Xiaoyuan Wu is a visual artist currently studying and working in London.
Wu was born in Huainan, a heavy industrial city in Anhui Provence, China. The artist's hometown became a coal mining centre at the end of the 19th century and is now one of the most important source of coal supply in China. His family lives in Huainan and works in coal mines and such related industries.
When he was seven, Wu moved with his parents to Guangzhou, where he received his education up to the postgraduate level. Whilst the industrial culture of Huainan has formed his childhood memories, the commercial culture of the southern city of Guangzhou had a vast and continuous impact on the shaping of the artist’s spiritual world.
Most of Wu's works are paintings presented in mixed media installations. Most recently, he produces works derived from elements found in his past collections by use of 3D modelling technology. In 2021 – 22, Wu participated in several exhibitions in prestigious art institutions, including the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Art in China and Chelsea College of Arts in the UK. In June 2022, Wu was one of the Chinese artists who was invited to participate in the annual exhibition at the University of Arts London.
Xiaoyuan Wu, Follow a black river, 2020
Follow a Black River is a work combining performance and video work executed in Guangzhou in 2020. In this work, I dragged a six-meter-long piece of white linen dusted with coal on an unfinished highway bridge suspended above the Pearl River.
Coal and white linen play an essential role in the composition of this work. The coal represents my hometown Huainan, which has been a major coal mining city for nearly a hundred years. White linen represents the tradition of wearing pale garments in Chinese funerals to mourn for the deceased. It is also the material that carries my last memory of the elderly in my family.
The creation of this work was triggered by my grandfather's death and my grandmother's serious illness. At that time, I travelled back and forth between Guangzhou, where I resided, and Huainan to participate in funerals and a series of customary rituals. These experiences made me re-examine and reflect on my upbringing and the influence of my home culture on myself.
The incomplete bridge in the artwork is an expression of the passage of time and the drift between locations. The time is from childhood to the present, and the location is from Huainan to Guangzhou. Moving away from my childhood and hometown, I have yet to reach a horizon that I feel fully adapted. The unfinished bridge represents the unreachable, the idealised place on the other side of the world.
My current life in London reminds me that I am still walking on this unfinished bridge.
Xiaoyuan Wu, East London, 2022
Oil on canvas
70 cm (w) X 120 cm (h) (diptych)
In literature across cultures, be it fantasy, or folklore, animals and plants sometimes come in disguise and are projected as specific human characters. Metaphorical illustrations present half-humans, animalised people, and vegetable-like characters. Borrowing this idea, combined with the costumes and personalities of real people I met on the London streets, East London was born.
East London is a narrative oil painting, a work that characterises the turning point in my creative journey. It explores the relationship between drugs and psychological addiction. As an artist who grew up in a traditional Chinese society, I was educated to stay away from drugs. Therefore, I am sensitive to drugs that can produce hallucinogenic effects and psychological addiction in the human body. I cautiously observed this dimension of London, especially in East London, where it's not uncommon to smell weed or find laughing gas canisters lying around street corners over the weekends. This conflicting encounter between a Chinese mindset and the East London streetscape is the key to inspiring this piece of work.
Xiaoyuan Wu, Untitled, 2022
Oil on canvas/installation
310 cm (h) X 450 cm (w)
Having experienced four seasons in London, I tried to capture the essence of spring and summer, and visualise my ambition and energy in this painting in anticipation of flexing my wings in the London art scene. But the canvas is always limited, just as all men are mortal. Death is inevitably looming beneath the surface of the booming prosperity in the painting.