A glimpse into the bewitching virtual universes of the veteran digital artist.

Miao Xiaochun unveils recent works at Galerie Paris-Beijing on 12 May 2016.

Miao Xiaochun, 'The Cross', 2011, pigment print, 137 x 110 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘The Cross’, 2011, pigment print, 137 x 110 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Parallel universes

Miao Xiaochun (b. 1964, Jiangsu, China) has been building stunning futuristic cityscapes of contemporary China for two decades. The pioneering digital artist is known for his captivating photographs and video works that reinterpret classical European paintings with highly technological new media. The resulting works paint an alien, bewitching view of his homeland as well as contemporary existence as a whole, exploring the mesmerising interfaces between the real and the virtual, culture and technology, and the human and the digital.

Miao Xiaochun, 'Parnassus', 2009, digital oil painting. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘Parnassus’, 2009, digital oil painting. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, 'Restart' (video stills), 2008-2010, video, 14"22'. Images courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘Restart’ (video stills), 2008-2010, video, 14m:22s. Images courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

A representative of China at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013, Miao’s practice is celebrated internationally for its intercultural elements, contemporary references to art history as well as its entirely unique aesthetic that is simultaneously enchanting and unsettling. Saatchi Gallery‘s biography for the artist reads:

[…] Miao’s photos conceive the celestial as a silvery futuristic tableau that’s enchantingly serene and threateningly industrial. In combining the sublime awe of religious painting with malevolent science fiction theme[s], Miao uses photography to engage the viewer in an ultra-modern way. In using digital process to create his subject ‘from scratch’, Miao’s photographs authenticate a virtual world rather than document reality.

Miao Xiaochun, 'Samsara' (video still), 2009 - 2011, video, 10"11'. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘Samsara’ (video still), 2009 – 2011, video, 10m:11s. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, 'The triumph of Death', 2015, acrylic on linen, 400 x 400 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘The triumph of Death’, 2015, acrylic on linen, 400 x 400 cm. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Transfigured worlds

In Restart (2008 – 2010), a 3D animation that runs for 14 minutes, Miao combines diverse objects with numerous references to classical art history and architecture. Raphael’s frescoes (Parnassus and The School of Athens) and Bruegel’s paintings (The Triumph of Death, Fall of Rebel AngelsMad Meg) are highly reworked and reconstructed yet clearly recognisable, conjuring up a surreal transfiguration of both past and present. The press release states:

The work, which is terribly attractive and unsettling, evokes the unsolved myth of Eros and Thanatos and raises the question of discontent in an ultra-developed civilization, where technology troubles human drives and desires.

Miao Xiaochun, 'Disillusion' (video still), 2009-2011, video, 10"09'. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘Disillusion’ (video still), 2009-2011, video, 10m:09s. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, 'Disillusion' (video still), 2009-2011, video, 10"09'. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘Disillusion’ (video still), 2009-2011, video, 10m:09s. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

In a similar manner, Disillusion (2009 – 2011) features sacred imagery from Noah’s Ark, the Pietà and The Last Judgment, “combining the sublime awe of religious painting with malevolent science fiction theme[s]”. Limitless (2011 – 2012) and Samsara (2014) explore the book of Genesis and the cycle of life, mixing history, culture, technology and images of a visionary world.

Apocalyptic yet utopian

Miao’s vision is apocalyptic yet utopian; in a correspondingly paradoxical manner, his fleshless avatars are hauntingly human despite having no character or expression. In describing the strange cybernetic beings, the press release states:

[Miao’s] human figures in […] are reduced to their mathematic essence, but seem to keep an emotional and atavistic connection to the perceptible world.

Miao Xiaochun, 'Disillusion' (video still), 2009-2011, video, 10"09'. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Miao Xiaochun, ‘Disillusion’ (video still), 2009-2011, video, 10m:09s. Image courtesy the artist and Galerie Paris-Beijing.

Microcosm (2008), on the other hand, creates ‘avatars’ of spectators themselves. An immersive large-scale nine-panel installation, the work reinvents Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights, developing the triptych into nine panels that correspond to the three-dimensional transposition of the original work. Becoming part of the installation, viewers are encouraged to physically move about six side wings and three front panels to enjoy a view of Hell from Heaven and vice versa. The press release states:

Similar to video game graphics and ‘screen shots’, Miao’s images involve the viewer by casting them as ‘avatars’ within the action. Presenting his scenes at obscure angles, Miao positions the viewer as seraphs, saints, or in the case of The Below View, the damned.

Michele Chan

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Related Topics: Chinese artists, virtual art, video, photography, installation, interactivegallery shows, events in Paris

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Brittney

By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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