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Xu tan photo gtom kunstforum

Xu Tan 徐坦

post Contributor Artist

Xu Tan (born in Wuhan, Hubei Province, 1957) is an artist who currently lives and works in Guangzhou and Shenzhen, China. Xu attended the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, where he received his B.A. in 1983 and then his M.A. degree in Oil Painting in 1989. In 1993 Xu became a member of the Big Tail Elephant Group, participating in the group’s exhibitions from 1992 to 1996 in Guangzhou, and in 1998 in Bern.

The Big Tail Elephant Group is an artist collective founded in 1990 by Lin Yilin, Chen Shaoxiong, and Liang Juhui and later joined by Xu Tan. The group formed in Guangzhou, China, with an interest in urban development and the rapid transformation of modern cities, Guangzhou being among the earliest cities in China to undergo this shift.

While Xu’s formal background is in painting, he works in many mediums including video, performance, and installation. Xu’s work concerns cultural and social change and often incorporates text and image. For example, Xu’s recent project Keywords School, a mobile project collecting cultural “keywords," both in China and abroad and engaging in participatory models.

Xu Tan has been a recipient of the Fellowship of Asia Culture Council (Rockefeller Foundation), New York, in 2002 and the Fellowship of DAAD, Berlin, Germany, in 2004.

Select group exhibitions include Another Long March: Chinese Conceptual Art (1997), Breda, The Netherlands; Big Tail Elephant (1998) at Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland; Inside Out: New Chinese Art (1998) at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York, USA; Taipei Biennial (1998), Taipei, Taiwan; Second Berlin Biennial (2001), Berlin, Germany; 50th and 53rd Venice Biennale (2003, 2009), Venice, Italy; and The Second Guangzhou Triennial (2005), Guangzhou, China.

Select solo exhibitions include Keywords School (2008) at Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden; Searching for Keywords, Location One, New York; Air is Good (2005) at DAAD Gallery, Berlin, Germany; Keywords School at YBCA (2009) at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, California; and Xu Tan: Questions, Soil and ‘Socio-Botanic’ (2013) at the Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou, China.

(Source: Kunstforum)

Recent Responses

Xu tan photo gtom kunstforum

Posted on 8 Jul

Revisiting this Big Elephant Group discussion in 1993, I must say that, with 20 years gone by since then, much has changed including the environment and our own mentalities. There are at least two things that I had not realized back then. First, I would never have imagined that the “avant-garde art” of the time (nowadays we call it “contemporary art”) would be so much influenced by today’s market and capital. Second, we were then way too optimistic about the withdrawal of a totalitarian Chinese government. In the early 1990s, there was an optimistic atmosphere that surrounded southern China (and perhaps many places around the globe). Consumerism had first landed in China along with its lifestyle and culture, the Chinese government had loosened its control, and the financial circumstance of common people had clearly begun to improve. I felt a sense of relief, thinking that this was the beginning of some post-modernist lifestyle. Looking back now, I realize I was too naïve. When I look around me now, on one hand I see drastic changes in the artistic world, on the other I see that the society’s awareness has weakened, including its resistance to totalitarianism and its will to pursue democracy, which have slowed down. However, there is one thing I can say without doubt: I have never changed in my fundamental philosophy of art, which includes art for art’s sake and introspection.

The Big Elephant Group in the 1990s always tried to surpass the “Orientalism” so popular at the time as well as the trendy Chinese political symbol. We confronted and reflected upon “politics” as well as our early living conditions mingled with consumerism. Apart form that, we tried to present all of our observations and studies of the society with rich artistic language. This effort might seem frail if seen from today given its idealistic mentality, but such effort has never cease to exist in our works that followed through the years.

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Revisiting this Big Elephant Group discussion in 1993, I must say that, with 20 years gone by since then, much has changed including the environment and our own mentalities. There are at least two things that I had not realized back then. First, I...

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Xu tan photo gtom kunstforum

Posted on 8 Jul

相隔近二十年重新看到大尾象工作组1993年的对话,我想说,由于二十年前环境心境与现在不一样。至少有两件事情是当时我未曾意识到的,一,完全没有想过,当时的所谓“前卫艺术”(今天称之为”当代艺术”),会在今天受到市场和资本如此大的影响。二, 当时对于中国极权政府退出历史舞台持有过度乐观的臆想。在90年代初,在南方中国(可能世界很多地方都如此)能见到的一种乐观气息,由于消费生活和文化初始登陆,中国政府放松管制,人民的经济生活明显开始好转,我产生了一种飘然感觉,并且认为这是某种后现代主义生活的到来。现在看来是有些过于天真。回过头来看现状,一方面艺术世界的变化真的很大 ,另一方面全社会对于极权主义的反抗意识,追求民主的意识变化缓慢,但是,有一点我可以说,对于艺术这件事的基本态度我没有变,即,纯粹和沉浸。

90年代大尾象的工作,一直是有意识的,努力超越弥漫于当时的“东方主义”,试图超越流行的中国式的政治符号,直接面对和思考对“政治”的新理解和早期消费主义混合的社会生存环境,并试图以丰富的艺术语言呈现對社会的研究。这种努力在今天看似很脆弱,过于理想化,但是这样的努力一直存在于后来的工作中。

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Discuss (3) Print

相隔近二十年重新看到大尾象工作组1993年的对话,我想说,由于二十年前环境心境与现在不一样。至少有两件事情是当时我未曾意识到的,一,完全没有想过,当时的所谓“前卫艺术”(今天称之为”当代艺术”),会在今天受到市场和资本如此大的影响。二, 当时对于中国极权政府退出历史舞台持有过度乐观的臆想。在90年代初,在南方中国(可能世界很多地方都如此)能见到的一种乐观气息,由于消费生活和文化初始登陆,中国政府放松管制,人民的经济生活明显开始好转,我产生了一种飘然感觉,并且认为这是某种后现代主义生活的到来...

Show more »