humans have historically made it their responsibility to obsessively map out the world to explain, classify and aim through scientific experiment to make all phenomena predictable and known.
Guan Xiao refutes the idea that things are fixed and knowable, and she inserts a doubt between what is observed, recognised through a surface, and the consequential definition of what something “is” and will forever be. Guan Xiao’s disruption of the identification process and her opening up to different states of being, based on everything being in flux, is what links her work with the idea of oceanic identity evoked in “Our Ocean, Your Horizon”. The idea of oceanic identity refutes the scientific frame of thought according to which identity can only be based on land, since it is fixed, and aims to show the limits of the geographic mapping system, tending instead towards a fluid definition of identity.
Her three-channel video Weather Forecast visualizes the personal change that someone who travels goes through, a process with a volatility that she compares with the fluctuation of the weather. She reflects on the conditions for this change: is a geographic expedition necessary, or would a series of perceptions, experienced while staying in the same place, have the same effect? The introductory work How To Disappear tests the reliability of exactly this experiential cognition in order to prepare the visitor for sensory immersion.