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portfolio prize

2019 Portfolio Prize Runner-Up: Guanyu Xu

Reclaiming domestic space through installations in his parents’ home, Guanyu Xu explores queer identity and censorship across China and the US.

By Taia Kwinter

Guanyu Xu, Space of Mutation, 2018, from the series Temporarily Censored Home

In Temporarily Censored Home, Guanyu Xu quietly intervenes in his parents’ house, creating queer installations in secret across the heteronormative domestic space. Xu inserts countless made and collected photographs—including images from family albums, torn ads and editorials collected as a teen, and portraits of himself and other gay men—in complex tableaux to create a collective visual portrait. In some rooms, small and large photographs meticulously fill an area, covering every visible inch of the scene. In others, huge prints drape over furniture or hang from the ceiling, layered and multidimensional across the walls and floor.

The act of return and intervention is not uncommon in photography; marginalized and misrepresented groups have a long history of visual reclamation and redefinition to form a portrait of the self that was once controlled. This is particularly powerful for Xu, who grew up in China—a country with severe censorship laws and regulations surrounding LGBTQ+ visibility and content—and in a conservative household: his parents do not know he is gay. Xu now lives in the United States, and uses these installations as a comparative examination of the two countries, where his intersectional experience of the US meets his conservative familial and social experience of China.

It is hard to fathom how Xu’s parents remained unaware of the installations, which are without doubt incredibly time-consuming to create and then dismantle. Any practical uses of the home become impossible—bedroom drawers overflow with photographs; open doorways are blocked by hanging posters; all surfaces of an office, including the computer desktop, are consumed by images. Xu’s interventions reveal a painstaking process to create a domestic space that finally acknowledges him. They grab the viewer gently but urgently: see me here.

Guanyu Xu, Parents’ Bedroom, 2018, from the series Temporarily Censored Home

Guanyu Xu, My Desktop, 2018, from the series Temporarily Censored Home

Guanyu Xu, Behind My Door, 2018, from the series Temporarily Censored Home

Guanyu Xu, Worlds within Worlds, 2019, from the series Temporarily Censored Home

徐冠宇 Guanyu Xu (born in Beijing, 1993) is an artist currently based in Chicago. He was the recipient of the Fred Endsley Memorial Fellowship and James Weinstein Memorial Fellowship, and a finalist for the Lucie Foundation Emerging Artist Scholarship and Luminarts Cultural Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship. Xu’s work has been exhibited internationally, at venues including Aperture Foundation, New York; the Center for Fine Art Photography, Fort Collins, Colorado; New York Photo Festival; Union League Club of Chicago; Orange County Center for Contemporary Art, Santa Ana, California; and Embassy Tea Gallery, London. His photography has also been featured in numerous publications, such as Aint-Bad Magazine, Musée Magazine, Der Greif, and China Photographic Publishing House.

Taia Kwinter is the managing editor of Aperture Foundation. All images courtesy the artist.

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