There is almost nothing in Chen Qiulin’s physical presence that bespeaks the sobriety of her videos in the Nasher Museum’s Displacement: The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art exhibition. She is a petite woman with a bubbly vernacular, but who is also fiercely independent (she traveled 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 the significant volume of writing on her work and in fact 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 about her work, has an aesthetic of its own, as is strongly evident in her films. It bespeaks the role she envisions for herself as an artist as one who makes, rather than sells.
Displacement: The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art is on view through July 25, 2010
Serena is a Trinity Junior.
Image: Photo by Dr. J Caldwell