Huang Xu


Huang Xu is a photographic artist living in Beijing. He is a graduate of the Beijing Academy of Fine Arts and began his career as a commercial photographer. As an artist, he has also created oil painting and produced sculptural installations (

Notions of waste and impermanence run through the work of Huang Xu. He creates a commentary though his work, which alludes to his relationship with everyday objects, the banal nature of aspects of contemporary Chinese life and the unwanted detritus that is all pervasive. He takes something, which is ordinary and mundane and is able to create an unexpectedly beautiful image. The plastic bag works are the best example of this.

The technique is basically very simple: a high resolution scanner without its cover, the subject matter just touching the surface of the scanner with minimal light in the room. This produces an image with quite extraordinary depth as the light quickly falls away with the depth of the object. Huang Xu then uses Photoshop to remove any dust marks and prepares the image for printing. The end results are very beautiful in an aesthetic sense, while challenging the viewer with the idea that the ordinary can be so wonderful in its detail and surface. He began taking photographs of plastic bags using a digital camera however his series using a scanner has more strength as a visual statement about economic and environmental wreckage. The photographs also have a lyrical quality and Huang Xu refers to a Chinese proverb that is roughly translated as:

" Turn the foul and rotten into the rare and ethereal" or "Turn mediocrity into miracle".

Huang Xu’s discarded plastic bags are rendered through the scanner in a manner that suggests that the bag is a highly valued object like a museum exhibit lit in a darkened cabinet. The bags have been carefully selected and arranged so that they reveal their translucency in parts, the sumptuous texture of the surface, which is starting to break down, and subtle colour variations and combinations. There is a strong relationship between the aesthetic traditions of Chinese ink painting – formal composition, use of line and tonal variation in these works. The plastic floats gracefully as if it is the finest and most delicate silken garment. There is some irony that the ubiquitous plastic bag, a symbol of the new consumer driven society in China, has replaced the traditional craft practices such as silk manufacture, an important trade item for Imperial China. The demand for silk has been replaced by a demand for low cost commodities, which has made the Chinese economy so successful. The transience of material existence is an aspect of the work that relates to the high-speed transformation of China and the choices, especially about waste, that are made in a contemporary world.

Huang Xu has also worked reshaping papers painted with bar codes and has created installations with plastic bags between sheets of glass.

“Fragment – Plastic Bag No 13”, 2007, 122 x 182 cm, Inkjet Print on Chinese Paper
“Fragment – Plastic Bag No 20”, 2007, 122 x 182 cm, Inkjet Print on Chinese Paper
“Fragment – Plastic Bag No 3”, 2007, 122 x 182 cm, Inkjet Print on Chinese Paper

In addition Huang Xu’s subject matter includes:

Dog hair – hair from his pet dog

Pools of Spit – a cultural characteristic of the Chinese that is discouraged by the authorities especially since the Beijing Olympics

Fried bread – a common street food

Flowers – flowers have strong symbolic meanings in China


Coke bottles

‘Gongshi’ – shaped rocks that are used in Chinese gardens

He has a traditional Chinese aesthetic in that he is seeking a beautiful image reminiscent of landscape. Some of the photographs have a relationship to traditional ink painting in the use of line and tone. In the photographs of dog hair, the hair becomes line and the shapes describe a cloud. In the ‘pools of spit’ photographs there are dots and circular shapes. The image is soft with translucent lightness as if floating. Huang Xu sees some areas of likeness to traditional ink painting and a beauty not associated with the subject matter.

Chinese Fried Dough No 1, 2009, 60 x 200 cm, Ink Jet Print on Chinese Paper

Page 2