“I’m looking at the complexity of human nature.”

b. 1978 Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. Lives and works in Beijing

Xu Qu explores how human desires and dreams intersect with social organisation and surveillance, and how people seek to determine their own fate. His video Ignorance (2016) reflects on the hunger for knowledge of a nation where access to information was for decades strictly controlled by government censors. The illiterate, like those who seek truth in prayer and contemplation, do not absorb knowledge with their eyes alone; they use all their senses, and their spirits too. Picking a random volume, he rubs at its pages as if probing for a heart, and finds only holes. Before the New Year Spring Festival, clothesline-like racks appear on apartment balconies all over southern China as people hang their home-cured meats to dry. The ageing, lumpy hams remind Xu Qu of botched Buddhas—the failed efforts of apprentice woodcarvers. In Balcony (2016), he suspends these flawed Enlightened Ones on charred, sausage-shaped arms made for the Thousand-Armed Guanyin, deity of compassion.

Occupation (2016) represents the ubiquity of surveillance. 108 second-hand video cameras are strung like jewellery for a giant, recalling the walnut bracelets worn by Chinese men, especially in Beijing. In Scopophilia (2016) camera lenses are installed in cubes of laser-cut steel to sinister effect. Given that Xu’s camera-cubes are like dice for a giant’s gambling game, the inescapable conclusion is that, whether you throw a pair of sixes or ones, your every move will be recorded for someone else’s pleasure. Camera lenses feature again in Zhang Qing’an (2016), an installation of photographs referencing a peasant who declared himself the emperor of China in 1982. Five faces stare blankly like ‘wanted’ posters; camera lenses protrude from where their eyes should be. Xu reveals the dark underside of an information age: it is increasingly impossible to hide from the all-seeing eyes of those watching us.

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