chinese artists at venice art biennale: liu wei, nabuqi, yin xiuzhen, yu ji , sun yuan and peng yu

chinese artists at venice art biennale: liu wei, nabuqi, yin xiuzhen, yu ji , sun yuan and peng yu

wondering what to see at the venice art biennale? here is a round-up of the best works created by contemporary chinese artists, on show in ‘may you live in interesting times’, the biennale’s main exhibition curated by ralph rugoff. all videos and photography by designboom.


you might also want to see our dedicated instagram coverage!

‘microworld’ (2018) by liu wei / 刘韡
alluminium plates — you’ll find it in the arsenale



in his large sculptural installation ‘microworld’, liu wei plays with the sense of dimension and the difference of scale between viewer and artwork. the work consists of curved geometric forms made from polished aluminum plates to represent magnified molecules and elementary particles which the visitors behind the glass partition, observe as they were microscopic creatures. the artist’s fictionalised portrait of the microscopic sphere is seductive and dramatic – the effect is richly contemplative.

‘microworld’ by liu wei
outsized curved forms and spheres in an oversized museum vetrine

‘devourment’ (2019) by liu wei
mixed media — you’ll find it in the giardini



liu wei was born 1972 in beijing, where he currently lives and works. a leading figure in china’s post-cultural revolution art establishment, liu is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant artists of his generation. the artist’s latest abstract pieces explore the relationship between humans and nature, influenced by the philosophy of bruno latour.

‘trojan’ (2016-17) by yin xiuzhen / 尹秀珍
steel frame, used clothes, 470 x 570 x 220 cm — you’ll find it in the arsenale



‘trojan’ is a work using fabric from disused garments with which, someways, she gives life again to the people to whom those clothes once belonged and whose voices have vanished in the age of homogenization — reflecting the excessive development, consumption and globalization. yin xiuzhen’s 尹秀珍 critical reflection on aeroplanes  and their association with the incessant pursuit of speed and growth inform her 2 sculptures on show. ‘trojan’ and ‘nowhere to land’ portray moments of absurdity, disruption and menace.

‘trojan’ by yin xiuzhen
‘trojan’ shows a passenger is curled over a seat in the emergency landing position shown on inflight cards.

‘trojan’ by yin xiuzhen

‘trojan’ by yin xiuzhen
the sculpture is open in the back, allowing visitors inside the claustrophobic, concealed space, further evoking a sense of anxiety.

a view inside the ‘trojan’ sculpture

’nowhere to land’ (2012) by yin xiuzhen — you’ll find it in the arsenale



two wheel hubs wrapped in black fabric loom in mid-air instead of running on the ground — as they should. yin xiuzhen / 尹秀珍 was born in beijing in 1963, where she currently lives and works.  the artist is best known for her large scale sculptural installations made out of found or recycled products.

‘dear’ (2015) by sun yuan and peng yu
air pump, air tank, hose, chair — you’ll find it in the arsenale



the installation by sun yuan and peng yu consists of a silicone chair that that looks as though it is carved from marble or ice. it is loosely modelled on the abraham lincoln marble chair in his memorial in washington, D.C., along with a rubber hose, which springs to life occasionally with the aid of a ferocious high-pressure air jet. the snake-like rubber string (with phallic connotations) is whipping loudly against the plexiglas box it sits within, an intense cage structure that prevents viewers from being maimed by the hose, violently leaving large scratches on the walls. in between the these periodic eruptions of violence, the chair sits inert again, almost invitingly serene – until the assault recommences. more info here.


close-up to ‘dear’ by sun yuan and peng yu

‘can’t help myself’ (2016) by sun yuan and peng yu — you’ll find it in the giardini



in sun yuan and peng yu’s ‘can’t help myself’, an industrial robot turns and flexes restlessly, programmed to ensure that a thick, deep red liquid stays within a predetermined area. the guggenheim-commissioned installation engages a programmed robotic machine to evoke the conditions of surveillance and warfare surrounding border control.
more info here.


‘can’t help myself’, the blood-mopping machine



this blood-like fluid continually oozes away, triggering the robot’s sensors and prompting the machine to shovel it back into place. the artists have ‘taught’ the robot to perform 32 different movements – from ‘scratch an itch’ to ‘ass shake’ – giving it an uncanny, mesmerizing human grace. for sun yuan and peng yu the uncontrollable liquid that the machine keeps trying to contain conjures what they perceive to be art’s essential elusiveness, its defiant refusal to being pinned down and fixed in place.


sun yuan was born in beijing in 1972, peng yu in heilongjiang in 1974 and subsequently moved to beijing, where both of them currently live and work. their large installations, which often incorporate technological components, comment critically on the modern understanding and exercise of political constructs like the nation-state, sovereign territory, freedom, and democracy. the artists often involve the staging of visceral, intimidating spectacles. the act of looking on the part of the audience is a constitutive element of their more recent work.

‘do real things happen in moments of rationality?’ (2018) by nabuqi / 娜布其
electronic controller, cow model on a flat car,moving on a stainless steel track, outdoor lamp, printed curtain, artificial plant, PVC column, …  — you’ll find it in the giardini



nabuqi / 娜布其 explores the line between the real and the artificial, encouraging us to consider which elements we might perceive as reality. the assemblage of manufactured objects and materials of a decorative nature are evoking a natural setting and are supposedly simulating a kind of reality, by nurturing an imagination of a virtual aesthetics, pleasant and hospitable.

detail of ‘do real things happen in moments of rationality?’ by nabuqi

‘destination’ (2018) by nabuqi
billboard, artificial palm trees — you’ll find it in the arsenale



a theatrically-lit billboard advertises a photoshop-perfect getaway of a tropical beach and palm trees. on the underside of this collapsed depiction of paradise is a group of artificial plants. between the fantasy on one side and the fake on the other, the work competes with reality without quite living up to any of the promises on offer.

the other side of ‘destination’ by nabuqi



nabuqi born in 1984, lives and works in beijing. the artist explores the aesthetics and material aspects of sculpted objects. she employs readymades and constructs encompassing scenarios which often play with imitation and artifice, as a confrontation of how we relate to our environments.

‘flesh in stone-component #3’ (2017) by yu ji / 于吉
cement, steel bar, plaster, 55 x 80 x 180 cm — you’ll find it in the arsenale



the artist yu ji generated the forms for these works through a series of live sittings with models in her studio. she instructed the models to assume different positions, memorized their postures and then reinvented them retrospectively in clay studies, which she used to fabricate resin moulds ad eventually filled with cement.

‘flesh in stone-component #3’ by yu ji

flesh in stone component #2′ by yu ji is housed in the giardini



the series comprises cement sculptures of bodily fragments supported by an adjustable, slightly rusty iron structure. the artist leaves the mould’s seams and joints visible.

another view of ‘flesh in stone component #2’ by yu ji

‘flesh in stone component #5’ by yu ji is housed in the giardini

‘etudes lento IV’ by yu ji | iron chain, resin — you’ll find it in the arsenale



created in situ, the artist suspends iron chains of various lengths that are covered in a glossy resin that has solidified mid-drip, dangling from the ceiling like fluid-coated limbs. yu ji was born in shanghai in 1985, she lives and works in shanghai and vienna. her work encompasses installation, perfrmance and running an art space in shanghai. she focuses on the idea of creating something out of time, space and movement, often with minimal use of materials.



the 58th international art exhibition of la biennale di venezia, held in the giardini gardens and arsenale throughout venice, italy, opened to the public on may 11. titled ‘may you live in interesting times’, the venice art biennale will remain open until november 24, 2019.


you might also want to see our dedicated instagram coverage!

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