Shen Xin: but this is the language we met in


  • Location:
    Richmond Art Gallery, Richmond, Canada
  • Artist:

Richmond Art Gallery is proud to present Chinese artist Shen Xin’s haunting debut exhibition in Canada. At its heart is a poetic new work called but this is the language we met in, the first film in a forthcoming series with the overarching title of Grounds of Coherence. With this project accompanied by four small paintings, the artist deepens their ongoing engagement with what they describe as “ways of coming to knowing, and the ecosystems of languages.”

This experimental video’s wide-ranging imagery and multifaceted soundscape is permeated with the artist’s apparent yearning to unearth language in its most primal forms. Shen uses the tree in particular as an embodied example of these “ecosystems of language.” Sensory images of trees in their natural and processed states are interspersed throughout the video: the rough texture of mottled bark, crisscrossing branches, flames leaping from a pile of logs, a shaft of light sliding across a wall’s smooth wood-paneled surface, a shingled rooftop.

For Shen, language is often deeply embodied, at times employing the voice, the gaze, gestures, facial expressions, laughter, sometimes the entire body, as with dance. The video evokes how certain aspects of language persist while others have changed, underscoring the ameliorations and limitations of contemporary communication: a finger clumsily tracing written characters on a computer screen, voices sounding out words in Arabic and Uyghur accompanied by subtitles, the enduring need for translation for comprehension to occur, the collective chanting of voices raised in protest at a demonstration, a conversation between two people who share a common language though not a mother tongue, the telling of stories and the singing of songs.

Language is never a solitary endeavour for Shen Xin. The repeated clarion calls of “everybody protect each other” and “solidarity is strength” signal the artist’s insistence on the ongoing necessity to connect with friends and relations, across nationalities, geographical borders, and political ideologies, through time toward our ancestors—and ultimately, to the ecosystems to which we belong. As Shen writes, “I believe the fact that we are part of the ecosystem comes first…it is the grounds for everything in my embodied experience.”