Chen Qiulin: The Empty City. March 27-June 15, 2014. Honolulu Museum of Art, 900 Beretania St., Honolulu. Artist returns to her submerged hometown in seven-screen video installation.
One of the leading figures in China’s younger generation of artists working in new media, Chen Qiulin explores the social impact of China’s rapid urban development through video installations. Like many artists of her generation, Chen Qiulin has created art in response to the Three Gorges Dam project, which displaced more than one million people and submerged more than 1,000 towns and villages, including most of Chen’s hometown of Wanzhou.
In her most recent video series, The Empty City (2012), Chen returns to the remnants of Wanzhou, which have been absorbed into the Municipality of Chongqing—China’s largest city. The Empty City is at once intensely personal and socially relevant, highlighting the impact of modernization and internationalization on individual and collective identity. The issues at its core speak directly to the fundamental struggle of China (and its people) to reinvent itself in response to a rapidly changing world, but also to the larger cross-cultural struggle of the individual to preserve and continue to find relevance in memories of a lost past in the face of technological and social progress.
Illustrating the strange intersection of traditional and contemporary Chinese life, Chen juxtaposes incongruous scenes such as her wandering a gray-hued Wanzhou in an officer’s coat and herbal masque (and toting festive helium-filled balloons) with women washing clothes at reservoir’s edge the old-fashioned way—by beating them with a stick.
The videos articulate the tensions between the individual and society, inherent and constructed identity, and past and present—that have resulted from the unprecedented emergence of China as an international superpower in the last four decades.
Chen Qiulin: The Empty City marks the start of the Honolulu Museum of Art making contemporary Asian art a regular part of its exhibition programming, reflecting its Pacific location between East and West.