Somewhere Elsewhere Nowhere – Xue Ruozhe
Anny Wu, Sofija Savic

Let us of WoMA introduce you to our next Chinese Contemporary Artist: Xue Ruozhe. Xue’s research revolves around the deconstruction of reality, that is the process of decontextualization, or better the subversion of the ordinary. His paintings are rich in suggestions and ambiguity, and explore the infinite possibilities of representing an elsewhere, somewhere in space, but nowhere in time. Through the use of faint colors, which are nevertheless saturated with emotions, Xue constructs nostalgic worlds that put at the centre the individual, bringing out the poetic dimension and transcendental nature, as well as the implied narratives of silence and alienation.

WoMA: Your paintings, especially the Plurals series, suggest a style that is tinged with realism, or perhaps photo-realism. Yet, it also redirects in a certain sense to fiction and imagination. What are you most keen to represent? What inspires you?

What I want to represent is my state of mind, it locates somewhere between reality and the virtual world. I think it is the absurdity hidden in our daily life that inspires me. Whenever I lack ideas, I would go in search for a crowd, in the busiest streets in Beijing or London, to observe the gestures of people, and how they relate with each other.

WoMA: The composition and cut-outs within your works offer a peculiar perspective of the portrayed subjects: at times busts, other times backs, still other times hands or feet. How do you decide what to include and what to neglect?

When I was a student at CAFA, I painted portraits or nude figures every day, I was not interested in vivid colors neither in bold brushstrokes. Moreover the pictorial subjects were set by the professors, so what I could play around was compositions and angles. I gradually found what I am really interested in, I’d like to distance myself from models, to form instead a more or less ‘objective’ point of view, like seeing things from a calm and undisturbed eye. Indeed, I prefer suggesting rather than simply revealing everything. For instance, in Nearly There, I have solely focused on hands, this is because I consider hands as much more expressive than faces, yet they are also more implicit.

WoMA: Opaque and impassive tonalities, ranging from blue to grey, confer to your works a melancholic aura, arousing a deep sense of nostalgia in the viewer. Do you associate any color to a particular feeling? What motivates your chromatic choice?

The tonalities are not the result of my decisions, but rather the dimension my mind travelled to in that particular moment. What I try to do is to intensify the feelings that emerge in that particular instant. Paintings are like plants for me, they have their own growth path, and I simply let them grow.

WoMA: Many of your works, as in the case of Cancelled Landscape, convey a sense of alienation and anonymity. The background represents a remote “elsewhere”, and in a similar way, the portrayed figures can be imagined anywhere, but also nowhere. Which is the spatial and temporal dimension you intend to recreate and allude to?

I like to experiment on backgrounds, In Cancelled Landscape, the setting is anonymous and seems to be boundless, but if you look more carefully, you will notice a faint shadow behind the figures, suggesting that the space is actually enclosed.

I think it somehow relates to storytelling; I tend to give the viewer a very limited range of details and references to think on.

Some people say my works have a timeless quality, and I believe it’s very true. Not only time is ambiguous, but also the space and places I paint. What you can see is only a short time span that is sealed in the works, the figures are set somewhere you can’t really tell. For me this is crucial, a specific nature can easily distract the viewer’s attention, and thus the subtle and implicit atmosphere I build up would inevitably disappear.

WoMA: Despite the anonymity present in your paintings, your art also deals with the theme of individuality. The protagonists in your works are plunged into a reality made of silence and solitude, contemplation and transcendence. What are they looking for? What do you look for?

The doubles I portrayed do not refer to any specific person, they are only dual images of certain individuals, they are looking at nothing other than their own shadows, but they themselves are being looked at. The subjects within the frame can be very specific, like the girls, the plant, the road, I try to put my gaze on each thing equally. But when your eyes bind them together, they no longer make any sense, and you start feeling a slight sense of detachment from the image. Maybe that’s where the transcendence comes from.

WoMA: Which direction will your artistic research take? Which are the new narratives you intend to explore in the oncoming future?

