Art Radar | “Captive of Love”: exploring urbanity with Danwen Xing at Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing

Drawing its title from French writer Jean Genet’s Un Captif Amoureux, the exhibition looks at Danwen Xing’s personal relationships with herself, her peers and her city.


Art Radar takes a look at the highlights of the exhibition, running until 29 October 2017.

Poster of Danwen Xing’s exhibition “Captive of Love”, 10 September – 29 October 2017, at Red Brick Art Museum, Beijing.


Curated by Tarek Abou El Fetouh, whose curatorial practice often involves in-depth explorations of contemporary Chinese art, Danwen Xing‘s solo exhibition at Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing is one of the biggest to date. Boasting a range of photography, installations and videos, as well as never-before-seen works, “Captive of Love” is a poignant and personal look at the urban environment of China, and the human relationships that develop within it. Taking us through a myriad of scenes that unfold in and around the buildings that make up the city, Danwen Xing’s works construct narratives of urban life in the city.


Now known as one of the few pioneering artists that began experimenting with the photographic medium, the Xi’an-born artist began her photographic practice in the late 1980s. Her early works began grappling with issues of femininity and sexuality, with the black and white series I am a Woman (1994-1996) and Born with Cultural Revolution (1995) counted as some of her earlier photographic works. Xing’s artistic practice has since developed, later including installation and video works. Alongside that expansion in medium is also the range of issues that she engages with in her works. In this exhibition, Xing deals with the urban sprawl of the city, closely examining the ways in which it now affects our lives and relationships. Identity renegotiation, tensions between tradition and progressiveness, and the meaninglessness of truth have also been some of the themes largely associated with her works.


Danwen Xing, ‘Urban Fiction, Image 26’, 2006, digital photograph. Image courtesy the artist and Red Brick Art Museum.
This show brings together Danwen Xing’s major series of works, including Wall House (2007), Urban Fiction (2004-present) and Sleep Walking (2001) amongst others on view. Aiming to give a fuller picture of the artist, her practice and the trajectory of her creative pursuit, the exhibition shines a spotlight on her oeuvre, allowing visitors to closely approach her research and intimate perspectives.
Danwen Xing, ‘Wall House, Image 1’, 2007, digital photograph. Image courtesy the artist and Red Brick Art Museum.
Danwen Xing, ‘Wall House, Image 2’, 2007, digital photograph. Image courtesy the artist and Red Brick Art Museum.
Wall House (2007) is a multimedia installation series, comprising four photographic lightboxes, as well as an video animation. Much of the work centres around a particular house designed by John Hejduk, an American architect, artist and designer. Hejduk’s house, also called Wall House, featured a pastel-coloured façade, with a mix of curvilinear faces and straight planes. Often called a cross between Surrealist sculpture and Cubist paintings, the architectural form is a study of a relationship between the inside and the outside of the house itself.
Wall House sees Danwen Xing playing the main character as the inhabitant of this house. Although the house has been built in the Netherlands, Xing’s version of the Wall House is located in China, with scenes of the city seen out of the windows of the house. Xing’s rendition of the Wall House is a personal, close look at life today; ensconced within the form of the house itself, looking out into the city, Xing’s character plays out a certain feeling of isolation and ennui. In as much as the house appears part of the landscape of the city, Xing’s character appears far removed from the society that she is physically located in, hidden away in what can almost be seen as an ivory tower. Questioning the boundaries between private and public space, Xing’s Wall House explores the very landscapes of society itself and our relationships within it.
Danwen Xing, ‘Urban Fiction, Image 8’, 2004-present, digital photograph. Image courtesy the artist and Red Brick Art Museum.
Urban Fiction (2004-present) is a humorous take on the real estate development of cities. With the exponential boom in real estate developments, often comprising luxury apartments, high-rise office buildings and complexes, Xing chooses to look at the accompanying marketing materials of real estate projects. Using the language of real estate advertisements, with mock-ups of apartments and showroom aesthetics, Xing stages her own interventions in the form of inserting strange scenes that play out in the buildings themselves. Often dramatic, surreal and unnerving, Xing’s insertions seem to be a play on the very unreality of the prospective buildings and how they are portrayed. Blurring the line between fantasy and reality, Xing also highlights the brutal emptiness of these projected landscapes, heightening the sense of growing detachment that governs life in urban cities today.
Danwen Xing, ‘disCONNEXION, Image a7’, 2002-2003, digital photograph. Image courtesy the artist and Red Brick Art Museum.
Xing approaches the concerns of urban life in a different way in disCONNEXION (2002-2003). A photographic series that takes its viewers on an ecological journey through China’s Guangdong province, disCONNEXION was the result of Xing’s research into electronic trash recycling and its effects on villages along the Pearl River Delta. Revealing the vast volumes and quantities of electronic waste, and highlighting the struggle to contain and manage such refuse matter, the series communicates an anxiety about the sustainability of such hyperconsumption through the lens of aesthetic representation. disCONNEXION shows snarls of wire, tangled, matted and piled together, becoming an amorphous mass itself.
Danwen Xing, ‘disCONNEXION, image a1’, 2002-2003, digital photograph. Image courtesy the artist and Red Brick Art Museum.
Perhaps one of the most provocative works in the show is Xing’s Sleep Walking (2001), a video installation that combines the images of different Western cities, accompanied by the sounds of traditional Chinese instruments and life in Chinese cities. Xing confronts the viewer with a sense of dislocation. Caught between the evocations of two different times and places, the work itself is almost jarring and discomforting. Although Xing’s work gives an illusion of intimacy, by including personal footage from Xing’s own travels, the work remains an unnerving, uncomfortable one to watch. A meditation on cross-global consciousness, the work is reflective of the artist’s own experiences of being transplanted from one culture to another, and questions the distinctions between particular spaces and times.
Danwen Xing, ‘Sleep Walking’, 2001, video installation view at Queens Museum of Art, New York, 2002. Image courtesy the artist and Red Brick Museum of Art.
Focused on the urban environment, whilst teasing out the complexities surrounding our experiences of living within the cityscape and how we relate to one another through it, the exhibition foregrounds many questions about the lived human experience in the age of the city boom. A poetic exploration of the city sprawl, Danwen Xing’s exhibition at the Red Brick Museum shines a spotlight on our environment today.
Junni Chen