You And I

March 21–April 25, 1998

Gu Xiong’s multi-media installation You and I continues to address the conflicts he has experienced between the culture he was born into in China and the culture he now lives in, in Canada. His work is both personal and political in its exploration of the fragmentation which occurs between the self and the family as a result of displacement. In this particular work he uses the colour red, plaster cast salmons and socks to examine the complexity of displaced identities and migration. These elements hold historical, cultural and personal significance for the artist and his family as immigrants in a new culture. Gu Xiong’s new work explores the process of displacement through a metaphorical and philosophical installation with symbolic references to waters and rivers. This installation is part of a larger city-wide exhibition entitled Jiang Nan: Modern and Contemporary Art from South of the Yangtze River.

Artist Statement: The Yangzi River flows out of the mountains of the Qinghai Plateau, rushing through valleys and plains, coalescing with the vast Pacific Ocean. A river dashes out of the cosmic order of ancient Chinese philosophy. The red wall of the gallery, though embodying multiple connotations, reminds one of lifeblood and magnifies the immeasurable energy in the cosmos, whose outpouring rhythm and impulse create life and enliven the earth. White socks and plaster casts of salmon are suspended from the ceiling of the gallery to further discharge senses of flux, circulation, and voyage.

Rivers ÷ like the Indus, the Tigris, the Euphrates, the Yellow River, the Yangzi, the Amazon ÷ are the seeds and life sources of human civilizations. Perhaps that’s why rivers have special meanings for the artist Gu Xiong. As an immigrant, Gu’s life is like a river full with the torrents of anguish, trial, and rapture. The struggle has been so vividly documented in the images of his previous works ÷ the bicycles crushed on Tiananmen Square, the cafeteria, the garbage bag, the basement, and the yellow pear tree. From the Yangzi River to the Fraser Valley, Gu Xiong has found, in rivers, an enduring source of energy. An immigrant artist unfolds like a river in its eternal labour for regeneration. But where is he to anchor in the infinite course of border-crossing? What is the constant in the eternal motion of the universe and human existence?

The installation, You and I, focuses on the “river culture” of Jiangnan, China, the region located on the south side of the Yangzi River before it reaches the sea. Noted for its significance in both historical and contemporary times, the region offers plenty of cultural splendour for celebration. Yet Gu does not intend to extol the cultural glory, nor to expose the despotism, decadence, and excess in the history. No longer culturally coherent and pure, Gu speaks in You and I of cultural transgression carried out by the immigrant artist: the meeting of the Yangzi River and the Fraser River bridged by the Pacific Ocean, and the intermesh of two different cultural geologies through the artist’s migration. The rich symbolism embodied in socks and salmon discerns a journey which is both existential and spiritual. It accentuates a dialectical model of travelling between global and local geocultural currents and, more, carving out an interstitial space.

You and I is then profoundly philosophical. Both its succinct visual speech and philosophical underpinnings issue a rejection of the excessive appetite for materialistic expansion at the age of late capitalism and an unyielding assertion of the spiritual aspect of human existence. The assertion is grounded as much in the artist’s life journey as in ancient Eastern philosophies, which comparative philosophers have noted is essentially postmodern. Stylistically, the work visualizes the fundamentals of the philosophies. As the artist recalls, the process in which this work came into being can be summed up in a single word: reduction. The fundamentals of Zen Buddhism and Buddhist art have eventually come to prevail. The abundance in Nothingness. The polyphony in Simplicity. Less is More. Gu Xiong, as we’ve heard from his previous articulations, has always closely engaged himself in the materiality of immigrant life. Now, in the spiritual realm, the artist has found a way of extending his current practice.

—Xiaoping Li, 1998
You and I

You are born in a small stream

You grow up in the river

And you gather strength in the ocean

When you return

You become red

And give birth to your children

Finally you lay on the bottom of the stream

Waiting until next spring comes

You watch as those red eggs

Turn into baby salmon

A smile appears on your face

The tide that takes your newborn salmon

To the river and then the ocean

I see you in the small stream

I see you in the river

I see you in the ocean

I see you everywhere

I follow you

I become you

—Gu Xiong, 1998