Yin Xiuzhen



In Tate Modern

Yin Xiuzhen born 1963
Textiles, knives and plastic
Overall display dimensions variable
Purchased with funds provided by the Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee 2019


Weapon 2003–7 is composed of thirty individual ‘missiles’, each one measuring almost four metres in length. Each of these is constructed from plastic drying rods and metal hoops, over which different fabrics have been stretched and knotted. At the end of every projectile protrudes the blade of a small kitchen knife. When displayed, the missiles are suspended from the ceiling with fishing wire, at various heights, with the blades pointing in the same direction.

The textiles are a mix of different colours, and various patterns are discernible including Scottish argyle and tartan, indicating a globalised economy of goods beyond the artist’s locality of Beijing. The knitted jersey construction of the fabrics is further evidence of their former sartorial life, thereby aligning Weapon with other clothing-based works in the artist’s output. Most notable of these is Portable Cities 2001–ongoing, in which the artist has created fabric cityscapes in suitcases which can theoretically be closed and transported. The used condition of the fabric is significant, both as a comment on the ‘fast fashion’ culture in which textiles are increasingly being accepted as disposable commodities, and as an exploration of clothing as a repository for ‘experiences, memory and traces of time’ (Quoted in Hanru et al. 2015, p.126).

Yin’s upbringing in Beijing during the Cultural Revolution inspired these ruminations on how one maintains individual identity against the backdrop of a collective culture. Her interest in the formal properties of textiles was inherited from her seamstress mother who customarily made new clothes for the family for each Spring Festival. In relation to her use of everyday objects in her work, the artist has stated that the retrospective of the work of American artist Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) held at the Beijing National Art Museum in 1995 greatly contributed to her interest in assemblage and found materials.

Weapon is a culmination of the artist’s long-term preoccupations with the urban environment and political power. The shape of each weapon recalls the distinctive profile of Beijing’s National Radio and TV Tower, the form of which recurs throughout Yin’s practice. The art historian Wu Hung has written of this as a semantic concern:

Two major symbols of political power in [Yin’s] works are the missile and the TV tower, which resemble each other with their sharply pointed heads. She calls them ‘weapons’ because, no matter which country they originate from, they both provide crucial means to defeat a hypothetical enemy … Whereas missiles demonstrate a country’s ‘hard’ military might, ‘soft’ images and words disseminated via TV towers are equally powerful in shaping popular opinion.
(Wu Hung, ‘Totally Local, Totally Global: The Art of Yin Xiuzhen’, in ibid., pp.89–90.)

Such contrasting methods of control are not the only duality in the work – Yin has expounded upon the tension between the tactility of clothing versus the coldness of military hardware:

Everyone thinks all these pretty things are hanging there, but they don’t notice the inherent danger. Beneath that warmth lies violence and brutality … In our real lives, many brutal realities and violent threats are concealed beneath warmth and gentleness. There’s a great concealment. Thus, when this violence and brutality is revealed, it appears even more brutal and violent through the contrast. I really like this contrast. It doesn’t appear so powerful, but when you take a closer look, you find this lingering fear.
(Yin Xiuzhen, ‘About Clothes’, 2000–2, in ibid., p.37.)

Weapon is an edited version of the artist’s much larger installation originally exhibited in China’s national pavilion at the 52nd Venice Biennale in 2007, where it comprised 210 ‘missiles’. It has since been exhibited in a number of formats.

Yin’s artistic career began in 1995 and she is one of the most prominent successors to follow the earlier generation of the artists known as the Beijing Avant-Garde. Exploiting the cultural connotations of everyday objects, often on a large or immersive scale, has typified her practice to date. A comment on the rapid pace of industrialisation in China, her works draw upon vernacular Chinese traditions and their erosion in the face of globalisation. Her practice also expresses her concern for the effacement of both the environment and individual identity.

Further reading
Hou Hanru, Stephanie Rosenthal, Wu Hung and Yin Xiuzhen, Yin Xiuzhen, London 2015, reproduced pp.92–5.
Pan Qing, ‘Yin Xiuzhen: The Fabric of Change’, Art in America, September 2010, pp.108–113.

Katy Wan
July 2017

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