Gu Xiong Artist Statement
All cultures are complex, but the one into which you are born is the one you come to understand most profoundly. This influence finds its way into the work of an artist and, I believe, is expressed almost instinctively. If a person should move to another culture, he or she must make both a conscious and instinctive adjustment in seeking to understand what, at first, is a strange new world. It is within this dynamic milieu that I have found myself. This conflict of cultures in my work is in a state of constant evolution. It is a continuous generation of ‘artistic electricity’ that fuels change in both my personal life and my work as a contemporary artist.Through the years, the direction of my research has centred around the creation of this hybrid cultural identity.
My research always draws on the critical angle of visual art as a point of departure, then encompasses other areas of knowledge such as sociology, geography, economics, politics and literature. I address integration and assimilation, histories both collective and personal, and cultural synthesis across boundaries. My art seeks to delve into the dynamics of globalization, local culture and individual shifts in identity, and rethink the spaces where global culture flows.
These shifts do not merely constitute a simple amalgamation of two original subjects, but instead, seek to create an entirely new space. Alone and isolated from its birth, this new individual identity is nevertheless open and free. Visible and invisible global forces of social and cultural homogenization have inherited the world. In this environment, individual spaces embody the seeds of difference and alterity. It is the construction of this new level of being in which I am interested. My art expresses this process through my own life experience of displacement and rebirth in Canada.
For the work Intertwined Rivers (2014), I walked along the banks of four separate waterways: the Fraser River near Vancouver and the Red River near Winnipeg in Canada, the Yangtze River near Chongqing in China, and the Rhine River in Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, documenting my travels through photography. I present photographs, which show these four disparate bodies of water coming together.
Here, four rivers are positioned as a metaphor for the dissolution of cultural forms that mark globalization. The wide format river views are comparative to the long meandering images of Chinese scrolls, or the sweeping, panoramic landscapes of European tradition, allowing for a more intimate sense of place.
The video song “Red River Valley”, made in Karaoke format, suggests how collective and individual imaginations, visions, values, and languages are shared through economic forces, leisure and technology, collapsing time and space across the globe.
As we move towards global uncertainty, these four rivers’ past and present represent various histories, geographies, economies and cultures transformed through cultural entwining, splicing, convolution, and idiosyncrasy. They merge and emerge together virtually. These rivers map out a process whereby cultural clues serve only as mutations, aberrations, and misquotations.
In Invisible Light (2014) I use tomatoes to construct a map of Canada. The tomato first came to my attention in the hands of a Mexican migrant worker. He was standing in a house crammed full of other workers like himself, as well as the produce they helped grow: tomatoes, bell peppers, chilies, Chinese luck bamboo shoots and money trees. He was staring intently at the tomato, turning it this way and that. Then he crushed it in his hand.
I then noticed the tomatoes stacked in boxes at the local grocery shop, all labeled ‘local produce’—international origins of the labour that produced them erased with this happy, comforting label. Under the lights of the store, one only sees the bright red skin, the smooth and round flesh of these sweet fruit, not the long eight months away from home, the precarious connection to family only through international cell phone calls, the total separation from family and society at large.
In British Columbia and Ontario, there are hundreds of thousands of international, temporary migrant workers who labour on farmlands and in greenhouses. They come from Mexico, Jamaica and other Central American countries to work for eight months out of a year; most returning annually.
This is related to my own experience of working in the rural countryside in China, sent there during the Cultural Revolution, like millions of others. We were far away from our homes, and every day we worked hard in the fields, from sunrise to sunset.
The tomatoes function as a symbol of the struggles that the workers go through in overcoming their intense psychological journey. The crushing of the tomatoes symbolizes freedom from the silence, isolation and barely endured existence to something solemn and stirringly beautiful. Their remains assert their presence—the smell, the wetness, and the splattering.