Aware of the profound changes in post-Mao Chinese
society, Cui Xiuwen is an emblematic figure of this young generation of women artists whose presence strongly asserted in the international art scene. Part of the growing audience of the artist, Galerie Dix9 presents her first solo exhibition in France.
Despite its apparent simplicity, Cui Xiuwen’s work contains various meanings. Without claiming any feminist activism, the artist shared her experience to point out the status of women in China and question stereotypes on gender and identity.
Born in 1970 in a poor family in Northern China, Cui Xiuwen started painting. Member of the group called «Sirens,» she exhibits with three other female artists in her small apartment — as women were hardly welcome in public spaces in the 90s. First sign of asserting her identity as an emancipated woman, Cui Xiuwen painted naked men.
Coming to video a few years later, the artist addresses the issue of sexuality in contemporary China. Lady’s (2000) is the result of a hidden camera in the «ladies room» of a Beijing nightclub where prostitutes are chattering as they prepare for their clients.
In Toot (2001), Cui Xiuwen goes on the stage and appears as a mummy, wrapped from head to toe in toilet paper. This is the image of women subjected to the gaze of men. Water drops slowly disintegrate the shell, leaving the woman naked and triumphant as The Birth of Venus by Botticelli.
The setting of Public Space (2000) is an outdoor movie theater as it was common in the 70’s. It broadcasts a looped declaration of love from a film of that period and questions the reaction of today young people facing the same scene.
Sanjie (2003) is inspired by The Last Supper by
Leonardo da Vinci. The unique figure of a young schoolgirl is playing all the characters of the painting, magnifying the same gestures . She wears a red scarf as did the Chinese Group of Young Pioneers. This scarf represents a part of the artist youth. The shirt has remained very white in her memory, although Cui Xiuwen knows that souvenirs fade realty. The “color of history” tries to erade horrors of the past. Judas may be any of us.
From that time, Cui Xiuwen will focus her works on youth innocence, using a figure which looks like her “alter ego”, at least a kind of icon she places in different contexts.
In 2004, Cui Xiuwen turns to photography. She shoots and then works with digital tools. In the series Angel (2006 — 2008) the subject is again a young girl, a little bit older than before, pregnant, and wearing a virginal white dress. Alone, she does not seem as serene as one could presume in her situation. One may even see some tears (Angel 13 ). Other pictures contain multiple figures of the same character, set in traditional places of power. There the young girls seem prisoners, trying to escape from the Forbidden City (Angel 6).
With these figures, the artist evokes the plight of young women in China, constrained by social traditions or political primacy to the male child. Formerly sold as wives, servants or concubines they are today kidnapped, victims of incest or AIDS.
Here again are mixed multi-cultural references .
A Chinese imperial architecture, a blue sky like in Western art, a very contemporary teenager. In an equal light and timeless atmosphere, the characters inserted into prexisting settings create some incongruity (what has to do a schoolgirl in the Imperial Palace?) or a kind of disharmony felt more than seen. It is like a new type of Chinese opera that transcends the particularities of time and place.
Returning from a trip to Japan,Cui Xiuwen analyses the various aspects of her ego in Existential Emptiness (2009). This latest series depicts a girl a little older than before, accompanied by a doll that resembles her. Mostly monochrome, these photographs are inspired by traditional Chinese painting. The puppet doll recalls the Japanese Bunraku theater.
Placed together or separated, the two figures are parts of a puzzle, evoking the duality body / soul, yin and yang, life and lifelessness. In Existential Emptiness 1 both figures are elongated in the snow, their heads toward the center of the composition. While in the wooded landscape of Existential Emptiness 5, the doll rests on the back of the young girl. Somewhere else they are separated by
a considerable distance, each placed at one end of the image. The exaggerated horizontal format magnifies the white river and is reminiscent of the meditative Sugimoto’s photographs..
In these frozen landscapes of northern China, Cui Xiuwen operates in a new style where the doll reinforces the symbolic content of the work. A work always between modernity and tradition.
Installation, painting, photography, video
Chinese artist born in 1970 in Herbing, China.
- Pékin, China
- Condition humaine, cosmogonies, éléments (terre, eau, feu....), enfance, enfermement / prison, féminisme, identité, mémoire, numérique, onirisme, paysage