whatsherface #14: Zadie Xa: Moodrings, Crystals, and Opal-coloured Stones

July 7, 2017

In her new video work, Moodrings, Crystals, and Opal-coloured Stones (2016), Xa undergoes initiation rituals for mudang, or Korean shamans, channeling her interest in magic, witchcraft, and astrology. Loosely based on her research on female mudangs, Xa learns the steps of the ritual from a female shaman character. Similarly, the artist has recently developed performances in which she ‘retraces’ (interview with artist) and learns traditional ‘Korean’ movements and practices from other cultural producers from Korea and its diasporas. Superficially, the original fashions and staging of these time-based works strike the viewer as overtly playing to racial and ethnic concerns, when in fact they are premised on invisible, incomplete transfers. Poignantly, in her understanding of Korean culture and identity, the artist considers herself an ‘amateur’, and therefore uses strategies of mimicry in attempts to perform or attain authenticity (interview with artist).


Naturally, the quest for ontological realness is fraught with failure, especially for the diasporic subject. However, this failure can be productive. Cultural theorist Rey Chow writes that diasporas help us rethink the teleological link between transience and permanence, and reveal ‘”permanence” itself [as] an ongoing fabrication.’ Perhaps, then, what Xa performs through her practice are her own internalized, rather than the essentializing, external, expectations about her race and ethnicity.


Upon a closer look at Xa’s works, microscopic cultural assemblages become clear. The artist constructs most of her work like a collage (interview with artist 2016). Xa sources and appropriates material from movies, music, Korean dramas, magazines, and art. She intricately splices diverse influences that both correspond to and stray from the expectations that are placed on her. This strategy works well not just for her fantastic, wearable garments, on which patchwork might be visible, but also for the medium of video, which has historically facilitated an efficient recording and editing process.


The word ‘Xa’ is also the artist’s own piecemeal invention. It sounds vaguely onomatopoeic, something futuristic yet atavistic, but fair game for Orientalists either way. Uncannily, this seems to describe her aesthetics, which might be read on the surface as predictably racialised, telling a reductive polarizing story of either capitulation or “resistance” to the status quo of racial violence, but are in fact internally and ontologically mosaicked to the point of being a visual blur. Xa’s practice one of embeddedness, complicity, and deep dissonance. Her barrage of symbols, colours, and references succumbs to andinsidiously disrupts any totalizing or literal understanding of what it means to make art as a marginalized subject.


In Moodrings, a mysterious narrators speaks of ‘somewhere else…another place and space, something beyond what you know as time.’ Asian Gucci, a huge fan that spans over 3 metres, is peppered with large knife cut outs that allude to the blades that mudangs exposed themselves to in brazen attempts to prove their invincibility. These hints of unknowing, hollowness, and failure in Xa’s works are incredibly potent, and gesture towards the integrity with which Xa presents herself, flaws and all, through her work. It is precisely these pluralistic inconsistencies that confound imperialistic modes of knowledge production like racialization and their reactionary counterparts. In other words, Xa depicts the vicissitudes of lived experiences. Although her works present an image of effusive over-sharing, through her practice, Xa is still simply trying to figure out her own path.

-- Excerpt from Zadie Xa: EXACERBATION by Bing Hao


Through performance, video, painting and textiles, artist Zadie Xa interrogates the overlapping and conflation of cultures that inform self conceptualized identities, notions of self and her experience within the Asian diaspora. Her intricate hand sewn fabric work stitches together familiar symbols of yin-yangs, knives, lucky numbers and monolid eyes, all operating within a system of personalized semiotics. These exaggerated motifs are utilised by Xa to both combat and engage with Eurocentric perceptions of Asian identity and otherness and aspire to create new and alternative Asian identity narratives often fantastical and within the realm of the supernatural.

Zadie Xa (b. 1983, Vancouver, Canada) received a MA in Painting at the Royal College of Art in 2014 and a BFA at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in 2007. Recent exhibitions and performances include; "The Sea Child, Octopus and Brass Bell", Korean Cultural Center UK, Lonond, "Crash Boom Hisssssss. Legend of the Liquid Sword", Block Universe 2017, Somerset House Studios, "Thomas J. Price / Ebony G. Patterson / Zadie Xa", Hales Gallery, "Walled Gardens in an Insane Eden", Sara Zanin Gallery, Rome IT, 2017; "Basic Instructions B4 Leaving", programmed by PS/Y as part of "Hysteria 2017" Cafe OTO, London UK; "Linguistic Legacies and Lunar Exploration", Serpentine Gallery; "Kind of Flossy", Assembly Point Gallery; "A Rose Is Without a ‘Why’. It Blooms Because It Blooms", Carl Freedman Gallery; "With Institutions Like These", Averard Hotel; and Studio Voltaire Open 2015. 


Please reload