I think I will dig a bit more into psychology. It’s hard to say which new narratives I will bring on, I feel my paintings are changing little by little. We shall see.


{肆/Sì} issue 18

2014年11月刊 第18期
Nov. 2014 issue 18

1. 在《虚拟人生》系列中,你形容是用有温度的媒介描绘数码图像,然而你的画法在我们看来是很冷静理性地去画,你觉得这里面存在矛盾吗?

In “Virtual Life” series, you have described that you use a warm medium to depict digital images. However, we think you are actually drawing with a rational manner. Do you think they are contradictory?

是不矛盾的,当然画面的最终效果骗过了多数人的眼睛, 尤其是拍成了数码照片后, 一切都变得平面了。 当实地的去观察这张画, 其实上面充满了坑坑洼洼, 有大笔刷开颜料的痕迹,也可追朔软笔轻轻拂过某个细节的动作, 随着这个系列的发展,我逐渐变得更加注意画面的绘画性,画面在保持3D观感(计算机生成的平滑,生硬的3d图像效果)的同时一方面变得“粗糙”,另一方面画面的机理变得更加丰富。

I don’t think it is contradictory. But of cause the final effect of the images have cheated most people’s eyes, especially when they(the paintings) are presented as digital photos, everything becomes flat. When you are actually looking at the painting on site, you will find out it is quite bumpy, and traces are shown the paint followed by big brush flows and the action that soft brush passing is gently revealed. Following the development of this series, I gradually became more painterly. In the same time as being 3D visual impression (which is flat, smooth and stiff effect that produced by computer), it becomes rough and the texture of the image appears rich.

2. 在《虚拟人生》里所选的几个场景对你来说有什么特殊含义?

In “Virtual Life” series, do the selected scenes have some special meaning?

我在虚拟人生里面建立的场景,主要是室内景,因为是内景会有一种日常感, 这种日常感结合所描绘的画面效果, 会产生更强的荒诞感。

The scenes I have created in the “Virtual Life” are mainly indoor views. This is because that indoor view brings about a sense of “everyday life”. When the sense of “everyday life” combined with the scenery that I depicted, a strong sense of absurdity would be evoked.

3. 你的肖像摄影和你的绘画之间的关系?数码和绘画的关系?

What is the relationship between your portrait photography and painting? How do you see the relationship of digital images and paintings?

肖像一直是我的关注方向,我会对肖像进行某种荒诞化的改造来改变画面的心理状态。我对人,不同东西的个性有很深的兴趣。我画的衣褶,背影均可以看做是对某一种性格的描绘,无论是我的人像摄影, 还是绘画, 都投注了我的凝视。数码技术对我来说是生成图像过程中的一个手段,并不对我的思维有影响。

I am always interested in portrait, I change the mental condition of images through a kind of absurd transforming of the portrait. I have deep interest in people and the characteristics of different things. For example, the folds of clothes, the view of the back can both be regarded as a depiction of one kind of characteristics. My gaze is projected in both my portrait photography and paintings.
To me, the digital technique is a way of producing images, it doesn't affect my thinking.


Generally, the portrait draws faces, why your portrait draws about the back? It reminds us Michael Borremans’works, does he influence you a lot?


To me, portrait is depiction of some specific characteristics and mental circumstance. It doesn't have much to do with faces, perhaps a single hand or a subtle action will be enough (for a portrait). I think Borremans’ works and my works both have reference of surrealism, especially influenced by Rene Magritte. He (Borremans) influences me mainly on firming up my belief about painting. I doubted and even rejected painting before, and I thought painting was only a method to achieve my goal. Almost in the recent half year, I have been thinking about this question, but now I can say firmly that, painting is a method which I use to see through the world and myself. I choose to believe in painting. In other words, How can one be good at a thing that he/she doesn’t believe in?

5. 在你的个人网站上,作品 《Glance》系列的分类为装置,但表现形式与照片无异,请问具体这件作品是如何呈现的?

On your website, you classify the “Glance” series into installation, but it shows no different with photographs, how did you present this work?

