“After-life” originates from a very distant but intense personal experience for London-based artist Renfeng Xu. His film depicts nothing less than the burial, and ritual, of his father Xu Ming’s funeral. Xu Ming was an influential businessman and politician from China who was closely involved with Former Minister of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China Bo Xilai.
Xu Ming and Mr Bo had a good relationship, but Mr. Bo’s political downfall in 2012 was quickly followed by Mr. Xu’s detention, the circumstances of which have never publicly clarified by authorities. Three years later, in December 2015, Mr. Xu passed away due to a heart attack in prison. It is not known whether an autopsy was performed. As Renfeng explains, “there was no official news in China reporting his death”, and the burial had to take place secretly.
The film, together with its surrounding works (Renfeng’s sculptures and paintings), ‘has been a way to absorb the traditions, rituals, and politics of the Chinese culture’ –the artist states.
From the viewer’s perspective, the piece acts as a window. A peephole, that allows one to get close to a very private and powerful experience thereby evoking a myriad of mixed emotions. As voyeurs, beauty and poetry remain in the ashes for us to grasp at. However, in this deeply personal context, we can’t escape the sense that our gaze becomes somewhat invasive.