Xiao Yu


Principally relating to Xiao Yu*s work Ruan

Note:  Xiao Yu*s installation Ruan initially appeared at the Post-Perceptual Art Exhibition in Beijing (1998-1999), and was subsequently seen in a prominent display at the 49th Venice Biennale (2001). The work, which was acquired by collector Uli Sigg, was also subsequently seen in the exhibition Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection, held at the Kunstmuseum [Art Museum] in Bern, Switzerland (June 13每Oct. 16, 2005). Ruan*s inclusion in this latter exhibition is the subject of the 2005 Associate Press report, reproduced below. Sigg*s Mahjong exhibition (including Xiao Yu*s Ruan) later toured to other museums, including the Kunsthalle in Hamburg, Germany (Sept. 15 2006每Feb. 18, 2007). The exhibition can currently be seen at the Art Museum of the University of California, Berkeley (Sept. 10, 2008每Jan. 4, 2009). Xiao Yu*s own photos of Ruan were also included in About Me 每 Chinese Experimental Photography, an exhibition curated by Lin Xiaodong and funded and presented by Other Shore Arts. This exhibition was seen in Shanghai (simultaneous with the First Shanghai Biennale in 2000), and later seen at the Museum of Yunnan Arts Institute, Kunming (2000).

In the present Artfile, we have assembled several media reports, which mainly tend to comment on some amount of public controversy occasioned by the exhibition of Xiao Yu*s work 每 first at the Venice Biennale, later in Uli Sigg*s exhibition in Bern, Switzerland. In the interest of presenting a more balanced representation of the work, we have added a few photographs, and we have also added, at the end, a descriptive note written by Xiao Yu himself to accompany the Ruan installation..

Other Shore Arts Institute

October 2008

1.  Art in the News: The Controversial Art of Xiao Yu (2006) [a blogger*s report]

2.  Avant-garde Chinese artist defends fetus-bird artwork (2005) [Associated Press report]

3.  A Swiss taste for Chinese Art (2005) [International Herald Tribune article]

4.  Dark Visions at Venice Biennale (2001) [BBC News report]

5.  Ruan 每 Xiao Yu (1999) [a note from the artist]

1.  Art in the News: The Controversial Art of Xiao Yu

Sunday, October 29, 2006


Xiao Yu, an artist from China, received harsh criticism after exhibiting one of his pieces in a Swiss gallery exhibit. Xiao named the piece "Ruan", a name he invented by combining Chinese letters that come from the names of a variety of animals. The piece was constructed with animal and human parts including: the eyes of a rabbit, the body of a bird, and the head of a human baby. Due to public outcry the piece was pulled from the galleries collection of Chinese art which was on display at the Bern Fine Art Museum.

The work was pulled after several museum visitors filed complaints with Bern's District Attorney. Visitors questioned the ethics of the piece and wanted to know where the head had come from. The concern was due in part to the problem of late-term abortions in China. Visitors feared that the head was acquired specifically to be used in Xiao's art. Many were also upset because they felt the work showed great disrespect for the dead. Legal action against Xiao is pending.

Xiao Yu has defended "Ruan" and has attempted to answer any questions that the public may have about it. He has stated, "It's precisely because I respect all life that I did this. The bird and the fetus both died because there was something wrong with them. I thought putting them together like this was a way for them to have another life." Xiao observes his work as a warning against abortion in China where newborns can be killed by family planning officials when it is discovered the baby was born without a license.

However, people are still offended by "Ruan" and it has yet to be displayed since being censored. "I want it to be displayed," he said. Xiao claims he bought the head in 1999 for a few hundred yuan from a man who was cleaning out a scientific exhibition hall. The head, which had been stored in a glass bottle, came with a handwritten sticker identifying it as a female specimen from the 1960s.

According to Xiao, the bottle had no name or cause of death written upon it, but did have a date of birth that had meaning for him as an artist. Xiao has since lost the paper, but knows that the date of birth was close to his. He stated, "It was close to my birthdate though, I remember that because I thought it was coincidental," So he decided to use the specimen in order to convey a message against a practice that he does not agree with.

Xiao feels that if children are considered no better than animals by the Chinese government it is perfectly acceptable to use them as objects. In a sense, Xiao observes it as no worse than mounting an animals severed head upon a wall. Xiao feels that "Ruan" reveals the hypocrisy over the abortion issue and the staggering Chinese abortion rate.

Xiao assumed the fetus was miscarried, based on the condition of the remains and the stage of development of the head. It is unlikely that it was an aborted fetus because the assumed birth date predated China's "one child" birth control policy. However, Xiao has failed to remember the exact birthdate of the remains nor does he have any other physical proof of where he obtained the head.

Xiao is no stranger to controversy. He is known for his shocking material. For another installation, he paid an assistant 10,000 yuan (US$1,200; euro1,000) to sew pairs of living lab mice together at the hip and displayed them in glass bowls. However, Xiao has been adamant about stating that his work is not about shock. He claims to create in order to convey a message about the issues he believes in.

What do you think about Xiao Yu and his creations? Do you think his work goes against ethics when he creates [it] to attack issues that he feels are not ethical?

