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  • Xie Rong. Courtesy of Galerie Huit and Jaime Baker
  • Xie Rong

The Body is Cultural - Xie Rong's Home at Galerie Huit Hong Kong

April 14, 2017
Abby McKenzie is an independent art critic and poet currently based in Hong Kong. She holds an MA in Art Business from the Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London and an MA in History of Art from the University of St Andrews. Abby has also held a variety of curatorial and research positions at Michael Werner Gallery, The Cob Gallery, Bonhams and The Fine Arts Society.

Galerie Huit is currently exhibiting the debut solo show in Hong Kong of the Chinese multi-disciplinary artist Xie Rong, otherwise known as Echo Morgan. Rong was born in the southwest province of ChengDu, China in 1983 and has lived and worked in London since the age of nineteen. Within her work, Rong oscillates between the role of performer, filmmaker, director and artistic narrator, operating across the intersection of a variety of mediums including painting, performance, film, prints, publications, short stories and audio works. The current exhibition, entitled 家Home, consists of an extension of the core thematic and aesthetic preoccupations Rong has explored in her previous work, predominantly the use of her personal prismatic and textured family experience as a reflection of the political, ideological and philosophical complexities and transformations of Chinese society.

I Am a Brush

家Home is partly composed of a series of large ink paintings that were created during Rong’s inaugural performance of I am a Brush in 2011. Within the original performance, Rong appropriated her own hair as the painting instrument, transforming her body into the artistic instrument in the most literal of senses. Through the use of her hair, Rong applied flowing abstract ‘brush strokes’ to an eleven meter long scroll of parchment reminiscent of the Chinese calligraphy tradition in a performance lasting three and a half hours.

Given the origins of the process of screen-printing and the use of female hair from Chinese women, I am a Brush creates an echo of Rong’s cultural and artistic origins infused with a contemporary political and creative subversion. In this regard, the action holds further political weight in that the objectification of the body is that much more overt through the physical connection of the hair to the body, remaining a living organism. The result is a more explicit comment on the objectification of the body and labour into both cultural and commercial property. This argument is reinforced through the three paintings in Galerie Huit’s exhibition. In this respect the three works are sections of the original scroll that Rong has decided to, “curate the long ‘expression’ into individual pieces… as a metaphor for endings and beginnings, [with] the act of cutting the paper akin to cutting one’s hair.” Despite this phrasing, it is more fitting to argue that the act of cutting the original scroll is a process of commercialization of the body and labour, with the unavoidable observation that the division of the original scroll, lends the piece greater commercial leverage. In this sense, the commercialization of the body becomes more acute and the ‘act of cutting one’s hair’ becomes transactional be it the commodification of the material body or the creative and physical output.

A Broader Reflection of the Female Working Class Experience

The second dominating project within the exhibition is Rong’s sequel to I am a Brush, from which the exhibition takes it’s name – Home. The piece is comprised of an original performance, a video work and the parchment retaining the traces of Rong’s performative presence. Home is reminiscent of Rong’s previous performance pieces including Be the Inside of the Vase (2012) and Little Red Flower (2012). The correlation can be seen within two avenues. Firstly the use of the narration of her own troubled childhood and relationship with her parents (particularly her father) and by extension the society within which she was raised. Secondly, the process of transforming her body into symbols, be it the Chinese national flag, blue and white porcelain, Chinese landscape painting or in the case of Home a more monochromatic reflection of the contradictions between her cultural identity. In this sense, in Home, Rong projects a more overt reflection of her cultural juxtapositions and her attempts to reconcile her socialized political and gender conforming upbringing with her intellectual and political confliction through her international exposure. However, arguably this is a somewhat superficial reading as, in my opinion, „Home“ projects a broader reflection of the female working class experience of both east and west. In this respect, despite in the obvious cultural nuances, which are not to be diminished of critical importance, in actual fact the core narrative characteristics and anecdotes are largely a global tale of subjugation and a struggle for the psychologically, physically and financially oppressed to overcome.

Ultimately, Rong’s debut Hong Kong exhibition depicts a strong foundational voice and aesthetic. Although there are notable influences from prior body art practice and both Eastern and Western cultural and artistic iconography – a large degree of indebtedness to Yoko Ono, Yves Klein and Carolee Schneemann, for example – Rong’s appropriation and assimilation of both cultural narratives is what makes her work particularly interesting from a critical perspective but also as an illustration of the interconnected and mutating cultural psyche’s of an internationalist ‘millennial’ practitioner.

家 Home runs through 20th April, 2017 at Galerie Huit, Hong Kong.

Galerie Huit “Home” Performance by artist Xie Rong on 17 March 2017

Featured images: Xie Rong. Courtesy of Galerie Huit and Jaime Baker; Xie Rong live performance, I am a Brush, 2011. Courtesy of Gallery Huit and the Artist.