B. 1972, Xuancheng, Anhui Province, China
Kan Xuan was born towards the end of the Cultural Revolution, in the early 1970s. Her initial training combines the classical practice of classical Chinese ink painting with experimental video, ccompanied by artists at the forefront of Chinese conceptualism such as Geng Jianyi (1962, China) and Zhang Peili (1957, China). Their early efforts in Hangzhou paved the way for video art and conceptualism, which gave rise to many of the most interesting artistic practices of the last twenty years.
Ranging from performance to photography and video, her early works focus on everyday life recording, in a meditative conscious way, simple details of everyday life.
Kan Xuan’s extraordinary ability has always been that of communicating and articulating the real presence, “the here and now”, addressing issues that have no time, the materiality of existence and subjectivity. Her work is marvellously human, it portrays an immediate sense of being as a sensual and visceral experience in which aesthetics is interpreted in a combination of sight, touch and sound. Her relational play of the body with the objects and phenomena fascinates the observer attracted by the small pleasures of the experience that often converge in a strong sense of irony.
In the video "Kanxuan! Ai!", Kan crosses a busy pedestrian underpass in Beijing’s Fuxingmen subway station, running counterclockwise, screaming and repeatedly answering her name as if anxiously searching for herself in the crowd and meeting no response, amplifying a common tension between her subjective experience and social values and norms.
This little act of running against the tide seems to be metaphorically liberating. This work offers a contemplative affirmation of the self, expressing the importance of the senses, the sensuality of the experience of living, which is central to Kan Xuan’s work.
In "Persimmon" (2002) the artist captures her playful hands as they move repetitively holding a persimmon that slowly begins to lose its thin skin and shape. A palpably sensual movement, the sound and wet, fleshy internal pulp, evoke evident sexual nuances as it opens and finally overflows.
One by One
In a more political piece: "One by One" (2004), the video focuses on the waist height with the camera moving rapidly horizontally from one side to the other, the screen filled with a row of uniforms forming an unofficial block of faceless guards. Mirroring the viewer’s subjective body position, it serves as a powerful visual metaphor for the individual blocked by the anonymous grey uniform of state power as we listen in the background to the light and free chirping of the birds in the embassy area.
video 6’ 25’’
In "Object "(2003), a black and white video, objects are dropped into the water to create a slowed down and pictorial effect, juxtaposed to a voice-over that indicates the colour that is revealed between the grey shades of black and white, “cheese is grey, coffee is black, sugar is white...”, triggering curiosity in the observer who recalls in his thoughts the memory of their real colour.
"Object" by Kan Xuan is a silent claim from a young woman, lonely and helplessly facing such a precarious world. Apparently fragile and delicate, this work is a powerful resistance to the real. In it, she constructs a kind of labyrinth of light and sound that entices the visitors to enter a mysterious world in which one is surprised by alchemical moments of gazes on the everyday.
It is an extraordinary aesthetic and concise narration that develops through a deep philosophical observation, describing the detachment between human consciousness, name and being, recalling the Taoist concepts of the philosopher Zhuangzi and his texts on the nature of illusion.