Take care, Stay true

Brian Sherwin

[A blog report from myartspace>blog]

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2.  Avant-garde Chinese artist defends fetus-bird artwork (AP)
Updated: 2005-08-10 13:13 
[Associated Press report, as seen in China Daily]

A Chinese artist who grafted the head of a human fetus onto the body of a bird has defended his work as art after a Swiss museum withdrew the piece from an exhibit.

"It's precisely because I respect all life that I did this," artist Xiao Yu said Tuesday. He said the bird and fetus "died because there was something wrong with them. ... I thought putting them together like this was a way for them to have another life."

The controversial artwork named "Ruan," featuring a fetus head grafted onto the body of a bird, was created by Chinese avant-garde artist Xiao Yu. [foto.lucien.it]


Swiss museum visitor Adrien de Riedmatten, 29, filed a complaint on Monday with the district attorney of Bern, Switzerland, calling for an investigation into the piece, which was on display at the Bern Art Museum.

"I want to know where this baby comes from and if it was killed for this work," de Riedmatten said. "We know about the problems of late-term abortions in China and we have the right to ask ourselves questions."

The work was removed, curator Bernhard Fibicher said Tuesday, because museum directors didn't want the controversy surrounding it to overshadow the rest of the "Mahjong" exhibit, which features avant-garde Chinese works from the last 25 years.

The museum is planning an Aug. 22 symposium with artists, philosophers and ethics experts before deciding whether to re-exhibit the piece.

Xiao said he bought the head in 1999 for a few dollars from a man who was cleaning out a scientific exhibition hall. The glass bottle in which it came had a handwritten sticker identifying it as a female specimen from the 1960s. According to Xiao, it had no name or cause of death.

He said he thought it was a miscarriage and not an aborted fetus, because it predated China's "one child" birth control policy -- launched in the late 1970s to limit most urban couples to one child in order to slow the growth of its population, which officially hit 1.3 billion this year. Rural couples and some in cities are allowed two children.

The name of the piece, "Ruan," is a word Xiao invented that combines the Chinese characters for different kinds of animals. Xiao said he added the eyes of a rabbit to the head.

Xiao is known for shocking material. He once paid an assistant $1,200 to sew pairs of living lab mice together at the hip and displayed them in glass bowls.

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3.  A Swiss taste for Chinese Art

[International Herald Tribune article]

Contemporary works find home in former envoy's collection

By Barbara Pollack

Published: WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 17, 2005

BERN: Some Western museumgoers might be forgiven for picturing China as a society of glacially slow change, given the abundance of shows that explore the gradual flowering of this or that ancient dynasty. But for those passing through an exhibition here of just four decades of contemporary Chinese art, a sense of whirlwind change is hard to avoid. #

One of the artworks in the show caused a brief tumult. After a Swiss museumgoer filed a complaint, curators last week removed a 1999 piece consisting of a specimen jar containing the head of a human fetus sewn to the body of a sea gull. According to the museum catalogue, the work, by Xiao Yu, was intended to "provoke the viewer into reflecting on the absurdity of life." #

That this broad sampling of contemporary Chinese art can be seen in Switzerland is due to the efforts of Uli Sigg, a media executive who was Swiss ambassador to China from 1995 to 1998. Through a combination of business acumen, political savvy and tenacity, Mr. Sigg has gradually managed to acquire more than 1,200 works by 180 contemporary artists.

Some 300 of those works were selected by the curator Bernhard Fibicher and the Beijing artist Ai Weiwei for the exhibition, "Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art From the Sigg Collection," which runs through Oct. 16. For Mr. Sigg, the quality of each work is less important than what it has to say about Chinese society - and how the artist functions within it.

For other collectors, he said, "there may be other standards, such as the so-called quality, intensity and energy of the work. But since my goal is to mirror the art production of China, for me the work has to document or say something really important about China."

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4.  Dark Visions at Venice Biennale

Sunday, 17 June, 2001, 13:13 GMT 14:13 UK

By BBC's Charis Dunn-Chan

Asian artists at this year's Venice Biennale have staged an exciting variety of shows around the city. Many are designed to please and entertain. Some have arrived with a darker vision.

       A couple of Japanese, Chinese and Taiwan artists have explored the darker sides of their societies with photographs, installations, and, in one case, body parts in formaldehyde.

       The most controversial of these Asian artists has to be Xiao Yu from China's Inner Mongolia region. His installation in the Arsenale comprises a series of laboratory jars filled with the joined body parts of different animals creating strange beasts of the imagination.

       Rodent bodies with bird wings are strikingly uncomfortable. However with a real foetus head on one, some viewers were running for the exit.

       The ethics of his work seem very questionable. His underlying impulse is understandable. Cloning and genetic manipulation are controversial. . . .

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5.  Ruan    (a note by the artist)﹛﹛

Ruan 每 a winged, omnivorous mammal. Because of its special physiological characteristics, it has not been possible to classify biologically into any exact species up to the present time. In the course of its evolution, it has passed through single-vertebra aquatic life, amphibious, reptilian, and mammalian periods. Early in the Jurassic Dinosaur Period, it had already evolved to its mature form; and through the Cretaceous Period, after the extinction of dinosaurs, it kept on multiplying till now. It*s possible that it will continue to multiply for a long time into the future.

                                                                            每 Xiao Yu, 1999

[Note: The ideogram for Ruan was created by the artist, combining elements from existing Chinese characters.]

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