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Breaking FreeGuan Xiao

April 28, 2021

One of four new films from Art21’s spring 2021 programming

From her Beijing studio, Guan Xiao resists the distractions and expectations of our modern era. The sculptor describes the meditative experience of making work in her studio, where she is forced to step away from her phone and computer. “Even if your body feels tired,” explains the artist, “your spirit is totally relaxed.”

Guan similarly reflects on the importance of diverging from the expectations placed on Chinese artists to produce work with overt social or political meanings. While the generation prior to hers felt more pressure to address politics through their work, Guan identifies a bellwether opportunity for her and her peers to subvert these expectations. The artist conveys her hope for more variety in the type of work that Chinese artists are able to make, exhibit, and sell. “Everything an artist does is to express their sense of freedom,” says Guan. “To break our ideas free of the frames that are holding them in. That is actually what is political.”

This film is among a collection that comprise Art21’s participation in the multi-institutional Feminist Art Coalition initiative. Feminist Art Coalition (FAC) is a platform for art projects informed by feminisms, fostering collaborations between arts institutions that aim to make public their commitment to social justice and structural change.

More information and credits


Extended Play Series Producer: Ian Forster. Director: Bryan Chang, Vicky Du, and Ian Forster. Editor: Jia Li. Camera: Yang Bo and Bryan Chang. Sound: Long Lv and Zhou Yang. Assistant Camera: Yifan Wen. Colorist: Jonah Greenstein. Sound Mix: Adam Boese. Assistant Editor: Mengchen Zhang. Music: Blue Dot Sessions, Nathan Feddo, and Henry White. Artwork Courtesy: Guan Xiao.

Extended Play is supported by The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Arts; and, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council; Dawn and Chris Fleischner; the Art21 Contemporary Council; and by individual contributors.

Closed captionsAvailable in English, German, Romanian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Italian

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Interested in showing this film in an exhibition or public screening? To license this video please visit Licensing & Reproduction.

Guan Xiao

Guan Xiao was born 1983 in Chongqing Province, China. In her sculpture and video work, Guan juxtaposes discordant images, diverse cultural artifacts, and modern technology to create objects that are futuristic, referential, unsettling, and humorous. Working with traditional Chinese sculpted tree roots, 3D fabrications, and readymade industrial objects, Guan Xiao epitomizes the next generation of artists from China, rooted in transnational culture and immersed in our technology-fueled present. Her video works mirror viewers’ experiences of the Internet and personal memories, where seemingly unrelated images find inexplicable yet resonant connection.

“Everything an artist does is to express their sense of freedom—to break our ideas free of the frames that are holding them in. That is actually what is political.”

Guan Xiao

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