Xia Xing


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oil on canvas
60 pieces, each 35 x 50 cm
Between 2004 and 2012, Xia selected photographs from the Beijing News to reproduce – generally from the front page, or first few pages, of the paper. He looked for stories and accompanying visuals that seemed ‘somehow questionable’. Using this source material, Xia painted around sixty oil paintings each year. Each canvas is the same size: an archive of scandal and disaster, they are exhibited in a grid-like installation, identified only by their publication dates. Shorn from their context, replicated in paint, it is often difficult to guess at the news stories they illustrated. As a means of revealing aspects of life in a time of flux and social dislocation, the choice of press photographs is astute. We are left with a litany of grief, outrage and the very occasional triumph: in these photographs people weep, shout, protest, hold photographs of missing family members, stand in the rubble of demolished houses, or show the photographer their terrible injuries. It’s a salutary reminder of the public appetite for spectacle, and the abandonment of nuance in the consumption of outrage. The images are consumed, then almost immediately discarded and forgotten. By painting these press photographs over and over again in yearly increments, Xia Xing makes certain that the key events of the times cannot be forgotten, nor can they be erased, even if the authorities were to decide at a later date that they are politically inconvenient.

For the 60 paintings that make up 2010 (2010-2011), Xia Xing painstakingly replicated a commercial colour reproduction process, applying his oil paint in layers – firstly a yellow layer, then a red one, and finally a layer of blue – in a kind of melding of the CMYK and RGB processes used in commercial print and screen-based images. He applied thinned down, semi-transparent Italian oil paint with small dabbing brushstrokes that create a flickering, almost Impressionist light. Xia selected one image at a time to project onto his canvas and copy, depending on which story in the paper grabbed his attention, editing and changing its composition as little as possible. Xia Xing’s role is that of a witness: he documents successive moments in China’s history, structured as a series of apparently unconnected fragments that make up a complex narrative. His focus, and thus his selection of press photographs, has shifted over time – in the year 2010 his attention was on the human rights and justice issues that were making headlines. One painting, for example, depicts a man whose hands were amputated by a criminal against whom he had given evidence, others show all-too-familiar scenes of forced demolitions and the removal of people from their homes, or polluted rivers and lakes left in the wake of fast-paced development and urbanisation. On their own, printed in the daily paper, each image seems entirely ephemeral; when we see them grouped together, recording an entire year, or several years, the implications are impossible to ignore, and the fault lines of society become all too apparent.
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