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Celestial Circles: Shuai Xu’s Ethereal Odyssey

Exhibition review: “Chaos Coordinate System”

The following article has been contributed by Wei Jing

At the invitation of the City of Santa Clarita in Southern California, Chinese artist Shuai Xu recently presented his solo exhibition, “Chaos Coordinate System”, at the Newhall Community Center. Through his showcase, Xu introduces a series of paintings named after celestial entities that have yet to be discovered. His works serve as an invitation, an incantation, an invocation to explore the intricate connection between perception and the boundless cosmos.

Xu Shuai’s artistic journey mirrors a cosmic navigation, evolving from the realistic landscapes he perfected at the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts to abstract and conceptual manifestations upon his relocation to the United States. The metamorphosis reached its pinnacle with Xu earning a Master of Fine Arts from Claremont Graduate University, redirecting his creative compass towards an expansive artistic horizon. Presently, Xu’s exploration extends beyond the confines of singular mediums, deliberately intertwining diverse forms such as oil painting, installations, and land art. Each of these serves as threads in a brocade that showcases his contemplations on the unspeakable interplay between humanity, the cosmos, and the enigmatic Dream Realm of the unconscious.

The exhibition showcases eleven pieces, each titled with a celestial coordinate. Xu’s approach, using spacetime coordinates to describe cosmic positions, challenges the universe’s inhere dynamism. This method offers a nuanced and relatively accurate delineation and affirmation, limited by human cognitive limits and perceptual boundaries. And yet simultaneously implying an evolving understanding of cosmic coordinates, subject to refinement with emerging cosmic discoveries. Xu’s work juxtaposes the pursuit of certainty within uncertainties and the prophetic exploration of an unseen existence. All while emphasized by the foundational theme of the enduring yet dynamic relationship between humanity and the cosmos.

Xu’s work echoes a thematic consistency through the deliberate titling, tethering each creation to uncharted cosmic realms. Should this exploration cease, the chronicle woven of artworks spanning Xu’s career would lose its otherworldly essence, reminiscent of dreamscapes intricately entwined with his narrative. Delving into Xu’s interviews unveils not just a singular theme but a recurring motif: his childhood fascination with outer space and the omnipresent circles that pervaded his early dreams in undergraduate. This imagery, instrumental in shaping his artistic odyssey, positions the circle as an indispensable element within his artistic repertoire.

The persistent motif of circles within Xu’s artworks transcends the material, inviting one to a metaphysical realm reminiscent of serene portals detached from the constraints of the physical. Each piece in this series is adorned with floating circles of varying sizes and diverse tones. Xu elucidates in his statement “This circular element serves as a metaphor, embodying the cyclical essence of life, the holistic nature of the universe, and the limitless potential encapsulated within the enigmatic.” In other words, the circular element serves as a symbol of celestial entities orbiting above landscapes and also as a metaphor for the “Eye of Horus” observing all occurrences.

If the understanding and construction of the universe broaden the scope of one’s creative dimensions, then inward exploration delves into the depth of the soul. In Xu’s artistic journey, the circle acts as a symbolic bridge between the vastness of the cosmos and the introspective self. Rather than solely relying on the physical, Xu’s artistic vision delves into the rich landscapes of his innermost dreams. Capturing and portraying fragments from dreams serve as gateways to understanding the physical world, offering a preamble to perceiving reality. Within the unseen realm, he endeavors to intertwine the self, tangible reality, and the subconscious, aiming to redefine how senses shape understanding the world. 

As the universe remains distant from our sight, dreams transcend the bounds of rationality, and circles expand into limitless realms. Similarly, Xu’s work exemplifies the profound potency of human subjective initiative when facing remote or abstract inquiries. Through his art, Xu reveals humanity’s innate capacity for expansive exploration towards the vastness of the universe. This interplay showcases the intricacy of the inner mind, suggesting subconscious depths that may surpass those of the cosmos. 

Xu’s artistic journey maintains a coherent yet dynamic essence. Similar to the evolving depths of the cosmos and the ever-evolving nature of spacetime coordinates, Xu’s creative spectrum continuously evolves, reflecting his willingness to change and growth over time. As a result, his art holds undertones of movement while accentuating disparities to represent a progression of transformation. An example of this movement can be found in the ‘HE0450-2958’ series crafted in 2022, a striking interplay of vibrant yellow sets the stage, adorned with ivory elements that coalesce into a captivating shape reminiscent of a projector. The primary objective of this series is to delve into dynamic spatial relationships. Particularly noteworthy is the central channel, ingeniously fashioned as a convex lens, seamlessly linking three suspended circles. Serving as a harbinger, this piece signifies a pivotal juncture in Xu’s artistic journey—an imminent series poised to deliver heightened intensity, dynamic color palettes, and a more pronounced narrative depth.

Xu’s work transcends conventional boundaries, extending beyond mystery, cosmology, and the human subconscious. The impact Xu’s work possesses is contingent upon the fostering of curiosity and acceptance of the unknown. By embracing this enigma with curiosity, there is a tacit acknowledgment of the limitations of human understanding, humbly recognizing the boundaries of our cognition. And yet, surrendering to the infinite may risk losing oneself in the abyss. This awareness prompts us to acknowledge life’s constraints, encouraging self-awareness and fostering connections with others. Xu’s artistic philosophy extends beyond mere canvases, immersing itself in everyday existence, advocating for active engagement with the world—a reflection of Eastern philosophy’s proactive embrace of reality.