Gu Xiong: The Unknown Remains

Gu Xiong’s practice centers on the creation of a hybrid identity arising from the integration of different cultural origins and migrations. The Unknown Remains explores patterns of global human migration and capitalism through a local Kootenay lens.

2019 Aug 24 – 2019 Nov 03

Curated by Arin Fay

My art seeks to delve into the dynamics of globalization, local culture and individual shifts in identity, and rethink the space of global culture flows. (Gu Xiong, Rethinking Cultural Transformation, 2016) 

The history of Nelson, like the history of ‘everyplace’ holds the story of forgotten and yet instrumental people, people like Charlie Bing and Jung Ling. Such figures are often obscured by history and their contributions and representative roles within the culture of the day forgotten.  By isolating and illuminating such people The Unknown Remains not only makes ‘our’ history relevant but it forces us to recognize ‘our’ complicit place in the great ennui of history and homogenization. If the current climate of reconciliation and the importance of acknowledging the concept of time immemorial in regards to Indigenous culture has taught us anything, it is that we must not build atop the broken and abused foundation of colonialism and cultural compartmentalization but stop and really recognize the individuals that this ‘progress’ effects. Art allows us this view, and Gu Xiong’s microcosmic presentation of past and present is alive with people who need to be seen, in teeny tiny photos ten feet from the ground, to massive portraits: migrant workers, house servants, the grandchildren of farmers, poets ….. mothers and daughters, and artists (without and within). 

Gu Xiong pulls together threads of commonality and discord with the exhibition The Unknown Remains from Chongqing, Sichuan, China, to Daba Mountain area in northeastern Sichuan, to the Niagara region in Ontario, to Jamaica, to the Bing farm in the Kootenay Valley and many places in between. This artist has embarked upon a dedicated academic and artistic study of diaspora and disenfranchisement that is beautifully and often brutally intertwined but ultimately full of hope. 

The landscape of the gallery space at Touchstones Nelson Museum of Art and History is but one iteration of the ongoing work that Gu Xiong has undertaken to place ones’ self as an archetype within a structure that does not readily acknowledge the sum of its parts. The cogs in the machine, the makers of things taken for granted, the marginalized and the forgotten agents of industry, and obscured places and displaced people, are all given place and space, and hence importance, in the grand scheme of this art/history installation, alongside and in correlation to the personal story and spectre of Gu Xiong and his family. Synergy and symbolism tie this installation together; exposing the strength and also isolation of individuals and communities who are often unseen. 

The large grid, which is comprised of migrant works and global immigrants, speaks to this aspect, of the individual obscured by scale, and the fruits of that labour lost behind the dehumanizing assembly line of commerce and the undercurrents of colonialism that reach every shore.  Gu Xiong has done this with scope and sensitivity, and with a spectacular visual language which both dwarfs and individualizes the human condition and runs the gamut from the personal to global realities. The cargo ship, which is created by so much manufactured matter, symbolizes the sheer scale of such invisible contribution, intention and action, in its compartmentalized parts. How a thing (any-thing) is created by the force of untold labour and is moved by powers not of its own making. The ship works in concert with the many faces and frames on the walls; views of cause and effect, commodity and culture, movement and marginalization, which ply the waters of the world without thought to the human toil, cost or individual trajectory that allow it to be so. 

By having an artist of the stature of Gu Xiong place ‘our’ history within the compendium of a global perspective, and humanize the cause and effect of erasure, we are enlightened and emboldened to better understand ‘our’ place within larger flawed systems. And given the gravity of current political discourse, this can only be seen as positive.  The white cube of the gallery space, which is often derided as a place of austere privilege, may also, as in this case, be capable of encapsulating complicated ideas with aesthetic aplomb. Gu Xiong’s personal, political, and place-specific treatment of ideas, history, and influence, is a wonder to behold, like a small boat in the midst of a seemingly endless sea.

We are like seeds” Xiong states in his poem Home (1999), and like seeds the movement and cross-pollination of people move unhindered by lines drawn by politics and the writing of history, and it is the seeds that find purchase in the forgotten places and thrive and grow. 

Gu Xiong

Gu Xiong is a multimedia artist from China who now lives in Canada. As a professor at the University of British Columbia, Gu has exhibited nationally and internationally, including more than forty solo exhibitions and over one hundred prominent group exhibitions. His work is represented in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the China National Museum of Fine Arts and the Vancouver Art Gallery, among many other museums and private collections. Gu Xiong has published two books and ten solo exhibitions catalogues. His artwork has received significant critical recognition including reviews in the New York Times and international art magazines Flash Art and Art in America.

Gu Xiong’s practice centers on the creation of a hybrid identity arising from the integration of different cultural origins and migrations. His work encompasses sociology, literature, geography, economics, and politics, as well as the dynamics of globalization, through which he constitutes an amalgamation of multiple cultural histories and seeks to create an entirely new identity.

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