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Xu Zhen: In Just a Blink of an Eye

Even with today’s technology, it still seems difficult to capture the exact moment you begin to fall down on your bum. But capturing that same exact moment in a live performance? Impossible. Chinese artist, Xu Zhen, proves us wrong though. Featured at MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) at Grand Avenue, Xu focuses on that exact moment we’re unlikely to process.

Xu Zhen: In Just a Blink of an Eye, July 27–September 1, 2019 at MOCA Grand Avenue. Courtesy of The Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Myles Pettengill.

Suspended in midair and frozen in time, a group of performers float mysteriously as if defying the laws of physics. These performers are part of the exhibition titled, In Just a Blink of an Eye. As in, you were standing up straight one moment and in just a blink of an eye, you fall down on the floor trying to comprehend what just happened.

Curator of this exhibition, Amanda Hunt, explains the meaning behind the artworks:

The work engages notions of the body as material, and in turn the materiality of the body, testing the limits of physical and cognitive possibilities as the viewer tries to comprehend what we see. A prolific and experimental artist, Zhen’s conceptually-driven practice encompasses a vast range of media and often employs humor, irony, and sophisticated trickery. As the audience waits for movement, for the performer to stand up, or for them to continue to follow the rules of gravity, they instead experience time and stillness as moments extend and are stretched out on through these living sculptures. Xu Zhen explores fragility and balance, literally and metaphorically, spatially and temporally.

Photo by Myles Pettengill.

Apart from trying to find out how this illusion is achieved, these performance pieces really spark a series of deeper questions. Is this exhibit really a “performance piece”? Can these performers be considered “sculptures”?

Performance art can be traditionally defined as “Live Art,” a performance presented in front of an audience that can be either scripted, unscripted, random, carefully orchestrated, spontaneous or otherwise planned with or without audience participation. It can also take form via media where the performer can be either present or absent.

In In Just a Blink of an Eye, the performers are frozen in mid-action, restricted from any movement other than blinking. In this case, it could be defined as “Live Art,” but the very stillness of each performer begs the question of where and when the “performance” aspect kicks in. The blurred lines get further stretched out when we start referring to the performers as “sculptures”. Because they are suspended and frozen in time, they take on the visual aspect of sculptures. It is only until the performer starts blinking when you realize that this is a live person taking the shape of a sculpture.

However you would like to interpret it, Xu Zhen’s In Just a Blink of an Eye is being exhibited for one last weekend at MOCA Grand Avenue this Saturday and Sunday, August 31st and September 1st from 11am-5pm. Free with purchase of regular admission.

To learn more about this exhibit, check out this video by MOCA: