chinese contemporary art
Artists >>Chen Qiulin

Chen Qiulin is from small town on the Yangtze river which was submerged by the Three Gorges Dam. Like millions of others she has seen where she grew up disappear forever and has had to adjust to making a new life in another place. She can never see her childhood home again and the future is all new. Whether this 'new' is bright and wonderful or lonely and haunting is a question which preoccupies her.

Having had part of her own history taken away she investigates the place of tradition and its relationship to the individual in this new China she now inhabits. Her installation of tofu alongside a new road in the lush Sichuan countryside is a work filled with reminders of tradition and of people who populate that tradition. The tofu characters are the one hundred most common Chinese family surnames. This element of the work is packed with significance. First of all, these are names, names of people, families found all over China.
Almost everyone will be able to identify with these names. If they do not find their own name among these one hundred they will find the name of their neighbours, their classmates or their friends. The human element, the ordinary human element here is so important. This is about history that affects the ordinary people of every village, town and city. The ordinary, the everyday, the commonly used and widespread is again emphasised by the tofu. It is a basic ingredient of Chinese meals. It would be hard to find a Chinese person who had not tasted tofu or a region that did not have its version of preparing tofu. The countryside in which the characters sit is the lush, intensely green Sichuan countryside. This is what Chen Qiulin knew as a child growing up in a small town/village. This rich vegetation that is luxuriant, abundant and generous. It is comforting, reassuring to see that nature can be so abundant. Across this greenness runs the new road. It is a very new road, black, smooth and fast, leading nowhere that one can define in the image but undoubtedly going there very fast. In a serene image without people, Chen Qiulin has incorporated family, friends, neighbours and all the ordinary people who are being catapulted towards an undefined, brand new future.

In Hometown (performance & photographs) Chen Qiulin presents us with the unnerving situation of someone trying to maintain normality among the ruins of a town. In the performance she is dressed in white, like a western bride or someone in mourning, sitting at a dressing table while a man throws butter cakes at her which she doesn't appear to notice - all this in the middle of the rubble of destruction. The contrast of beauty and devastation as well as the feeling that this person in white is a little deranged is striking. Chen Qiulin says of her generation that they are the ones who grew up eating butter cakes and watching television, that they were not politically engaged like previous generations. This is a work redolent of fragility and pathos.

River River is another work examining this new world and is a marvellous combination of elements from reconstructed China. There is the town destroyed and being rebuilt with modern tower blocks that are seen all over the country. There is the ubiquitous doorman of all these new buildings and the water cooler found in every Chinese office and most homes for that matter. The young trendies sit at a different table from the young characters dressed in traditional opera robes. The present and the past separate but still part of the same actuality. A bizarre setting but this is what the truth is. These figures represent elements which make up this new situation, these new towns. Chen Qiulin puts them together but independent in the setting of destruction and reconstruction that has been the source of their actuality as well as the ground of their future.