|Cui Xiuwen, Angel no. 3, 2006, photograph, image courtesy the artist|
Last December I met Cui Xiuwen in her Beijing studio for a long conversation about the dramatic shifts in her practice. At the risk of being accused of shameless self-promotion (OK, I plead guilty) she is one of the artists who features in my book about contemporary women artists in China. When I saw the images from her New York show this month, I replayed the tape of that interview, listening once more to the artist talk about her artistic metamorphosis, punctuated by the noise of barking dogs in the lane outside - an inevitable aural accompaniment in any visit to a Beijing studio.
|The writer with Cui Xiuwen in Beijing, December 2014|
|Cui Xiuwen, 'One Day in 2004', photograph, image courtesy the artist|
|Cui Xiuwen, 'Awakening the Flesh', installation view, image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery|
But there is another aspect to this new zeitgeist, or 'shidai jingshen'. In Beijing last December almost every conversation seemed to turn (unprompted by me) to Buddhism. Friends at dinner mused about the spiritual malaise they feel has infected Chinese society. Zhang Xiaotao told me his dearest hope for China was for a Buddhist renaissance. Feminist performance artist He Chengyao, returned from a year in a Tibetan monastery, spoke of her new practice creating abstract, meditative works on paper. Even the 'bad boys' of Beijing's East Village Artists' community have changed. The artists who shocked the artworld with their raw, masochistic performance works in the 1990s, featuring acts of self mutilation and abnegation, have turned to a newly reflective practice. Zhang Huan's 'Sydney Buddha' made of ash from the prayers burned in temples, and Yang Zhichao's beautiful 'Chinese Bible' installation at the Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation in Sydney both reflect elements of this transformation.
|Cui Xiuwen, 'Reincarnation No.10, acrylic on canvas, 2014, image courtesy the artist|
Cui Xiuwen arrived at her own spare visual language via a transitional series of photographs shot in bleak, snowy landscapes around her birthplace of Harbin, from which all the vivid colour of her early works has been removed, in a deliberate reference to the disciplined marks of 'Shan Shui' ink painting. The next phase was a move to pure abstraction. Cui Xiuwen speaks passionately of her desire to transcend the everyday, and to express profound truths in installations of painting that provide immersive experiences for the viewer. Despite the anxiety of the Si Shang curator she could not be accused of 'decorative painting'.
|Cui Xiuwen, 'Reincarnation No.15, Varnished Aluminium and Acrylic on Canvas, 2014,|
image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery
© Cui Xiuwen
|Cui Xiuwen, 'IU No.3, Acrylic on Canvas, 2014, image courtesy Klein Sun Gallery © Cui Xiuwen|
A full account of Cui Xiuwen's practice appears in 'Half the Sky: Conversations with Contemporary Women Artists in China', to be published by Piper Press in October.