Glance是陈列在封闭空间的一件摄影装置。我着重的是前后照片的逻辑关系, 所有照片左右相连成环状围在一个空间中, 我在网站上试图模仿这样的逻辑, 向右轻轻滑动即可看到这一串照片。

Glance is a photographic installation that being presented in a closed space. My concern was the logical relationship between the front and rear photos. All the photos are linked as a loop in the space, I try to imitate this logical order on website, by a gentle slide towards right, ones can then see a series of photographs.

6. 你拍了几组不同的肖像,譬如隐藏的肖像、眼睛朝向一边的肖像、俯拍的肖像等,为什么有如此设定?

The portraits in your works are different, some are hidden, some with eyes squinting, and some are looked down. Why do you make these disparate sets?

我对正面免冠照这样正式的的呆板的形式感兴趣, 不同的是我试图在肖像照片中加入某种心理空间。 隐去的面部, 斜瞄的眼神, 侧拍却正放的肖像, 加剧了心理上的紧张度,这也是和我在绘画上的逐渐转变是一致的。

I am interested in the form of hatless full-face photo, which is rigid. The difference is , I tried to put some kind of psychological space into the portrait. The hidden face, squinting eyes and the body taken from a sideways viewing but showed forward,they all raise tensions inside, constructing the process of transformation of my painting.

7. 媒介或形式对你来说重要吗?

Is media or form important for you?


Yes, they are both very important. The psychological expectation of viewers are different when people stand in front of a painting or a photo, the points they focus on are different, too. Painting is my main media, It has great influence on the way I see this world.

8. 你的作品里存在一个脉络吗?

Is there a context in your work?

我认为我的作品的脉络在于我对心理的关注, 我是一个较内向的人, 所以很多的情绪是内化的,含蓄的, 我的作品在视觉上有一以贯之的平静,我拒绝夸张的形态。但是在平静的下面我一直在试图加剧作品中的心理张力。另外还有我对荒诞事物本能的好奇和对陈词滥调的兴趣, 使我的作品有时会有一定的反讽元素。

I think the context of my work is my concern about mentality. I am basically a shy person and many emotions are introvert and implicit. All my works have a certain level of calmness, I refuse to exaggerate form. However, beneath the calmness I am trying to aggravate the phycological tension. Moreover, I inherently have endless curiosity to absurd things. And I am also interested in the clichés of everyday life, all of those made my work ironic sometimes.

9. 你每个系列的作品之间的关系是?

What is the relationship of series of your works?

很难说每系列作品之间有很强的关系, 有些作品是下一件作品的诱因, 有些作品是并行做的, 虽然当时看不出关系, 但做了数个之后还是可以理出来思路的。
It is hard to say there is a strong relationship. Some are the incentive of the next; some are simultaneous, between which there is no obvious relationship, but a clue can be seen when I look back

比如我的模拟人生系列,有一个非常统一的标志,就是3d的观感,就画面内容来说,我关注人的心里状态,和不同的目光交错产生的微妙心理变化。不同系列作品之间其实一直贯下来的是我对人的心理状态的关注(泰特美术馆策展人Clarrie Wallis语)不管是用什么方式,这些人或多或少都承载了我的心理状态,换一种说法,他们是演员(Avatar)。
For example, there is a very unified symbol in my series of ‘The Sims’, which is a feeling of computer-generated 3D model. In terms of the content, I concern about the psychological states of people( said Clarrie Wallis, curator of Tate Modern).These portraits are more or less vehicles of my mood. In another word, they are avatars.

10. 你迄今为止的几个系列作品中,最满意的是哪一组?为什么?

Which series is your most satisfied and why?

我最满意的是我现在做的,比如《两位来访者》等,可能还无法并成一个系列, 我也暂时无意去做一个系列, 我在这里重拾了对绘画的信心。 我认为画我所相信的东西是非常重要的。

I have to say I am pretty satisfied with what I am making now, like ‘two visitors’ and so on. But they have not be able to be a series. I have no idea to make a series now. I regain my confidence in painting from here. I think paint what I believe is very important.‍