Gu Xiong

Gu Xiong: Shifting

By Robin Laurence
Georgia Straight
September 22, 2005

Gu Xiong has always held a sensitive finger to the cultural pulse. Born in Chongqing, Sichuan Province, in the People?s Republic of China, he was trained there in traditional drawing and woodcut printing techniques. He applied these to his initial experience of the West (he left China in 1989, settling in Vancouver in 1992), in powerful graphic depictions of waste, overconsumption, and corporate hegemony. His practice has since expanded to include sculpture, mixed-media installation, fibre art, photography, and text.

Through these various media, Gu has explored many complex aspects of identity, including those of displaced individuals, uprooted families, and hybridized cultures. ?I Am Who I Am? is a recent series of portraits of Chinese-Canadian residents of Richmond, with quotes from them in Mandarin, French, and English. The 10 large inkjet images on canvas on view here echo public-art banner projects Gu has undertaken in Shanghai and Panama City.

In recent years, Gu has also focused his camera on the effects of globalization on his native land. In this latest series of large-format colour photographs, some consisting of found scenes and some of juxtaposed images in the form of diptychs and triptychs, he articulates the jarring state of transition he has encountered in Chongqing, Beijing, and Shanghai, from golf courses to Dutch villages to IKEA outlets. His art conveys both the evanescent remains of the old China and the overpowering economic and cultural forces that are shaping the new.

The most powerful work in the exhibition is Pepsi Home, a photograph Gu took near a train station in Shanghai. Because it is so filled with symbolically charged visual incident, and because it was taken from a distance, compressing background and foreground into the same plane, the image appears to have been digitally composed. It wasn?t?nor was it staged. Gu deftly caught this scene of a family, newly arrived from the countryside, encamped in front of a torn Pepsi ad, their bags and bundles heaped around them. The father of the family stands in front of the group, looking into the distance. Looking, Gu said in a recent interview with the Straight, for home.

Folded into the image is the knowledge that globalization is undermining China?s agricultural sector, driving millions of rural poor into the cities. It?s a condition that?s particularly paradoxical, Gu points out, since Mao?s revolution built its power base in the countryside, among the ?peasants?. But time, tradition, and political ideals, as Shifting so eloquently shows us, have not the slightest intention of standing still.
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In Pepsi Home, from his new photography show at Diane Farris Gallery, Gu Xiong captures the plight of a family that has left the countryside for Shanghai.

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