Ikon shows the first UK exhibition by renowned Chinese artist Kan Xuan (born 1972, Anhui province), presenting a wide selection of single screen video pieces made since the late 1990s. Refreshingly unpretentious and economical in style, with familiar subject matter, they are profoundly philosophical about the nature of human life.
Kan Xuan’s work is often based on personal experience, and she herself sometimes features, as in the early video Kanxuan! Ai! (1999) in which she is seen dashing through subway tunnels shouting her own name, as if searching for herself, and answering in the affirmative, “Ai!”. She is moving against a tide of heaving humanity, at once anxious, funny, romantic, whilst making a clear political statement, representing the plight of an individual in the face of a totalitarian mass.
Other early works convey the personal as physical. Looking, looking, looking for … (2002) traces the movement of a spider across two naked bodies, young, lithe, one male, one female. Viewers are pushed and pulled between feelings that arise from such sensuality and arachnophobic tendencies while identifying with the oblivious creature, simply seeking a place to hide. In the same year Kan Xuan made A persimmon, in which she passes a ripe piece of fruit between her hands, reducing it to a juicy pulp in the process and so combining lusciousness and cruelty.
In contrast, A happy girl (2002) is wonderfully straightforward. Made soon after the artist arrived in Amsterdam from Beijing, it shows an empty sculpture pedestal in a leafy garden, suddenly occupied by the artist, naked and dancing. The playful freedom of her movement suggests sheer joy, found in herself and in her circumstances.
Kan Xuan made other works during her time in Europe that similarly convey feelings of liberation and an exciting voyage of discovery. She also became increasingly preoccupied by the e ects of globalisation and its economic impact, both in China and the West, especially for those who do not enjoy political power. She saw the widening gap between rich and poor as symptomatic of notions of true value becoming lost – reflected in works such as Garbage (1999) and Island (2006–2009).
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue, including text by Shanghai based writer Lu Leiping. Visit Ikon’s online shop for the full range of Ikon’s catalogues and limited editions.