Modern Times is Shi Xinning’s solo exhibition, presented for the first time by Primae Noctis Art Gallery in Lugano, Switzerland, from September 17th until October 25th 2015.
Born in 1969 in Liaoning, China, Shi Xinning has been influenced by the Cultural Revolution which, in only three years, permanently shaped Chinese population’s conscience.
The main characteristic of his work is the repeated, nearly obsessive, use of Mao Zedong figure: the only one created in China for a propagandist purpose. Thanks to the unique approach of the artist the icon is linked to other images, which are typically American and cinematographic. Extracted from his context, Mao finds himself collocated in paradoxically and absurd situations, seated next to Hollywood celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, Marilyn Monroe and James Dean.
“How frightful it was when he put up his index finger, giving warning to the rebellious young people. The fear shall never be faded away, not even by the joyful moment with the modern actress. Harmony co-exists with conflict, absurdity goes with truth”. This is how Shi Xinning describes his exhibition. “I want to express the worrying reality, while you are fascinated by the appearance”.
At first sight the effect that comes from the combination of such opposite realities is unexpectedly familiar, as they show already known pictures, appeared on newspapers or studied in history manuals. However, after a more aware and conscious look, it can be noticed that the situations in which Mao is placed are quite improbable and almost impossible, because they’re “in disagreement with the Revolution’s egalitarian principles”.
If in Twenties and Thirties of the ‘900 this subject de-contextualisation technique was used by the Surrealist movement to evocate oneiric visions, today Shi Xinning uses this method, not to show something unreal, but to create parallel dimensions and to extend the viewers’ imagination.
The representation of these made up realities insinuate in the public doubts and questions, whose answers lead to new interpretations of the reality. With this operation the artist wants to show what could have happened if the historical circumstances would have had a different ending from what actually occurred.
In Shi Xinning’s work, reality and fiction merge not only in iconography, but also in technique: historical events are described through photographic realism, creating black and white images, contouring them with a white edge, which make the work look like an old photograph.
Fiction, otherwise, is suggested adding to the paintings a light colour shade which, along with the delicate brush stroke, transport the observer to a dreamlike dimension.
Walking through this exhibition, let the artist inspire you with his unique approach, forget everything you’ve always believed in, go back thirty years and get lost watching at events that have never happened, listening tales about a time that never passed, they will seem so real that you’ll wonder if history hasn’t been actually rewritten.
 Demetrio Paparoni, Shi Xinning. Idea or event, Primo Marella Gallery, Milan, February 2014.