Shan Shui – Beverage (Twelve Chinese Zodiac Animals Taihu Rock in front of the Gate of Dispelling Clouds, Paiyun Dian, Summer Palace, Beijing)
Dimensions : 210 x 150 cm
Materials : Ink on silk
Year : 2024

“Shan Shui” is a series of Chinese ink paintings XU ZHEN® began in 2023, capturing his sculptures and installations in the form of Chinese paintings. Coupled with Chinese ink painting as a medium, such products of conceptual art constitute the possibility of a new civilizational relationship. The objects of the paintings are conceptual sculptures created by XU ZHEN® under the banners of a transformation and iteration of civilization symbols as well as a revaluation of cultural values. Shan shui, or landscape painting, is not only a category of Chinese painting,  but also a philosophy on life typical of Chinese culture. XU ZHEN® distances shan shui from a depiction of natural scenery, and nudges it towards a reflection on the resonance between contemporary people and the universe. In this series, Chinese painting functions as a constantly self-expanding cultural agitator that coexists with various realities of contemporary shan shui including artificial nature, cloud computing, the Anthropocene, and the biosphere.


With its cross-contextual reorganization of distinct visual symbols, the “Shan Shui – Beverage” series expands XU ZHEN®’s attempts at transforming civilizational experiences with contemporary concepts. Across the sculptures and paintings in the series, ancient Greek pillars, as a symbol of human civilization, are planted onto various classic imageries in Eastern and Western cultures, including Classical sculpture, Chinese blue and white pottery, and scholars’ rock. While displacing themselves isomorphically with straws, these pillars defamiliarize and tease whatever it is they insert into, rendering it both out of place and abreast of the times.


The artist uses the everyday action of “sucking” as a metaphor for the interactive relations within humans’ cognition of civilization in the post-globalization era: for instance, the search for a future out of history, the conjuring of illusion by the East and the West of each other, and, not least, the symbolization of the uncertainty and dynamism of contemporary reality.