Xiaoxiao Xu Orim Oil

Fall 2020
Online Exhibition

In Orim Oil, Xiaoxiao Xu recounts a past relationship from almost ten years ago. Through their summer expeditions to discover China together, the couple visited the ancient islands in Hong Kong, remote mountains in ChongQing, and the jungles in YunNan. Xu revisits their travels through drawings, travel notes, polaroids, and photographs.

“This carry-on belongs to Orim”, reads a handwritten post-it note placed on Xu’s turned back. Likely a laugh that passed between the two for a brief moment, this photo animated the lovers and beckons the viewer into their memories. Orim Oil, is the chosen name of Xu’s past partner of three years. The name comes from a combination of the word original, and a play on the Chinese word for love/oil. She liked the word ‘original’ so much that she took the first three letters and created a new word: Orim. And ‘oil’ in Chinese is a homonym for the word 'love'.

The drawings featured in this work are Orim’s. These bits of diaristic notes and hand-drawn moments are woven in with Xu’s photographs. The various mediums muddle the sense of time. Meandering line drawings of maps are reflected in ridges on boulders or paths through a forest; photographs into drawings, into landscapes. These moments of visual rhyme suspend the story in time linked together not as a linear chronology, but as a haze of intimate moments.

Black butterflies gathering at a tiny puddle, Orim gazing out into the sea, polaroid photos of the couple’s hands and feet. These photographs incite a familiar feeling; fleeting moments of recalling intimacy. Xu’s combination of various media creates a place for the audience to reencounter the intimacy of photographs that might be considered to be nostalgic tropes.

There is also the fun of putting together stories while tracing the drawings and photographs in this collection. A rocky cavern with Chinese characters written on its surface can be traced later to a hand drawing. A thumbnail line-drawing of the photograph with the words “Paradise on Earth” added in English. Xu creates these moments of delightful discovery for the viewer as if traveling, or translating between experience and artifact. And for Xu herself, it serves as a deliberate motion of recollection, in order to excise a place of belonging in her own memories.

Another photograph depicts weathered hands holding open a bag with a parrot inside of it. A man encountered on their travels. The owner of the parrot wants to let the bird out, but he is afraid that he will fly away, hence while walking, he puts the bird in a bag. Xu describes the parrot as “being loved in a different way”. This declaration of a different outward expression of holding onto something you love, recalls the handwritten post-it note in an earlier photograph.

Between particular photographs that beg for a backstory and drawings full of character, Xu sets the mood with gentle landscapes and a soft color palette. The past relationship between Xu and Orim seems to exist with more life and warmth when revisited. And like the exercise of revisiting a past, Xu invites us to steep deeply and personally in tropes of intimate, memory-oriented photography. While resting in hazy landscapes or meandering drawings, we are able to look beyond time, location, and language for a brief sense of belonging.

Participating Artist

  1. Xiaoxiao Xu 徐晓晓 (born in Wenzhou, China, in 1984) moved from China to The Netherlands in 1999 when she was a teenager. In 2009 she graduated from the Photo Academy of Amsterdam, where she still lives today. After graduation she won The Photo Award and held her first solo show in FotoMuseum Antwerpen (Belgium). She was nominated for the Joop Swart Masterclass for several times and she participated in exhibitions all over the world.

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