The ongoing thoughts of an art teacher in China - and home in Sydney

A continuing diary about my travels in China, and thoughts about China and Chinese art from home and abroad

Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Art Of Tofu: Chen Qiulin and 'One Hundred Names'

Since when has tofu been an art material? I have a particular fondness for the spicy Sichuan dish, "Mapo Doufu". Sadly it's usually rather bland and sloppy in Australia, without the requisite fiery kick of authentic Sichuan "numb pepper". And I fear that I may never, ever forget the taste memory of eating Stinky Tofu in a Shanghai back-alley restaurant in 2011, with a Chinese friend who was either oblivious to my distress or meanly amused. But using tofu to make art? Is that a thing?

Just ask Chen Qiulin, who grew up near Chongqing and now lives in Chengdu, and hence is more than a little familiar with its culinary possibilities. Over the last several years she has been continuing her '100 Names' Project, using blocks of firm tofu as she once used timber panels to carve woodcuts as a printmaking student at the Sichuan Academy of Fine Arts. The latest iteration of this project is showing now at Sydney's 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, and I reviewed the show for Daily Serving:

What’s in a name? In ancient China, surnames represented clans and ancestral lineage, a highly significant aspect of identity and filial obligation. In contemporary parlance, the Chinese phrase “Lao Bai Xing” (literally, “the old hundred names”) translates as “the ordinary people” or “the common folk.” It often refers to the voiceless, those who are most powerless in the face of social forces. For many years, Chen Qiulin has been documenting how the dramatic transformations of China’s physical, cultural, and social landscapes have impacted the lives of these ordinary people. Her hometown of Wanzhou was affected by the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, in which whole villages and towns along the Yangtze River were submerged, and more than a million people were relocated. In recent years, her One Hundred Names project has been representing that concern in an unexpected medium, as she carves the most common Chinese surnames into blocks of firm tofu and then documents their decay and disintegration over time. For her first solo exhibition in Australia, at Sydney’s 4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, these earlier works, together with a commissioned project, explore themes of ancestry, diaspora, and displacement in a broader historical and geographic context. To read more, click HERE.