Cui Xiuwen (b.1970) was born in Haerbin, China. She is one of the most prominent female video and photography artists in the international art industry today. She graduated from the Fine Arts Department of the Northeast Normal University in 1990 and by 1996; she received her MFA from the Central Academy of the Fine Arts in Beijing. Resembling stills from a sleek, psycho-thriller film, her intense, narrative photographs are stirring and powerful.
Cui Xiuwen had a solo exhibition at Today Art Museum in Beijing in late 2010. Her work has been widely exhibited at prestigious galleries and museums, such as Tate Modern and Victoria & Albert Museum in London; International Center of Photographyin New York and Pompidou Center in Paris, and is also collected by Pompidou Centre, Valencian Institute of Modern Art (IVAM), Tate Modern, Brooklyn Museum andNational Art Museum of China. She is also one of the first Chinese artists exhibited at Tate Modern.
Existential Emptiness represents âthe woman as individual in modern Chinaâ and carefully illustrates the artistâs âexamination and analysis of the womanâs psycheâ. It is a set of manipulation of digital photographic images, showing a school girl which is a symbolic representation of the artistâs alter ego, posing on snowy White Mountains depicted through traditional Chinese ink style and accompanied by a life-size doppelganger doll. The girl and the doll, co-dependent on each otheras they embrace, wrestle and reach out to one another evokes the duality of body and soul, the yin and yang, life and the lifelessness.
Cui Xiuwen, inspired by the traditional Chinese ink paintings uses the large-scale photos feature which expands the crisp whiteness of the landscape, creating a wave of serenity to the audiences. Yet, the girlâs Lolita-like look of the white, hooded, toggle coat, paid skirt and white knee socks suggests a look of innocence which contrast with the unclothed, batter and scarred physics of the doll. The expansive white space creates a void which adds to the tension andeeriness of the image creeping under the viewerâs skin.
Valencian Institute of Modern Art (IVAM)
National Art Museum of China
Selected Solo Exhibitions
|2011||Eli Klein Fine Art, New York, USA|
|2010||âThe Domain of Goldâ, Today Art Museum, Beijing, China|
|âExistential Emptinessâ, Tina Keng Gallery, Taipei, Taiwan|
|2007||âQuarterâ, Cui Xiuwen Solo Exhibition, Florence, Italy|
|âAngelâ, Cui Xiuwen Solo Show, Marella Gallery, Milano|
|2006||âCui Xiuwen Solo Exhibitionâ, DF2 Gallery, U.S.A, Opens in L.A.|
|2004||âCui Xiuwen, Kan Xuanâ, Dual-Video Exhibition Museum Art Contemporary, Bordeaux, France|
|2010||âWhat is Artâ, Times Art Museum, Beijing, China|
|âReshaping History, Chinese Art from 2000-2009â, 2010 EXPO, Dutch Cultural Centrum, Shanghai, China|
|âGolden Liningâ Platform China, Beijing, China|
|âSee from movie: the mark of contemporary modern art and its constructionâ, OCT Contemporary Art Center, Shenzhen, China|
|2009||âChina: The Contemporary Rebirthâ, Palazzo Reale Museum, Milan, Italy|
|âReal-Life Fairy Taleâ, Beyond Art Space, Beijing, China|
|âEnantiomorphous: Art of Femaleâ, White Box Museum of Art, Beijing, China|
|âThe Home Courtâ, White Box Museum of Art, Beijing, China|
|âTranslucence- Female Contemporary Art from Chinaâ, Brussels, Belgium|
|The Fourth Chengdu Biennale, Chengdu Contemporary Art Museum, Chengdu, China|
|âTalk Statementâ, The National Art Museum of China, Taiwan, China|
|2008||âOngoing. Womenâ, Mozen Art Museum, Beijing, China|
|âChina Gold Exhibitâ, Museum Maillol, Paris, France|
|âThe Metamorphosing Female-Female Artists Exhibitionâ, Osage, Shanghai, China|
|2006||â2006 IDAA International Digital Art Awardâ, Qut Art Museum, Australia|
|âJianghu- Tour Exhibition of Chinese Art in Europe and America, New York, U.S.A|
|2005||"Always to the Front, China Contemporary Artâ, Guandu Art Museum, Taipei|
|2004||âChina, the body everywhere?â, Museum of Contemporary Art, Marseille, France|
|2003||âCity Net Asia 2003â, Seoul Museum, Korea|
|âAlors, la China?â, Center Pompidou, Paris, France|
|2001||Dialogue-Othersâ Bari City Museum, Italy|
|âBeijing with Contradictionâ, The Oulu City Art Museum The Finnish Museum of Photography, Finland|
Cui Xiuwen is one of the most influential independent female artists in China today. Her artistic vision combines precision and incisive thought, allowing her to penetrate and explore the deep contradictions within human nature. Her images and pictures are inspired by the elements of concept, ethos, and visual performance, with an emphasis on simplicity and bold imagination.
