Xu Zhen. Artist, Socialist.

Kai Faulkner – 11988021


Xu Zhen

Xu Zhen is a Chinese born artist who specialises across multiple fields from curation to performance to photography to spatial art. Many of his works are very thought provoking and confront socio-political issues raised in contemporary China.

Zhen operates out of a 4 storey studio is south-western Shanghai after recently relocating the expanding practice from a factory space on the opposite side of the city.

Zhen takes on a somewhat mischievous approach when it comes to making art. Suggested is the ideology of a collective process, but this is all a facade. “I am both CEO and boss” he has said humorously. Creative decisions are always his, and the artist believes that there are “no equal partnerships” and that “in art, some people get hurt. Art at times has to be hurtful”. I find this really hard to come to grips with as I am a strong believer in art being a highly collaborative and all-inclusive process. This could come down to a cultural difference possibly or else it is just an innovative approach on art by a creative ‘savant’.


Original piece by Xu Zhen, ‘In the blink of an eye’ 2005-2015. This illusion depicts a person suspended in mid-fall, suggesting everyday vanities and failings.

One thing that is immediately noticeable with Zhen’s creative works is the freedom that he is expressing. Nothing is normal or regular, whether this be expressed through unconventional forms or materials, it plays with your perceptions and allows the user to interpret it how they see it. Could this kind of approach be similar to that being taken by many youth’s in China that is only going to grow as they break through the middle class’ and into that higher echelon of creative work.

Overall, Zhen is highly determined and committed to continuing his challenge on the art market. “We like to change, and this makes it very difficult for galleries who work with us”, “People don’t really know what they want. Artists have to create the market… and then supply it.” Zhen is incredibly difficult to categorize in the art sphere as he has an innate ability to reinvent himself. This has proven to be quite a virtue in this market where novelty, frivolity and change are relished. “There will always be a market. But you must avoid the cycle where people who like your work are poor and people who have money don’t understand your work”. A narcissistic approach to art creation, sure, but if we think about design with this mindset and then have the ability to scale outwards then we may truly be able to create the change that this world needs.



Art Asia Pacific, 2016, Xu Zhen, Shanghai China, Viewed 10 November 2016, < http://artasiapacific.com/Magazine/88/XuZhen>.

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