Dismembered body parts piled up in a bathtub, two human torsos conjoined by their intestines, and a rotten decapitated head being held by the victim themself. Perusing the works of Xie Kun can be a spine-chilling experience.
However, Xie insists that her work isn’t all that dark—everything is done in good fun. “Originally, I just wanted to draw for my own amusement, nothing stressful,” she says. “So I turned to one of my old diaries for inspiration, which was filled with random trash talk, over-the-top short fiction, and observations of the neurotic things in my life.”
Under her imagination, these journal entries were transformed into severed appendages and disfigured bodies, all of which she’s stuffed away into little tin trays. Together, these disconcerting yet whimsical scenes form the stop-motion series outu jihua, which can be roughly translated as “Project Gross-out.”
While finishing up her graduation project at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, a strange concept began brewing in Xie’s head: she wanted to draw a scene in which she turned herself inside out. “I envisioned something like grabbing myself by my tongue and pulling my innards outwards, like a razor clam,” she says. “This scene would represent my inner world becoming one with the external world, the dissolving of ego, and plainly speak to the idea that I’m no different from everything else. I’m just a different combination of atoms.”
With this newfound perspective on herself and the external world, she felt a sense of accord with the universe at large. “Nature, the cosmos, faraway galaxies, and everything that we may not fully fathom, we still have a connection with them.”
Through her stop-motion GIFs, Xie molds her overactive imagination into something tangible, albeit grisly. After finishing an illustration, she carefully cuts them out into separate pieces, setting them up and making them squirm and slither against the tin tray that’s served as the stage for the entire project.
As a biology and animal lover, wildlife is a consistent source of inspiration for Xie. Take, for example, her recent subject of infatuation, the octopus, with their smooth, slimy skin that shines like latex. “Even when you cut off a leg, it’ll still keep wriggling,” she says. “It’s like every individual molecule of their being has a life of its own.”
These brief infatuations with certain animals often result in bursts of creativity, where traits she associates with them find their way into her work in absurd ways. During her octopus craze, she created a six-armed man in the likeness of her favorite cephalopod. While rooted in absurdity, Xie’s works are a way for her to appreciate the natural world on her own terms.
Xie says that viewers don’t need to dig deep to understand the meaning behind each piece. Ego death and the meaning of existence are themes that she mostly hones in on. Whether it be different genders, different species, or differently mutilated body parts—are these varied arrangements of molecules and atoms all that different from one another?
Having studied public art in school, Xie initially believed that all art should be made for the public, made to impact audiences or offer new perspective. But in recent years, she’s gained a new understanding of what art can be: it can be more inward-facing, designed with the artist’s own interests in mind. This swimming against the current can result in art that’s more meaningful for the artist, and ultimately, become works that are equally memorable for viewers.