Xiang Jing

Earthly Moments: Sculptures by Xiang Jing. Xiang Jing’s sculptures are frozen moments of women, mostly newly adult, caught in the midst of special fleeting moments of awareness. Some are caught in the amazement of discovering their own bodies. Some are lit up by a physical release that also opens up their beings. Some may be considered beautiful, some awkward; but a close encounter with the banality of physical presence makes such judgements banal. The sculptures bring us face to face with something from which we cannot escape, which is confrontation with the other faces that make us see ourselves. Xiang Jing’s sculptures take an intense look at people and their actual physical reality, with an eye for the special moment that brings this physicality alive. The giddiness of the two girls, one pulling a finger trigger on the other, seems to have dissolved the sculptural weight to a shivering laughter. The girl caught by her first menstrual period and the girl amazed by the bulk of her own pregnancy are both experiencing new senses of being that Xiang Jing tries to share with us. It has been said that sculpture is like frozen music, and in this sense it cheats on time, making a single chord the permanent object for examination. In making a single moment represent the lived experience, an artist is always tempted to enlarge the work into an idealised vision. The tension and charm of Xiang Jing’s work arise from the sensitive resistance against this temptation to abstract and idealise, while still allowing the work to cheat on the frozen moment to make our pondering worthwhile. There is something comparable to the art of photography in these sculptures in that they have made a ‘real’ representation of the subjects; and by freezing selected moments, they invite us to study them at leisure. The tradition of realism in Chinese art is new but is now an overwhelming influential. It was first canonised by the official academies in the 1920s, and then reinforced by the Soviet tradition of Social Realism after 1949. For a long time, iconic images of power and visual representation of abstract ideals guided the art of sculpture, and the influence has not entirely disappeared. Xiang Jing’s close observation of the faces and bodies of young women, starting from their experience of growing up in an incarnate body, is a return to real experiences through representational figuration. The sculptures are life size, fully painted in the type of everyday outfit expected of the subject’s age. They meet the audience as real life presences, and they stir empathy through their nuanced complexity of human sensitivity.

They are not the classical realist figures of 19th century European art, when physiognomy organised human figures into a typology. They are not the socialist body charged with an ideal spirit. They are not the existential figure asserting its presence in the world. They are not the Foucault body imprisoned by social discipline. They are bodies in the process of discovering and knowing themselves through bodily experiences. For Xiang Jing’s figures the consciousness of being is not determined by a spirit lodged within or without the body, instead they are conscious for being in the world. Xiang Jing has brought the tradition of realism to speak for a new generation; this generation is exploring the world with very little memory of the ideological baggage that burdened artists just a decade ago. Xiang Jing’s sculptures work best in groups, as they are social beings, who interact through physical presences. Like unedited snapshots the sculptures reveal exposed moments in otherwise concealed lives, reminding us of the fragility of bodily creatures negotiating unknown journeys in the world.

Text by Chang Tsong-zung