Stretching across most of the Red Brick Art Museum in Beijing, “Captive of Love” surveyed the career of Xing Danwen and was curated by Tarek Abou el-Fetouh. The curator makes use of Jean Genet’s posthumously published memoirs Un Captif Amoureux (Prisoner of Love, 1986), which chronicles the French writer’s experiences living among Black Panther revolutionaries and freedom fighters in Palestine. Xing’s artistic practice was profitably viewed through the frame of Genet’s narrative technique, with the exhibition pushing the supposition that her practice is marked by a desire to recreate reality by immersing herself within her subjects, with a sensuality defining the artist’s work, which, like Genet’s writing, demonstrates the phantasmic qualities of reality.
One of the dominant themes in Xing’s practice is an exploration of modern cities’ relationship with her subjects and herself. The two sets of artworks that began the show set this as the prominent occupation of this exhibition. Wall House (2007) is composed of four light boxes exhibited centrally, one of which shows an animated rendering of the artist lethargically getting up from her bed to gaze out of a window. Although the John Hejduk-designed, modernist-style house in this scene is located in the Netherlands, we see the cityscape of Beijing in the background. The three images that complete the series show Xing in a state of trapped reverie; one reminiscent of a Cindy Sherman photo sees the artist apply make-up before a mirror, seemingly struggling with her identity within this confused situation. Urban Fiction (2004– ) is composed of more than 20 large photographs, which seep out from the first room into the museum’s foyer, drawing the viewer across the space. Again, the artist appears in her work, digitally superimposed onto meticulously created miniature models, the same kind of urban microcosms used by real estate companies in their salesrooms. In these images, the artist engages in various scenarios, from smoking a cigarette on a balcony to unsuccessfully attempting to hail passing vehicles after a car crash. Xing successfully amplifies a vision of the suffocation and loneliness of modern cities: even in towering blocks with thousands of people mere meters away from us, we can feel the loneliness of modern existence.