Xiao Lu and the “fight for authorship” over her art

The Chinese-Australian artist discussed complex circumstances behind her resilient art

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Black and white portrait of Xiao Lu.
PHOTO: Courtesy of Xiao Lu

By: Izzy Cheung, Staff Writer

Content warning: mentions of gunshots used for art-making. 

Note: quotations taken from Xiao Lu were translated from Mandarin to English by a translator at the event. 

Nestled deep in Sun Wah Centre on Keefer Street is Centre A, a public art gallery displaying “contemporary Asian and Asian-diasporic perspectives.” On September 29, the gallery hosted a talk by Chinese-Australian artist, Xiao Lu, done in partnership with SFU’s David Lam Centre. The presentation, delivered in both Mandarin and English, captured the stories behind some of Lu’s most thought-provoking works of art, such as “Polar,” “Holy Water,” and “Skew.”  

Lu is an artist who does performance works, installations, and other forms of art. She studied at the China Academy of Art (formerly the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts), with a specialization in oil painting. However, her graduating work, “Dialogue,” was an extra-credit installation that didn’t use a single brush of paint. The installation came about due to Lu’s “[reflection] upon some personal and emotional struggles.” She noted that the piece features the backs of a man and a woman displayed on two separate telephone booths with a telephone standing between them, showing the “impossibility of dialogue.” This piece underwent many changes over the course of time, but also became key in her fight for authorship over her works of art. 

The “unusual” aspect of “Dialogue” became a main reason for faculty members to see the installation. She recalled how one teacher called the visual composition “too clean,” which caused her to consider placing a “break” in the glass. Open discussion resulted in her decision to use a gunshot to break the glass. 

Initially, Lu had been interested in firing a bullet into the work during the exhibit. To do so, she reached out to a friend in the firing squad who ended up sneaking a gun; however, they were unable to meet up for this exchange. 

On February 5, 1989, during the opening day of the China Avant-Garde Exhibition at the Beijing Art Museum, Lu fired a gunshot into the installation. However, as police didn’t see the actual shot being fired, they made the assumption that the man she was with had fired the gun, and apprehended him instead of her. This resulted in various news publications and sources inaccurately reporting that the exhibit was created by Lu and her friend, rather than Lu herself. 

The struggle over authorship of “Dialogue” was only made greater by the patriarchal systems of the contemporary Chinese art world, which fought against her individuality as a woman and the authorship she was asserting with her own creation. The public exhibition-turned-movement, “Bald Girls,” which was done in conjunction with artists Li Xinmo and Jiny Lan, and curated by German-Chinese Yong Xian, stood as a “feminist exhibition” that helped Lu “awaken.”   

“When I had to fight for authorship in 2005, I had to open myself up,” Lu said. “Not only [to] confront myself, but confront the world around me and connect directly with society on all sorts of different levels.” 

Lu’s novel containing her experiences in regaining her authorship, titled Dialogue, can be found on her website, xiaoluart.com

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