Zhu Xiaodi was born with a passion for art that has not abated throughout his life. We think we know Zhu Xiaodi because of his achievement in architectural design; however, his art practice has existed throughout his professional career. What adds to this confusion is that any rigid concept of the art creates a permanent split between professional design and creative endeavor, so those who are caught between these distinct knowledge structures and intellectual disciplines are not “allowed” dual identities. This is the primary cause of the confusion surrounding Zhu Xiaodi 's identity - is he an artist, or an architect? This has also confused Zhu Xiaodi himself. Is it a study of ink painting, or self-expression through ink painting? Should his work be interpreted from the point of view of installation art, or as using installation to reveal the meaning of the construction of space? Also, is building an artificial environment the creation of a material technology, or the materialization of an ideological stance? In the discovery process across design and art, Zhu Xiaodi is searching for the threshold, where architecture, ink painting, space, self, ideology, and culture overlap. He attempts to reconstruct the empirical consistency of his knowledge, language, and values within his differing practices.
Zhu Xiaodi’s Ink Work — Existential Proof of the Self
Zhu Xiaodi learned about Chinese traditional culture from a young age, and began his creative art practice with ink painting. From 2005 onward, his exploration process with ink painting was followed by a wave of experimentation in contemporary Chinese ink. His desire for self-authentication was never satisfied, whether through traditional reproduction of calligraphic form or the surprise results that were rooted in the concepts and experimentation of contemporary ink painting. After all, a search for the inner self is existential quest of the modern man.
After years studying architecture, Zhu Xiaodi developed the habit of careful thinking. Together, his in-depth research of the medium meant his ink work gradually began to embody his distinctly rational thinking, which then formed his unique style. Throughout history, every innovation and improvement of the tool pushed the revolutionary progress of the medium. In the same way, Zhu Xiaodi remade his own brush. His freedom of expression was born while breaking through the conventional property of brush, ink, and paper.
The series 《2017/01-2017/09》 tracks Zhu Xiaodi 's daily mindfulness over the course of a year; the surface of the paper is presented not only through neat and orderly print, but also by the accidental ink textures that appear. This series embodies the spatial structure of the plane, through the quality of metallic luster. Moreover,《2017/01-2017/09》highlights Zhu Xiaodi's self-control – his rational, and logical thinking. The work not only projects the presentational feature of printing in the industrial era, but also functions as a metaphor for the spontaneous opportunities discovered in routine life.
Zhu Xiaodi's installation work -the thought that “being said"
Zhu Xiaodi 's installation work is closely related to architecture, as it pays great attention to material and structure, illustrated in his works《Block character》、
《bamboo, Steel》、and《Temple, rain》. These installations reflect his deep cultural anxiety; as the world has changed, so architecture and art have had to move forward. We cannot follow eclecticism however, as to blindly follow the path of Western modernism and postmodernism, vilifies the essence of Eastern tradition. Zhu Xiaodi’s anxiety was pushed to its limit in his installation work《Temple, rain》. In the future, Zhu Xiaodi may reconstruct a Yuan Dynasty temple in the old city of Beijing, using transparent glass wire to connect the bean-column and ground. The scale of the wires is the height of the entire building. With the wires precisely dividing the space of the Great Temple, the space transforms into a beautiful and vivid "Temple Rain". Through the methods of modern technology, Zhu Xiaodi offers a discovery of historical aesthetics, highlighting the beauty, structure, technology, and meaning of this traditional building. The aesthetic implications of traditional architecture are explicitly supported, conveying Zhu Xiaodi 's attitude towards the value of historical buildings.
The Exhibition 《Unlimited》 is Zhu Xiaodi 's solo show, which will be held at the Being 3 gallery, in 2017. Once again, the artist uses the gallery space “church” as a meditation object in the creation of this new installation,《unlimited》. He evenly arranges 3mm black strings, interspersed with each other, to form different surfaces. In this sense, the church space will be divided into different planes. The light will be projected throughout these surfaces in order to create a contrast of light and shade, making the metaphor visible. On the other hand, this "Church" does not have a religious mission. It was originally a boiler room used for “heating" Beijing #3 plastic factory during the height of the period of prosperity when the state-owned industry utilized the building. It then retreated to being an abandoned stadium after the end of that era. The artist’s intervention, containing the admiration for the space and pursuit of its absolute meaning, transformed the 14-meter-high boiler room into a "church space", which is an experimental area at the Being 3 gallery. It is also a “spiritual heater” for people living a cold contemporary life. Within the secular history of modernity, the outlook on the world has been dominated by empirical thinking. Confused by the false prosperity of "practicality"," people have avoided thinking about and discerning truly significant values. In such an era, an experimental art space that is not used for living and production has become a spiritual church.
