Shotgun Review

From Santa Cruz: Resistant Archaeology

By Ellen Tani November 15, 2011

The weight of information and its imminent obsolescence presses outward from the series of large paintings and videos by Xiaoze Xie now on view at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery. Grand, lush, and exquisitely crafted, the works seem to contradict what they document: stacks of old newspapers temporarily shelved in library archives as objects of value, yet always awaiting their inevitable disposal.

As they emerge from the blurred, illusionistic folds of February-March 2011, D.T. (Daily Telegraph) (2011), the words “Army,” “Libya mission,” “Reactor 3,” “Gaddafi,” and “cyber bullies” still resonate. Xie imbues the archive with unexpected prescience, suggesting that what was once discarded history lives on for days and months after its disposal as old “news.” Hot colors of yellow and orange underpainting lick the edge of the canvases like flames, suggesting an urgency to bear witness to the transience and impermanence of knowledge before the “now” of news becomes the “then” of history.

We hear the relentless ticker-tape flow of information as the rhythmic noise of the New York City subway, the soundtrack of the video October-December 2001 (2002), which documents the subway’s public readership in a post-9/11 environment. “Like trains,” Xie says, “images are unstoppable.” They survive their mediation by dozens of hands and their consumption by readerly bodies that rustle the newspaper’s unwieldy leaves. 

At heart is Xie’s understanding of the newspaper as an object of contemplation as much as a vehicle for history. Residing somewhere between still-life and history painting—and grand in scale (the largest is over seven feet wide)—the paintings demand a kind of meditative reading in order to


Xiaoze Xie. February-March 2011, D.T. (Daily Telegraph), 2011; oil on canvas; 52 x 85.25 inches. Courtesy of the Artist and the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, Santa Cruz, CA.

reconcile the internal tension between pictorial legibility and deceptive illusionism. Another video work, Transience (2011), reveals the lyrical and sublime intensity of an object when it is tested in time and space. Old books, illuminated by golden light, fly through the air, their pages unfurling in slow motion. Transience becomes an aesthetic meditation on the material form of thoughts and memory, and on the beautiful tension between levity and gravitas.

Xie, who trained in Beijing and the United States, has long been concerned with the fugitive, deteriorating existence of knowledge, whether through the book’s vulnerability to physical decay or the mutability of historical memory under the distortions of ideology. While his earlier work voiced criticism of regimes that eliminated threatening ideas (China’s Cultural Revolution; the book-burning campaigns of Nazi Germany), the work in Resistant Archaeology is not about censorship, but about sublimation: heavy tomes made light, and obsolete, fragile information made sumptuous.



Xiaoze Xie: Resistant Archaeology is on view at the Mary Porter Sesnon Gallery, in Santa Cruz, through November 23, 2011.



Ellen Tani is a graduate student in the Department of Art & Art History at Stanford University. She is a finalist for the ACAC Writing Fellowship.

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