I had the privilege of spending this past Wednesday and Thursday with an artist from the Nasher Museum’s “Displacement: The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art.“ (Up through July 25) Artist Chen QiuLin speaks only a handful of English words, and I was asked to be a conversational companion until her panel talk the next day. She is both an installation and a video artist (the show featured only her four videos on the loss of her hometown and the displacement of its residents) and is represented by a top gallery in China, and Max Protetch in New York.
I was asked to write a blog entry for them. Please find it below the cut, before it undergoes editing.
There is almost nothing in Chen QiuLin’s physical presence that bespeaks the sobriety of her videos in the Nasher’s Displacement: The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art show. She is a petite woman with a bubbly vernacular, but who is fiercely independent (she travelled to North Carolina companionless, speaking almost no English). “My mother calls me Balloon-Girl,” she would say as she waved away anyone offering to help carry her heavy pack, “If I don’t have something to weigh me down, I may just float off!”
Yet in her anecdotes (in which her family members are frequent protagonists) Chen seems to be well-grounded while retaining her easy sense of wonder and amusement. For someone with a presence on the international art market, her biggest regret was only that she converted her flower garden into a vegetable patch and now has nowhere to put flowers. If she could, she would spend all of her time working the earth. She has nothing to add to significant volume of writing on her work. In fact, she says that theory makes her head swoon. She also remains incredulous that there is so much to say about her art when she feels like she’s not quite sure what’s she’s doing or even that good at it. Her uncomplicated sense of direction, apparent in her demeanor and her responses to questions on her work, has an aesthetic of its own, paralleling that of her film. It bespeaks the role she envisions for herself as an artist as one who makes, rather than sells.