Zhu Xiaodi’s installation work gives us the feeling of walking on the edge of space, architecture and thought. It fills the gap between technology, language, and history. Zhu Xiaodi transformed the material by technology, to expose the undefined objects concealed in the real world. This is the "materialization of thought". The reason the experiments and explorations that triggered the rupture of the boundary are valid, is because the world is inherently inflexible and therefore requires artists to always question its boundaries.
The "Square" built around the gallery - share social values and cultural goals
To redefine the gallery's external space, Zhu Xiaodi built a “square” in the 《Unlimited》exhibition, giving form to his instinctive passion for creation and desire for perfection. The square retained the original steel pipes - the industrial remnants of the original space. Furthermore, he flattened the garden into a plaza of cement. As a result, the gallery's external space became a public space. It therefore possesses an openness and forgivingness that the previous small garden did not have, and represents the disintegration of an old and narrow system. For an architect, the design of space is not only an existence full of hidden meaning, but is inherently political. Whether the project sponsors come from the country, government, or a commercial sector, modern architects depend now more on collective patronage than their predecessors. In their practice, the architect therefore must deal with the co-existence of compromise and challenge. This certainly cannot fulfill Zhu Xiaodi 's utopian ideal of "the materialization of thought", nor can it bare one's true political goals. I don't want to speculate on the political pursuits and aspirations of Zhu Xiaodi, however, the "square" shares the social values of openness and public space, as well as embodies our long-term cultural goals.
The "square" reveals various spatial characteristics of galleries from the perspective of history, economics, administration, and other institutions. Being 3 Gallery was originally housed in an abandoned old factory, which was remodeled from an industrial building in order to represent how the industrial age has been superseded by a knowledge economy. As part of the capitalist market economy, art galleries are regarded as luxury warehouses as they are ranked above and separated from the public, due to their large number of precious works. The art “value” derived from "Square” shows that art has embarked upon a new level of universal significance.
The entire "square" also runs through the traces of time and history, re-integrating the value of art for people. When people walk into the "square," they are walking into a piece of art. The modern relationship between people and art, are clearly defined. This relationship is no longer a kind of spiritual media, nor a relationship between play and worship, but an "entry" relationship. This piece of work cannot be collected and put on a shelf; it was built to question the gallery system, and does not make sense as an individual work.
Zhu Xiaodi’s artistic creation fully represents his personal awareness and thinking. People can find the melding of mind and ambition, as well as the awareness of making a difference in traditionally elite values, within his work. On one hand, he attaches importance to traditional value, and on the other hand, he focuses on the highland of modernity. Against the context of globalization and the background of China, his questioning takes transcendental unity as a core strategy. No matter whether undertaken by a country, or as the quest of an individual artist, creation can only establish its self-identity by breaking this ideological dam. Transcendental unity goes back to God in Western culture, and can be traced back to the innate Tao in Chinese culture.
Zhu Xiaodi’s persistent pursuit and exploration, as well as his attempt to remove all obstacles to the fusion of mind and spirit, identifies his reach for the source of transcendence amid the complexities of the social situations of the world. Only those inside the power system can have a real understanding of the power institution -- no matter the lessons from life or inspiration of ancestral heritage. It brings to mind, Liang Sicheng, who was criticized for advocating bourgeois idealism and retro-modernism in his early days, and was persecuted by the anti-rightist movement for adhering to modern architecture later on. The conundrum of history lies in that the messenger faces an array of varying ignorance within the vicissitudes of society. From painting, installation to architecture, Zhu Xiaodi has been seeking for something that goes beyond these disputes and uncovers in the real world the revelation of heaven and earth. It is important to point out that artistic creation, for him, is a continuous pursuit of constructing Utopia.