ArtSlant: Place as Performance

Three Openings of Xiangqian Art Museum: Hu Xiangqian solo show

Taikang Space, Red No.1–B2, Caochangdi, Cuigezhuang, Chaoyang District, 100015 Beijing, China

17 December, 2011 – 17 February, 2012

A projection on one side of the room shows the artist Hu Xiangqian, dressed smartly in white shirt and black trousers, stepping in front of a lone microphone on the raised metal walkway in front of the Guangzhou Times Museum. In the process he inaugurates the opening of the Xiangqian Art Museum, which had previously “opened” as part of the Asia Triennial Manchester 2011 in the UK, and in its first outing, as part of Taikang Space’s excellent series of solo shows under the umbrella title of 51m2 (referring to the area of the space for each of the 16 shows in the series).

In each case, though, this “museum” is not a physical structure, or at least not a building: the institution of Xiangqian Art Museum is embodied by Hu’s own body, in which the artist describes himself as the sole employee. In each of the three instances of the Art Museum on display in Taikang Space’s upstairs room, Hu demonstrates the real and fictional objects in his Museum’s “collection.” This is done through his own movements and simultaneous verbal descriptions. In this way he performs the museum, taking on its duty of public display through the contortions of his body.

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The God Apollo and symbolism

How do people rationalise a myth with the physical evidence before their eyes? The fact that there is no resemblance between the sun and chariot? How do you get from a globe to a chariot? What leap of imagination is that? Does this show a fundamental disconnect between Latin belief and the world? Gods not as physically present in the world as they are described, but as a manifestation of phenomena – two versions. You have the physical phenomena and then there is the mythical explanation for such phenomena, essentially an invisible world with little direct relation. We say ‘Apollo rides across the sky in a flaming chariot’ without ever trying to explain the physical phenomena – or is it just that this is sufficient? With sign and symbol in the 18th century and later there is an understanding that an idea is almost mirrored in reality? It’s not a great leap from one to the other. I’m thinking about allegory.

At some point it departs from what we see, takes on a parallel life of its own. Things happen, we explain them, we allegorise them, and the allegories have their own internal mechanisms, their own realities, which do not coincide with the reasons for which they were chosen in the first place and that cause them to drift away from the original source. They become metaphors, neither visually nor theoretically consistent or congruent.

Originally drafted: 2007/08/27