She is the first Chinese artist to have her works exhibited at the Tate Britain, and her video masterpiece Ladies Room is in the collection of the Centre Pompidou in France and the Ullens Foundation Collection in Belgium. In 2008, she was awarded the prestigious Shu-Fang Hsiao Art Foundation Outstanding Female Artist Award by the Wu Zuoren International Fine Arts Foundation. In 2010, she was named as one of the AAC Art China Annual Influential Artists, and was the first woman to receive the honour. The same year, she won the Youth Artist Award, an accolade given by the Chinese Art Critics Annual.
Besides her many achievements in the Chinese art scene, Cui is also widely known for her distinctive and avant garde fashion sense and is seen as a style trendsetter. She received the "2010 L'OFFICIAL magazine Annual Elegant Female Award" and the "2008 Women Beyond the Dream - COSMOPOLITAN magazine Annual Fashionable Female Award". On top of her numerous accomplishments, Cui is an ardent advocate of charity work and is involved in several social welfare initiatives such as the Pink Ribbon Project, which focuses on women's health concerns. She was also active in the provision of aid in the aftermath of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Cuiâs deep engagement with these humanistic issues reveals her concern and zeal for human life and the marvelous opportunities that it yields.
The Curious Spectacle of Nothingness: Into the Creative Process and Spiritual Growth of Cui Xiuwen
By Xu Ke
In any appraisal of Cui Xiuwenâs artistic career thus far,her video work Restroom inevitablycomes into discussion because it is singularly unique for its sensitive themeand emotionally arresting cinematography. Restroomwas the first work that catapulted Cui to international fame and led to herreputation as one of the pioneering âfeminist artistsâ of China. However, Cuihas been reluctant to embrace the label âfeminist artistâ, stating that "Iam a woman, so the approach that I take towards artistic creation isdistinctively feminine. But a true artist needs to transcend simplisticconcerns regarding gender and sex in order to produce works that reach out to auniversal audience.â Indeed, examples from her oeuvre are incredibly diverse,including The Rose and the Water Lily (1996), LadiesRoom (2000), A Day in 2004(2004), Angel (2007) and The Curious Spectacle of Nothingness(2009). These pieces demonstrate Cuiâs attempts to experiment with different mediain order to resist casual stereotyping. She has worked hard to distance herselffrom the "feminist artist" identity that has been accorded to her,and is particularly vocal in emphasising the multifarious nature of her work.
Delving Into the Real and thePhysical
In 1996, Cui Xiuwenâs painting The Rose and the Water Lily came to the attention of numerous artcritics across China for its brazen representation of male and femalesexuality. The expressionistic painting depicts a lazy afternoon and a nude manand woman relaxing in the sunlight. At that point in time, the exploration ofsex and gender in Chinese art was still considered taboo, so the display ofthis painting at a Central Academy of Fine Arts exhibition caused widespreadcontroversy. Following the unprecedented reaction received by The Rose and the Water Lily, Cuiâs nextwork Misfortune was also centred onthe exploration of the human physique. Cuiâs intention was to move beyond theimmediate consideration of gender differences to look at the physiologicalaspect of human relationships.
At the World Womenâs Art Exhibition held in 1998, fourChinese female artists came into the spotlight. These women were Cui Xiuwen, FengJia Li, Li Hong and Yuan Yaomin. They had been well acquainted prior to theexhibition, having set up a studio and artist collective together. Cuidescribes their collective experiences as being âintense and full of excitementand energyâŚ we were eager to make ourselves heardâ. She recalls: "I couldspend ten entire days indoors just painting, without ever emerging from thestudio. The press began to dub me âthe artist who paints in high heelsâ. It wasintriguing how I began to conceptualise and act out the creative process ofpainting as a ceremony in itself. I would wash up and put makeup on before Ibegan work every day.â Her companions who were working downstairs becameaccustomed to the sound of her heels as she moved around the room whilepainting. Whenever the sound ceased they would join her in her studio and engagein jovial conversation. Cui relates that "but once, they did not see orhear from me in 15 days. They came upstairs to remind me that we were supposedto participate in our first joint exhibition together in Hong Kong. I told themthat I couldnât join them any longer as I was too deeply engrossed in my workat that point.â However, her fellow artists persisted, and their efforts paidoff. Cui relented and went with them to Hong Kong to display their pieces inthe exhibition to huge critical acclaim.
