Critics’ Picks

Installation view, 2006.

Installation view, 2006.


Chen Qiulin

Long March Space 长征空间
798 Art Zone, No. 4 Jiuxianqiao Road, Chaoyang District
July 23–August 20, 2006

Since 1993, the Three Gorges Dam project has flooded thousands of villages along the Yangtze River, forcing the relocation of approximately 1.2 million people—the largest such migration in human history. Chen Qiulin, a young Chengdu-based artist whose hometown was among those submerged, has spent the last few years making videos, photographs, and installations that poetically document the dam’s effects. “Migration,” her first solo exhibition in Beijing, is a melancholic memorial dedicated to her loss.

It is also an act of resistance. Rather than let a town in Sichuan Province fall prey to the undertow of amnesia, Chen arranged for an old wooden house, an outdoor barber’s stall, and a seedy beauty shop to be dismantled and transported to this gallery, where they have been exactingly reassembled. Sitting on a dirty sofa under the pink fluorescent light of the Peach Flower Orchard salon—the most arresting of the three installations—an overflowing ashtray and a deck of greasy playing cards suggest a modern-day Pompeii. Chen’s moody videos interject the ghost-town atmosphere with signs of life: The artist, dressed in an angel costume fashioned from construction tarps, wanders mournfully through the wreckage. In addition to four photographic series, an installation of dozens of child-size, headless figures populates the main gallery, eerily representing those displaced by the dam. Can art safeguard cultural memory from the man-made disasters of progress? It’s a question being asked by many artists in China today, where breakneck development and unprecedented destruction often go hand in hand.