Thursday, November 25, 2010

on Kan Xuan

Born in An'hui in 1972, Chinese artist Kan Xuan originally studied
drawing and painting at the China Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou.
There she met Zhang Peili, and video installation became her main
choice of medium. She is a well-known, important female artist in
China. Her work is characterized by lightness, humor, and irony. One
of her specific works that interested me, and also one of her
well-known pieces, is "Looking, Looking Looking For..." (2001). It is
similar to her work with the toad series, which was her way to
confront her fear of amphibians by documenting a toad sitting on parts
of her body. Eventually she would skin the toad alive as the final act
of overcoming her fear. In "Looking, Looking Looking For..." Kan Xuan
explores a similar idea with a spider, having it crawl over intimate
areas of people's bodies like their mouths and stomachs. The video
shows a close-up view of the spider so that the viewer is forced to
focus on it, but the close positioning of the camera also only allows
parts of the people's bodies to be visible. This takes away a specific
identity to the person in the video, allowing the viewer to relate his
or her body even more to the one on screen. Accompanying the spider's
movements is a playful tune sung by young children about not being
afraid, and in several shots of the people's faces, smiles and even an
expression of laughter can be seen. I really enjoyed the contrast
between the music and the visual, and although the video made me
uncomfortable—which is probably the artist's intent—I was also too
engrossed to look away.
Other more recent works by Kan Xuan that I found interesting include
Love, which is an altered image of two birds side by side, and I Will
Be Happy? which is a photograph of a person's hand and forearm so that
his or her many beaded bracelets are visible. The bracelets are the
type associated with Buddhism and with bringing positive energy or
good fortunes to the wearer.

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