In a turn of events that was shocking to those who wereenthusiastically anticipating her next move after her monumental success inHong Kong, Cui decided to give up her painting career. Members of the artisticcommunity in China were stunned: why had she decided to quit when she showed alot of promise and potential as an artist? Could it be that the media attentionshe received in Hong Kong had been too overwhelming for her? Perhaps she hadbeen disheartened by the volatility of the art market? More than a decadelater, Cui says in retrospect, "I felt like I was done with painting â Ihad used the medium in every conceivable way to depict everything I felt aboutgender issues and gender differences. There was a need to move on to exploredifferent avenues to communicate my ideas, but I didnât know what these avenueswere.â In her publication Me in FiveDifferent States, Cui wrote: âAt times I find myself in the most special ofstates â when I feel so oddly and potently consumed by an energy that comes andgoes without the remotest of explanationsâ. It would certainly appear that thedynamism and vibrance of her art after the 1990s is testament to thisformidable creative energy.
Into the Heart of the Social World
When Cui Xiuwen first returned from Hong Kong in 1998, shewas interviewed on a CCTV programme, where she caught the eye of severaltelevision producers who invited her to take up a role in their upcomingseries. After two months of shooting, Cui became familiar with the variouselements of filmmaking. This opened a new possibilities for her to furtherpursue her artistic vision, resulting in the creation of video works such as Ladies Room, One Day in 2004 and Angel.
Xu Ke (hereafter referred to as Xu): Why did you come upwith the idea of making Restroom? Itâscertainly a place that all audience members would be familiar with, but youtransformed it into a space that was shocking in the most mesmerising way.
Cui Xiuwen (hereafter referred to as Cui): I got the ideafor Ladies Room after a collector visitedour studio. He believed that we were living in our own bubble and needed to getout more to learn about and truly experience the lives of other women, whichare radically different from ours. In order to prove his point, he took us to anightclub, where we met women from all walks of life. I found a place he couldnot get into â the female toilet. I was curious, and ventured into the restroom.I was shocked â it seemed to be another realm that was disconnected from theoutside world. Female toilets are a public space, but everything that a womandoes in the restroom can be said to be intimate and strictly private. Iwondered how to capture this paradox in my artworks. I felt that I would not beable to convey the power and complexity of this contradiction in an oilpainting; nor was photography adequate enough a medium due to its staticnature. It was only until 2000 that I was able to fulfill this vision throughvideo.
Xu: In this piece, you were just calmly shooting withoutmaking moral judgments, but the end result was still very much poignant andeven chilling. I think you left many viewers shaken with the thought that thereare many people out there who seem perfectly ordinary but lead lives that wecannot even begin to fathom.
Cui: To make this video, I needed to remain as objectiveas possible and position myself as a camerawoman without passing any judgementon the recording. I wanted to bridge the gap between my work and the inneremotional recesses of my viewers; to encourage them to think about widersocietal issues at large.
Cuiâs Ladies Roomhas a raw and authentic quality to it, presenting an image of the modernChinese woman from the perspectives of both the individual and society. Afterit was completed, it received a substantial amount of attention both in Chinaand abroad. It became the centre of controversy in 2002 when it was exhibitedat the Guangzhou Triennial and was the subject of the first lawsuit in the historyof Chinese contemporary art. The hullaballoo that ensued placed Ladies Room on front page headlines andmade it the focus of public comment and dialogue. That same year, the work wasacquired by the Centre Pompidou collection, and in 2004 Cui Xiuwen became thefirst Chinese woman to be invited to exhibit her works at the Tate Britain.After her impressive foray into the French and British art scenes, Cui wasinvited to exhibit in the Belgium Image Biennale, amongst other venues. Followingthe success of Ladies Room, Cui began to employ a girl with striking featuresto sit for her works. The girl has an alabaster complexion, appears to be veryfrail and resides behind tall, deep red walls. Cui balances out the ominousdarkness of her work through the use of luxuriant colours that allude to therichness and majesty of Chinese culture, administering "the most gentleand delicate way to create the most powerful and tremendous visual impactâ.