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xiaowen zhu


This portfolio contains seven selected projects.

Scroll down to see all.

Oriental Silk

Documentary film (an ongoing project)



Oriental Silk explores the worldview of the owner of the first silk importing company in Los Angeles. Carefully and quietly, the film observes this owner, Kenneth Wong, as he goes through his daily routine in the store and tells his story: how his parents, first-generation Chinese immigrants, realized the American dream through the store; how the once legendary store’s fortunes rose in close connection with the Hollywood entertainment industry, then fell with the proliferation of cheaper silk in the new global economy; how he himself came to be the owner of the shop and caretaker of the family legacy; and about his deep feelings for the shop, its history, and its future.


The 30-minute film serves as a proof of concept of a feature-length version. It highlights Kenneth Wong's state of being inside Oriental Silk – a shop that serves as a museum and place of worship for traditional craftsmanship and the attendant cultural values that are largely now lost or even actively undermined in contemporary China, ideas which for him are intimately interwoven with his own history and the history of his family.



30-minute Film

(proof of concent for a feature-length version)



Unrolled Silk, Xiaowen Zhu solo exhibition at Bloomsbury Gallery London

Unrolled Silk (2016), installation, original hand embroidery from Oriental Silk shop,

tailor-made garments, designed by Xiaowen Zhu

Flag: Mr. Wong's American Dream (2016), hand-stitched textile installation, silk fabrics from Oriental Silk shop 

Installation details

The Legacy of Oriental Silk (2016), archival US immigration documents, Wong's family photos, fashion photography, silk garments

Installation view, Arthub Asia, Shanghai

Distance Between

Three-channel video installation (2012), 25:00


Distance Between is a 3-channel video installation ostensibly on the topic of long-distance relationships, as referred to romantic relationships between people who are separated by considerable distance. The interviews, filmed with 6 subjects, recount individual stories as confessions, beginning with the innocent excitement of growing intimacy through simple means of text messages and phone calls, to the complexity of Skype, examining the inherent properties of the medium.

The project begins by interviewing couples involved in long distance romantic relationships, focusing on particular traits and benefits of a mediated and technologically enabled exchange. Taking this source material, the artist mixes spontaneous interviews with reenactments by 6 subjects based on quotes taken from actual interviews. The material was then re-configured and re-contextualized by the artist. Using staged scenarios, designed stenography and cinematography, the piece encourages the viewer to re-examine their notions of the Documentary Interview and to ponder the boundary between fact and fiction. “Long-distance relationships” is used as a subject to explore issues of identity, home, love, and trust.


(4 minutes)


(2 minutes)

40+4 Art Is Not Enough! Not Enough!

 Interactive panoramic video installation (2011)


40+4 Art Is Not Enough! Not Enough! is the first ever interactive panoramic video installation about art in China. Essentially, it is a series of videotaped interviews, by Davide Quadrio, Lothar Spree and Xiaowen Zhu, with forty Shanghai-based artists, dealing not with artwork per se, but rather with how artists themselves perceive their activity, their role and position in a changing, post-conventional society. It seeks to “map out” some of the contours of the city’s artistic imagination, providing a cartography of the force fields of its subjectivities. Above and beyond an unsparingly critical, and at times partisan analysis of artistic imaginaries, it provides a heuristic focus on the urban subjectivities of one of the contemporary world’s most intense urban experiments—Shanghai.

The PanoramaScreen version of 40+4 was created in collaboration with ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe through Xiaowen Zhu's participation in the artist residency programme at the museum in 2010 and 2011. 40+4 is part of the museum's permanent collection.



(3 minutes)

The Details Are Invented

Multi-channel film installation (2017)


Inspired by French philosopher Gaston Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space, Xiaowen Zhu presents a new moving image work, The Details Are Invented. This multi-channel film is a poetic probing of the space of the Brunswick Centre, an iconic modernist, residential and commercial complex in Central London with a parallel observation of Hackney Wick and Stratford – areas of rapid gentrification in East London.


Exploring these places by following the character of a flâneur – a ‘foreigner’ who strolls the city like a walking camera, Zhu seamlessly connects public and private space, collected texts and marketing language, personal narrative and critical reflection. At a time during the ongoing housing crisis and urban regeneration that is primarily focused on business and profits, Zhu combines these elements to share thoughts on how an individual – native or international – can make his or her home in ‘a city that’s always on the go, always in the middle of becoming something else’. (Franz Hessel, Walking in Berlin)


Mixing documentary, essay film and video installation, The Details Are Invented is driven by poignant and urgent questions as well as a much wider and versatile quest: How can we learn from history and avoid making the same mistakes again and again? She subtly presents this angle by comparing Franz Hessel’s concerns about urban development in Berlin during the late 1920s with the similar pattern that emerged in 1980s London. Interview footage of an architect and resident of the Brunswick Centre reflects on the consequences of profit-driven urban regeneration.


The Details Are Invented are presented by Passen-gers, a site-specific exhibition series that explores the historical, social and material context of the Brunswick Centre. The exhibitions are hosted and supported by Gauld Architecture to encourage wider discussions about the built environment.




Installation view
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Photography (2013)


Dualism captures overlooked objects and space in daily life. At first, I was interested in documenting random space in urban environment in Southern California: abandoned oil refinery, residential areas in industrial districts, building façades, and architectural components. Then I began investigating the relationship between reality and representation through nuanced manipulation of the images. 

This series attempts to raise open-ended questions in relation to subjectivity, perception, and reflection. I intentionally mixed manipulated images with untouched photos, in an effort to blur even further the boundary between the real and unreal. This process does not only echo my understanding of constructed reality but also challenges my own position as the creator and narrator.


Dualism: Red Wall (2013), photography

Dualism: Balls (2013), photography

Terminal Island

Single-channel video (2013), 11:00


Terminal Island is a visual and psychological journey inside a recycling company in the Port of Los Angeles, where material world restarts. Through nuanced manipulation of documentary footage, the film presents an alternative perception of time and space in a physically specific yet philosophically ambiguous environment.


(1 minute)

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