Xu Tan (徐坦)

Xu Tan (徐坦)


Born in 1957 in Wuhan, Hubei Province, Xu Tan studied at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts and received a bachelor of fine arts in oil painting in 1983 and a master of fine arts in oil painting in 1989. Currently lives in Shenzhen.


In the early 1990s Xu Tan joined the artist collective “Big Tail Elephant Group” in Guangzhou, the aim of his work is to develop critical strategies for negotiating the rapidly changing economic and cultural life in China. His installation and video works explore issues crucial to the increasingly globalized world like urbanization, the geopolitical relationships between the developed and developing worlds in terms of political, economic, and cultural production and their impacts on personal lives and their expressions. Xu Tan’s works are often site-specific, dealing intimately with everyday experiences to critically demonstrate the tension between globally circulating images, modes of communication, and the impact they have locally. Powerfully and intelligently, Xu Tan’s work calls for contemporary art to engage with social reality in our time. Since 2005, Xu Tan’s Keywords Project has explored linguistic activities, collective research, public space and knowledge production through a variety of working methods in his unique art practice. Searching Keywords, Keywords School and Keywords Lab emerged from this project and reflect Xu’s evolving approach to social investigations, research and aesthetic activities as he studies connections between individual thought and collective consciousness.


Xu Tan has participated in numerous international exhibitions and biennials, including Sharjah Biennial 12: The past, the present, the possible, Sharjah, 2015; Parasophia: Kyoto International Festival of Contemporary Culture 2015, Kyoto, 2015; “Social Factory” - 10th Shanghai Biennale, Power Station of Art, Shanghai, 2014; 8th Shenzhen Sculpture Biennale, OCT Contemporary Art Terminal, Shenzhen, 2014, etc.


Keywords School has presented extensively at Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Toronto (2010); Making Worlds, the 53rd Venice Biennial, Venice (2009); Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), San Francisco (2009); Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong (2009); Vitamin Creative Space, China (2008) and Bonniers Konsthall, Stockholm (2008).


A member of Big Tail Elephant Group from 1993 to 1998, he participated in the group’s guerilla exhibitions during 1990’s and most recently exhibited collectively at the retrospective exhibition Operation PRD – Big Tail Elephants: One Hour, No Room, Five Shows, Guangdong Times Museum, Guangzhou (2016).


Xu Tan was the recipient of Fellowship of the Asian Cultural Council, Rockefeller Foundation, United States (2002).





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