Problem of Colourfulness

Xu Zhen


Photography, 163 x 120 cm (2), 90 x 123 cm (3), 90 x 66 cm (6).

Collection: Collection M HKA, Antwerp / Collection Flemish Community (Inv. no. BK007718).

The body is central in the photo series The Problem of Colourfulness. Xu Zhen shows male nudes photographed from the back, in all their vulnerability. The poses of the juvenile men are unheroic and vulnerable. The idea of transgression is indicated by a subtly painted drip of red paint trickling between the legs, as if it were menstruation blood. Although these photographs might hint at homosexual practices or possibly sexual aggression, evoking beauty and violence, pain and lust, life and death. Though the boundaries of the body are called into questiont in these photographs, the artist considers them as a playful take on the politics of sexuality. For Xu Zhen they are not necessarily motivated by an emancipatory drive in relation to gender issues, nor do they deal in lowness, reducing man to his backside, as the orifice for the passing of shameful waste. There is nothing abject in these pictures, but rather an insistence on beauty. The drips of red paint, paired to the idealised beauty of the ephebic male bodies, causes the viewer to do a double-take. In his text The long Striptease: Desiring Emancipation (2004), Charles Merewether argues that in these works we don't exactly find an aesthetics of emancipation. Rather, "we are witness to a radical disenchantment with the real". He continues: "The subjects turn back, inward, in a perverse relation to the self and the notions of the real". At the same time, the photographs remind us that we increasingly live in an image-reality in which digital operations make all kind of images believable, and that we have reached the historic moment when media and the virtual shape our environment and interfere with reality.

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