“Great works are something you discover, not something you create. I feel I would be limited in what I could discover if I were working on my own.”—Xu Zhen
“Corporation” led by Xu Zhen, born Shanghai, 1977
The artist Xu Zhen set up MadeIn after deciding he had taken his individual identity as far as it could profitably go. Posing as a kind of advertising agency, the Shanghai-based group aims to upset the assumptions of the art establishment in ways both theatrical and humorous.
In the baroque extravaganza of Immortals’ Trails in Secret Land (2012), random selections from Chinese and European mythology ran rampant on a crazy quilt of stuffed snakes and exotic birds. The point of the collage is no-point; snipped from their original contexts, its component images become mere decoration. At their centre is an empty frame within a frame whose meaning too is up to the viewer: a mirror, Xu Zhen suggests, or maybe a window—or the entrance of a tunnel to nowhere. Calm (2009) was originally part of an exhibition of works by “anonymous Middle Eastern artists”; in fact they were all produced by MadeIn, with the goal of exposing the filters of prejudice through which one culture views another. A pile of rubble conforms perfectly with the region’s acquired image as a place of violence and destruction. But this rubble moves, gently undulating as if alive—a reminder that people can be buried by stereotypes as well as bombs. Under Heaven 20121018 (2012) is a lavishly overdecorated cake-canvas, smothered with thick blobs of paint squeezed directly from an icing bag. The technique arose from playful experiment, but the swirling pattern suggests cityscapes and landscapes seen from the perspective of the gods. Spread B-041 (2010), part of the same series as Immortals’ Trails, is a fifteen-square-metre collage of cloth, thread and other materials that deconstructs and reassembles imagery from magazines, newspapers, cartoons and comics. Xu Zhen says the Spread series “uses media as a medium … to create media.”