Shen Xin: ས་གཞི་སྔོན་པོ་འགྱུར། (The Earth Turned Green)

May 04 - Aug 28 2022

Shen Xin: ས་གཞི་སྔོན་པོ་འགྱུར། (The Earth Turned Green)

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ས་གཞི་སྔོན་པོ་འགྱུར། (The Earth Turned Green) is a solo exhibition by Shen Xin featuring a newly commissioned installation that centers restorative practices drawn from the Tibetan language through performance, land and family histories. Shen’s work as a moving image artist often explores potential relations outside of nationalistic belonging. Their recent research focuses on multitudes of the self and the other, as well as the interrelationship between culture and ecology.

Positioned in the center of the gallery, ས་གཞི་སྔོན་པོ་འགྱུར། (The Earth Turned Green) is a three-channel video and sound installation consisting of a film with subtitles in Tibetan and English. A projected image is visible on both sides of a floor-to-ceiling screen, dividing the room into two viewing spaces, with text projected on the ground of each side. Using stage lighting in a theater, the film depicts a day’s passing in winter, spring, summer and fall. The audio track and corresponding subtitles are reflections on the recorded imagery by Shen Xin together with their Tibetan language teacher, སྐྱིད་དར་འཛོམས། (Ji Ta Zong), who verbalize the movement of light and color through conversations in the process of teaching and learning Tibetan.

The installation was formed collaboratively through a series of scripts. To begin, Shen wrote directions for lighting technician Kyle Gavell to develop a performance for stage lights that would represent a day within each of the four seasons. Next, Shen transcribed in Mandarin what they saw in the recording of the lights on the stage. Ji then translated that description into Tibetan, which served as the materials and learning tools for their conversations in Mandarin and Tibetan over twelve lessons. In addition to reading the Tibetan text together, Shen poses questions in response to their learning such as: “Why is the night motherly?” or “If finished actions contain a form of returning, is it a return to the soil?” The conversations were recorded, edited and compiled, and the audio was then translated into English and Tibetan.

Shen began studying Tibetan language in August 2021 following a discovery about their family history. Throughout his lifetime, Shen’s father, Shen Daohong, made Chinese ink paintings of Tibetan and Indian figures, a practice Shen was critical of as their father had no formal relationship to either culture. Following his passing in 2018, Shen’s family explored their ancestry with genetic testing, a theme examined in their work Provocation of the Nightingale (2017-2018). As a result, they discovered that their father was part-Tibetan and Indian, a connection that he did not know while living. This new information gave Shen a window to reflect on their judgment of his practice, space to imagine that he was subconsciously seeking a kinship which he could not articulate. This awakened a desire for Shen to connect with their father through studying the ecological culture of Tibetan language and further grounds their commitment to relate to places as land, though they might also be named as countries.

The exhibition’s title encompasses a witnessing of time passing and what happens in that transformation, a marking of seasonal space. In Tibetan, when referring to the color of earth, the word for “green” is the same as the word for the color blue. Blue is partly composed of the word སྔོན་ meaning “before,” alluding to what came prior and what has been: the sky and the earth.

This exhibition is made possible in part through the generous support of the Shen Xin Exhibition Circle and through production support from MadeIn Gallery. Shen Xin wishes to thank Zhang Hanlu and Times Museum Guangdong, The Sister Dennis Frandrup Artists in Residence Program Minnesota and MadeIn Gallery.

This exhibition is organized by Alison Coplan, Senior Curator.

Shen Xin (b. 1990, Chengdu) graduated from Slade School of Fine Art, London, with an MFA in Fine Art Media in 2014. Shen Xin creates moving image installations and performances that empower alternative histories, relations and potentials between individuals and nation-states. They seek to create affirmative spaces of belonging that embrace polyphonic narratives and identities. Shen Xin’s most recent work, Brine Lake (A New Body), was included in Minds Rising, Spirits Tuning, Gwangju Biennale (2021), and in their first US museum solo exhibition at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis (2021). Recent solo exhibitions, performances and screenings include Double Feature at Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt (2019), Synthetic Types at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2019), Warm Spell at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2018), half-sung, half-spoken at the Serpentine Galleries, London (2017), and At Home at Surplus Space, Wuhan (2016). Their group exhibitions include Language is a River at MUMA, Melbourne (2021), An Impulse to Turn at the Inside Out Museum, Beijing (2020), Sigg Prize at M+ Museum, Hong Kong (2019), and Songs for Sabotage, New Museum Triennial at the New Museum, New York (2018). Shen Xin has held education posts at numerous institutions including University of Minnesota, MCAD Minneapolis, Slade School of Fine Art, Goldsmith’s University London, University of Connecticut, and Newcastle University. They received the BALTIC Artists’ Award (2017) and held the Rijksakademie residency in Amsterdam (2018-19).

About Swiss Institute

Founded in 1986, Swiss Institute (SI) is an independent non-profit contemporary art institution dedicated to promoting forward-thinking and experimental art making through innovative exhibitions, education, and programs. Committed to the highest standards of curatorial and educational excellence, SI serves as a platform for emerging artists, catalyzes new perspectives on celebrated work, and fosters appreciation for under-recognized positions. SI is committed to being an organization that is diverse, equitable, and accessible in its work, structure, and programming. Open to the public free-of-charge, Swiss Institute seeks to explore how a Swiss context can be the starting point for international conversations in the fields of visual and performing arts, design, and architecture.

Swiss Institute is situated in Lenapehoking, homeland of the Lenape diaspora and historically a gathering and trading place for many diverse Native peoples, who continue to live and work on this island. We respectfully acknowledge and honor all Indigenous communities — past, present, and future — for their ongoing and fundamental relationships to the region.

SI Programming is made possible in part with public funds from Pro Helvetia, Swiss Arts Council; the New York State Council on the Arts, with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Main sponsors include LUMA Foundation, Friends of SI and the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation. Exhibitions are made possible in part by the SI Annual Exhibition Fund with leadership support provided by the LUMA Foundation, Michael Ringier, Olivier Audemars, Philippe Bertherat, Max and Monique Burger, the Garcia Family Foundation, Florian Gutzwiller, Dominique Lévy, Susanne von Meiss, Iwan Wirth, Ghislaine Brenninkmeijer, the Kevin Wendle Foundation, and the Freedman Family Foundation. SI gratefully acknowledges Swiss Re as SI ONSITE Partner, Vitra as Design Partner, Crozier Fine Arts as Preferred Shipping Art Logistics Partner, and SWISS as Travel Partner.

Critical operating support has been provided to SI in 2020-22 as part of a collective fundraising effort. We thank the following supporters: The David Teiger Foundation, The Willem de Kooning Foundation, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, The Cy Twombly Foundation, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Destina Foundation, Henry Luce Foundation, The Arison Arts Foundation, The Fox Aarons Foundation, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, David Rockefeller Fund, Sotheby’s, Blavatnik Family Foundation, Robert Lehman Foundation, The Jill and Peter Kraus Foundation, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, and The Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation.

Image: Shen Xin, ས་གཞི་སྔོན་པོ་འགྱུར། (The Earth Turned Green), 2022. Courtesy of artist.