New Thoughts is a 1995 work by artist Xu Tan that was on display in a bar, the Purple Tribe, next to the Guangdong University of Education in Guangzhou. The work presents a bizarre and disturbing scene of a naked male mannequin “raping” a dinosaur-shaped sculpture made with fluorescent tubes, as two projectors display slideshows of news about international politics and military conflicts on a rear wall. Reappropriating some of the materials from his 1992 work Uniform Velocity, Variant Velocity No. 1, a work remapping the chaotic urban landscape of Guangzhou, Xu took its light tubes and slideshows to reconstruct an even more commercially hyped scene with everyday objects and images.
Responding to a drastically changing and commercialized urban scene in Guangzhou, Xu utilized objects from pop culture and daily life to form a structure of absurdity and chaos, and to satirically translate them into the lust for money, power and vanity. Unlike much artistic expression that tended to pick fights more directly with social injustice and disorder, this early piece by Xu applies a cultural language that was largely mixed with pop culture in Hong Kong and the West, thus formulating a local discourse blended with highly commercialized, global visual elements.
Xu Tan, born in 1957 in Wu Han, Hubei province, obtained his master’s degree in oil painting from the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in 1989. In 1993, Xu joined Big Tail Elephant, a seminal art group in southern China that mainly used multimedia art forms to investigate the urbanization process in the region, presenting positions that are removed from the more prevalent, politically charged artistic expression of the period. The group organized notable exhibitions in alternative venues in Guangzhou, including bars, basements and the streets. Xu’s later practices as an individual artist include long-term research-based projects on territories, keywords and social botany.