Spencer Museum of Art The University of Kansas

Exhibitions

It Came From the Sky (Freeman Foundation Chinese Artist-in-Residence Exhibition Jin Shan)
  • It Came From the Sky (Freeman Foundation Chinese Artist-in-Residence Exhibition Jin Shan)
  • 01-Apr-2011 - 28-Aug-2011
  • Central Court, Spencer Museum of Art, University of Kansas, Lawrence, Kansas
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Description

This new work by Shanghai-based artist Jin Shan whimsically investigates the varied conditions of authority. At the center of the installation, a larger-than-life silicone policeman is suspended from the ceiling. Slowly rising on a motorized wire against a projected backdrop of deep space, the figure suddenly drops to the ground. With eyes closed and palms open, the enraptured pose of the policeman is meant to evoke religious imagery.

Inspired by the Spencer Museum’s rich collections of Christian art, the installation contemplates structures of power across time and culture through an unlikely grafting of the emblem of secular authority—the policeman—with sacred iconography. However, the underlying motivation of Shan’s god-like policeman is ambiguous. As a planet emerges from his mouth, it is unclear whether the heavenly orb is being eaten like an apple plucked from the nebula above or is being spewed forth in a primal, creative act.

The Chinese concept of tian天, which is often translated as “sky” or “heaven,” further explains the cosmic ramification of this site-specific installation. In Chinese thought, tian was believed to embody the supreme authority responsible for regulating the natural balance of the world. Part of this harmonic supervision involved bestowing the right to rule upon the just and moral. It also included the ability to withdraw the so-called “Mandate of Heaven 天命” from the wicked and corrupt. The will of heaven was perceived as the underlying dynamic for regime change throughout Chinese history. With sci-fi sarcasm, the title of this installation, It Came from the Sky, references this enduring Chinese concept of state authority.

The implication of the policeman also has wide-ranging relevance for current events. Within China, the police embody a complex and extensive system of public security that includes defending the Chinese state. This police state has made deep inroads into virtual realms. The so-called “Great Firewall of China,” monitored by scores of “net nannies,” is not only designed to fundamentally restrict access to information such as foreign news sources, blogs, and social media like Facebook, but also to keep a watchful eye on compromising political rhetoric. However, it is naïve to believe that this omniscient monitoring of activity is restricted only to China.

This exhibition and residency are made possible by the generous support of the Freeman Foundation, the William T. Kemper Foundation, and the Center for East Asian Studies at the University of Kansas, and is curated by Kris Imants Ercums, Spencer Museum of Art curator of global contemporary and Asian art.