ANNUAL ARTIST PROJECTS:
He Xiangyu
Mia & Elephant

BERLIN, GERMANY
2021 – ONGOING

He Xiangyu’s sculpture “Mia & Elephant” is made possible by the M Art Foundation and was featured in the 4th Mario Merz Prize Finalist’s Exhibition at the Fondazione Merz in Torino, Italy in 2022.

The sculpture draws on the animal’s complex and layered significance within Chinese culture. Imposing in stature and form, with the potential to enact violence, the elephant’s depiction as a solemn and docile creature implies the taming of its power by an outside force. These dynamics find commonalities with human morality, where frequently the individual ego is controlled for the greater good of civilization.

The distinctive outline of the elephant derives from ancient Buddhist sculptures situated in today’s Gansu Province, China; notably, in the Beishiku Temple and Nanshiku Temple, which were originally built between the 6th and 7th centuries and were later restored during the Song dynasty. However, the ears of the elephant are shaped in the manner of Han dynasty sculptures. Therefore, “Mia & Elephant” paraphrases the animal with images from different historical periods. Each of the representations reflects references to models and sometimes the artisan’s imagination.

Standing hesitantly on top of the elephant is the figure of a young girl of mixed Chinese and German descent, modeled after a colleague’s daughter. After an extended period of living abroad, He Xiangyu re-examined and gained a deeper understanding of the Asian community in his surroundings, inspiring him to create a series of sculptural portraits based on his close friends. While her position would traditionally be one of triumph, she appears disoriented and confused as her eyes turn downward and her gesture appears to grasp at something unattainable. The elephant below remains peaceful and quiet, suggesting the often fraught power dynamics between an individual and tradition, as well as history and the present. By inverting time and space, the sculptures invite viewers to look back at the present from the near future and ask: Is the current identity dilemma merely a self-imposed restriction? How should we establish profound networks across cultures?

He Xiangyu (b. 1986, China) is an artist and film director who lives and works in Berlin. Emerging from a generation of artists who have experienced the radical changes in China’s society reverberated within the economy and international relations, He Xiangyu’s art practice is based on his unique cultural experience. Using a diverse range of media from painting, sculpture, installation, video to publication, his work contemplates and echoes the fatalistic micro conflicts on specific individuals in a time of macro geo-political and historical turbulence, through a series of projects with immense time spans and physical volumes. In He’s works, the deliberate dislocation of materials, intimate perception of physical and mental experience and the dispassionate historical perspective are brought into play; this very dynamic balance reflects the self-cognitive dilemma of a generation born from the historical fault line and its constant struggle with it. He analyses and critiques the collision, ingesting and digesting of cultures with a non-linear structure. He’s exhibitions span globally, featuring at CAFA Art Museum and Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in Beijing, TANK Shanghai, Long Museum West Bund in Shanghai, Para Site in Hong Kong, TOP Museum in Tokyo, The Drawing Center, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and Smart Museum of Art in the U.S., as well as KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin, Centre Pompidou in Paris, and Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art in Turin. His works have also been featured in the 5th Ural Industrial Biennial, 58th Venice Biennale, 13th Biennale de Lyon, 10th Shanghai Biennale, 5th Yokohama Triennale, and 8th Busan Biennale. He Xiangyu earned acclaim as a finalist for the Mario Merz Prize in 2021 and the Future Generation Art Prize in 2014. His recent interdisciplinary publication, published by Hatje Cantz, won the prize for “The Most Beautiful German Books’’ in 2020. He Xiangyu is the founder of the Asian Art Association (Asiatischer Künstlerverein) in Berlin.