Critics’ Picks

Hu Xiangqian, Look Look Look, 2012, still from a color video, 4 minutes 40 seconds.


Hu Xiangqian

Long March Space 长征空间
798 Art Zone, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
July 1–August 13

At the core of Hu Xiangqian’s practice are his hypnotic performances, which reflect a vibrant sense of immediacy and humor. This is epitomized by his best-known work, Sun, 2008, a video of a two-month process during which the artist—nude and sporting cornrows—tanned himself to the darkest skin color he could attain. In this solo exhibition, three new works expand his breadth of narrative and visual complexity, notably adding a supporting cast.

In The labor song I night, 2012, the artist performs a cappella with three hired actors, all clad in imitations of Prince William’s matrimonial Irish Guard uniform. The one woman’s lilting soprano is punctuated by the three men’s jerky break beat chorus. Filmed in the dark of night, the piece alternates between camera angles hovering over their jam session inside a tiny security guard kiosk and tripod shots of the performers in pattern formations on a small lawn. Although Hu wrote the songs himself, the group rehearsed together prior to filming, and the uniforms acknowledge the potential for a formalized structure, an improvisational mood prevails.

Likewise, Hu’s charisma converges with his willingness to challenge conventions in Acting out artist, 2012, a fourteen-minute video that uses tediously paced camerawork to narrate the life of a fictional artist played by Hu. The artist is Hu’s virtual opposite: He is shown contemplating a wall, reading languidly in bed, conversing with two international curators—all amid tongue-in-cheek silence. In contrast, Look Look Look, 2012, is a far more accurate and cathartic portrayal of Hu’s actual self. Here, he raps before a live audience in Mandarin, Cantonese, and the Leizhou dialect: “Community—f*** you!” This performance, where he is able to vent in his native tongue, acknowledges the regional diversity of the “Chinese” art world, and is a straightforward rejection of that world’s emphasis on group dynamics and penchant for collective actions.