The Yangzi River flows out of the mountains in the Qinghai Plateau, rushing through valleys and plains, coalescing with the vast Pacific Ocean. A river dashes out of the cosmic order of ancient Chinese philosophy. The red wall of the gallery, through embodying multiple connotations, reminds one of the lifeblood and magnifies the immeasurable energy in the cosmos, who’s outpouring rhythm and impulse create life and enliven the earth. White socks and plaster casts of salmon are suspended from the ceiling of the gallery to further discharge senses, flux, circulation and voyage.
Rivers – like the Indus, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Yellow River, the Yangzi, and the Amazon- are the seeds and life sources of human civilizations. Perhaps that’s why rivers have special meanings for the artist Gu Xiong. As an immigrant, Gu’s life is like a river full of torrent of anguish, trial, and rapture. The struggle has been so vividly documented in the images of his previous works- the cafeteria, the garbage bag, the basement and the yellow pear tree. From the Yangzi River to the Fraser Valley, Gu Xiong has found, in rivers, an enduring source of energy. An immigrant artist unfolds like a river in its eternal labor for regeneration. But where is he to anchor the infinite course of border crossing? What is the constant in the eternal motion of the universe and human existence?
The installation, You and I, focuses on the “river culture” of Jiangan, China, the region located on the south side of the Yangzi River before it reaches the sea. Noted for its significance in both historical and contemporary times, the region offers plenty of cultural splendors for celebration. Yet, Gu does not intent to extol the cultural glory, nor expose the despotism, decadence, and excess in the history. No longer culturally coherent and pure, Gu speaks in You and I, of cultural transgression carried out by the immigrant artist: the meeting of the Yangzi River and the Fraser River bridged by the Pacific Ocean, and the intermesh of two different cultural geologies through the artist’s migration. The rich symbolism embodied in socks and salmon discerns a journey, which is both existential and spiritual. It accentuates a dialectical model of travelling between global and local geo-cultural currents and, more, carving out an interstitial space.
You and I is then profoundly philosophical. Both its succinct visual speech and philosophical underpinnings issue a rejection of the excessive appetite for materialistic expansion at the age of late capitalism and an unyielding assertion of the spiritual aspect of human existence. The assertion is grounded, as much in the artist’s life journey as in ancient Eastern philosophies, which comparative philosophers have noted is essentially postmodern. Stylistically, the work visualizes the fundamentals of the philosophies. As the artist recalls, the process in which this work came into being can be summed up in a single word: reduction. The fundamentals of Zen Buddhism and Buddhist art have eventually come to prevail: The abundance of Nothingness, the polyphony in Simplicity, and Less is more. Gu Xiong, as we’ve heard form his previous articulations, has always closely engaged himself in the materiality of immigrant life. Now, in the spiritual realm, the artist has found a way of extending his current practice.
– Xiaoping Li, 1998
Xiaoping Li has a PhD degree from York University in sociology. She currently serves as the Department Chair of Okanagan College.