Thursday, May 13, 2010

Chinese Artist Uses Art To Help Plant Trees In Kenya

Installation Phoenix by Xu Bing. Photo: Wang Zi
By Wu Ziru 

Viewed as one of the most inventive  Chinese avant-garde artists in the international art world for his brilliant conceptual artworks, 55-year-old artist Xu Bing is setting his sights on social issues, trying to "do something meaningful for society" by reflecting reality in his art.

One of his latest works comprises of two large-scale phoenix, weighing a considerable 24 tons and being lifted into the air by six cranes. The work is currently on exhibition in front of Today Art Museum in Beijing's CBD and is made from discarded construction materials such as steel bars, safety helmets and strips of tarpaulin.

"We are seeing numerous buildings emerging in China and few people are interested in the deserted construction materials as they are marveling at the majestic buildings," explained Xu, adding that he was quite shocked when he saw the poor conditions that constructing workers lived in two years ago when he was conducting research for his work.

Xu then came up with the idea of incorporating discarded building materials in his work after visiting several sites. "Through my work I'm trying to make people think more about what happens behind large-scale city construction."

Another piece by Xu that reflects reality is Forest Project, which Xu began researching in 2005 and was exhibited at He Xiangning Art Museum from October 24 to December 6. Commissioned by San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Xu made the art project to promote the protection and regeneration of Kenya's forests.
 A collaborative effort involving art, the Internet, culture, education and folklore, Forest Project was a system designed by Xu to facilitate the flow of funds from developed countries to Kenya, thus enabling the planting of new trees. A group of children from Kenya were invited to create artwork under Xu's guidance and each piece was sold to art lovers around the world on the Internet, with the money raised used to plant more trees.

Two dollars can only buy a subway ticket in New York, but in Kenya, 10 trees can be planted with the same amount of money, Xu explained, saying that he is very happy that through his art he helped protect the planet.

"I hoped to do something for the poor environmental conditions in Kenya, but didn't consider whether it was more like a public project than an art work," Xu said. "I feel very happy if I can be helpful in public a_ airs through my own way of art."

Xu said that he is not content with simply being a successful artist, instead he always thinks about how to make his art function in boosting the development of human society.

He explained that his wish is to ensure his art accurately reflects society and is understood by more people, a hope that is in stark contrast to the aims of many so-called contemporary artists who try desperately to make bizarre artworks that are difficult for most audiences to understand.

"There shouldn't be a huge gap between art and ordinary people. Sometimes a genius idea needs to be interpreted in an elusive way, but not always," Xu commented.

Born in 1955 in Chongqing, Xu grew up in Beijing and received his education at the printmaking department of Central Academy of Fine Arts, where he has been working as vice president since he came back from the US in 2008.

Xu relocated to the US in 1990 to pursue his dream of modern concept art. He earned himself a reputation as being one of the most brilliant of China's avant-garde artists.

Xu's return from the US to join China's top university for art education made the headlines both in and out of China at the time, with reports speculating on reasons why his move could have been spurred by a need to "retreat" from the West.

"I just thought it was time for me to back to China," Xu said, smiling. "For the past several decades people were talking about the discomfort of creating avant-garde art in China, but actually China is the very place o_ ering me limitless inspirations in artistic creation." 
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According to

The Forest Project Website says that all proceeds from the project are being channeled to the Bill Woodley Mount Kenya Trust

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