World Chambers

A Forum for the Arts of Contemporary Chinese Women

Female artists featured in Prestel’s 2009 text, Young Chinese Artists: The Next Generation — Part III: Chen Qiulin

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Chen Qiulin (born 1975 in Yichang) is a particularly apt ambassador for China’s urban youth because her work embodies the cycles of death, rebirth, and dreams that define China’s urban environments in which buildings are gone and replaced (and sometimes gone again) more quickly than building proposals are agreed upon in the U.S. A prominent theme in her work is cemented in the act of memorializing her hometown, Wanxian, that has become eclipsed and erased by the rising water of the Three Gorges Dam. Her melding of past and present, real and imagined,  “renders the present as a circular movement between urban destruction, creation, and Utopian imagination” (Noe, Piëch, Steiner, 2009, 67). In Tofu–100 Chinese Surnames, Chen forces tradition onto the modern landscape in a way that recalls the personal while it disrupts the public:

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.

Chen Quilin, "Tofu -- 100 Chinese Surnames," 2004, Silver Gelatin Print, 40 x 120 cm.
Chen Qiulin, “Tofu — 100 Chinese Surnames,” 2004, Silver Gelatin Print, 40 x 120 cm.

In Farewell Poem, 2002/2003, Chen crafts her own visual language of historical allegory and mourning physical ties to the past. This fourteen-minute video shows:

documentary footage of the demolition process (of her own hometown and the towns that surrounded it) interchanges with segments of the Peking opera Farewell My Concubine staged on the ruin of a tradition opera theater. Dressed up as Concubine Yu herself, Chen Qiulin transforms the ill-fated opera character into an allegorical figure in memory of the lost cultural tradition of her hometown (Noe, Piëch, Steiner, 2009, 67).

Chen Qiulin, "Farewell Poem," 2002/2003, Video.

Chen Qiulin, "Farewell Poem," 2002/2003, Video.

For more on Chen Qiulin, see (from

2008 Cate McQuaid, Flooded land Common Ground: Painting and Video Focus on China’s Three Gorges, The Boston Globe, (March 30).
2007 Debra Singer, On the Ground: New York, Artforum, (December): p. 284-289.
2007 Samir S. Patel, Chen Qiulin at Max Protetch, ArtAsiaPacific, (September – October).
2007 Migration, NY Arts, (vol. II no. 11/12).
2006 James Meyer, The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, Artforum, (April): p. 238-239.
2005 Minglu Gao, The Wall: Reshaping Contemporary Chinese Art, Albright-Knox Art Gallery.

Written by Andrea Descoteaux Hugg

August 3, 2009 at 9:02 PM

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