Archaeologist of Traditions
For quite a while, the work of Chinese artist Qiu Zhijie has received
international recognition. The diversity of his techniques and content
can be understood within the context of his biography. Qiu Zhijie was born in 1969 during the later phase of the Cultural Revolution in Zhangzhou, southern China. When he was a boy, his grandfather taught him the art of calligraphy, but as a college student with the opening up of China to the West under Deng Xiaoping, Qiu Zhijie immersed himself in the works of Western philosophers such as Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche and Jean-Paul Sartre. He was also fascinated by the writings of the Chinese activist and philosopher Lu Xun, who is considered the founder of modern Chinese literature and whose works underline conflicts within the society.
In 1988, Qiu began his studies in printmaking at the National Academy of Fine Art in Zhejiang. Immediately after leaving the academy, he started to translate traditional techniques into conceptual forms. The extensive installation he did for his graduation thesis, “Concern to the New Life” (1992) subverts the conventions of painting: He combined 16 glass plates of extremely diverse dimensions, on which he applied texts and urban image fragments, so that the viewers became part of an urban cosmos. In this work he had already begun to integrate the public into the production process of art.
In his celebrated photographic series such as “Tatoo” (1994), and “Rainbow” (1994), “Good” (1997), “Intersection” (2000) or “Group Photo” (2007) he showed how people, as physical beings, are formed by external forces and social conditions. In “Public Space” (1994) he thematized the issue of our sense of shame by displaying a public toilet behind a glass screen. The exploration of physicality motivated Qui, together with Wu Meichun, to curate the exhibition titled “Post-Sense Sensibility: Alien Bodies” (1999). As a result of their radical challenge to human representation, the exhibition became a milestone in the history of China´s independent art scene. With the subsequent project “Delusion and Post-Sense Sensibility: Spree” (2000), they developed a live artwork in which, as a result of their locking the exhibition room doors, the audience becomes an unwilling component in an excessive performance including animal heads on silver platters and artificial blood. The reaction of the audience is projected live onto a screen so that they become an irretrievable part and co-producers of the piece.
Qiu, who has kept abreast of contemporary Western discourse since his youth, began returning to traditional Chinese art at the end of the 1990s. By combining the past with the present, he developed further techniques: “Step by step I abandoned my designs on macro-cultural interpretation and attempted to use my own work as a field in which to actively engage in micro-cultural experiences. Out of this I began to narrate micro-histories, to engage with specific spaces, to grow interested in particular encounters and memories, surface, colors and shapes.”
In this way, he uses the art of calligraphy as a “secret weapon” as in “Copying a Thousand Times the Preface to the Gathering at Orchid Pavilion” (1990-1995) where he copied calligraphy from the 4th century until the paper was completely black. In “Ten Tang Poems” (2001) he also drew on the ancient poetic techniques of the Tang Dynasty. The video that portrays the poetic writing process runs in reverse. Here too, he works with dissolution: The poems literally vanish into nothingness.
Alongside solo exhibitions in Shanghai Zendai Museum of Art, the Moscow Biennale (2005) and the São Paulo Biennale (2002), Qiu was also represented in the Chinese Pavilion in Venice in 2009. His examination of the Nanjing Yangtze Bridge in the multi-part exhibition “Twilight of the Idols” (2009) at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt is part of his preoccupation with the disintegration of the “great narrative” as well as the juxtaposition of history and the present: “There are a number of images and these images link historical memory at one end and the present-day happening at the other.” By picking up on the ambivalent history of this bridge, which is at the same time a Maoist landmark and the location of countless suicides, Qiu subtly thematizes the consequences of China´s modernization process.
Author: Anna Bartels/Christine Nippe
Group Exhibitions (Selected)
Exhibition / Installation
2009 What is to Come, The Venice Biennale - Chinese Pavilion, Venice, Italy; 2008 The Third Guangzhou Triennial, Guangzhou, China; 2008 FOTOFEST2008 - Photography from China, 1934 – 2008/Twelfth International Biennial of Photo-based Art, Texas, USA; NEW PHOTO - Ten Years, Carolina Nitsch Project Room, New York, USA; Practice: A Perspective from Chinese Video Art, Walsh Gallery, Chicago, USA; 2007 New Photo - Ten Years, Three Shadows Photography Art Center
No.155, Beijing, China; Dragon´s Evolution, ChinaSquare New York, New York, USA; Sustainable Imagination, Arario Beijing Chaoyang Liquor Factory, Beijing, China; La primavera del drago - Zoom on China, Palazzo Loggia Wave Photogallery, Italy; Made in China, Louisiana Museum of Contemporary Art, Humlebaek, Denmark; We are your Future – Special Project for the 2nd Moscow Biennale, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts, New York, USA; Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, 2006 Santa Barbara Museum of Art, Santa Barbara/California, USA; Personal Space, Thomas Erben Gallery, New York, USA; Ultra Peau, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, France; Zwischen Vergangenheit und Zukunft, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, Germany; Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, The Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK; Regeneration: Contemporary Chinese Art from China and the U.S., Williams College Museum of Art, Williamstown/Massachusetts, USA; Monuments for the USA, White Columns, New York, USA; The Second Guangzhou Triennial, Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China;
2005 Expo.05 - Photo Chinoise, Galerie Loft, Paris, France; Regeneration – Contemporary Chinese Art from China and the U.S., The Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe/Arizona, USA; The Noorderlicht Photofestival 2005 - Traces and Omens, Stichting Fotografie Noorderlicht, Groningen, The Netherlands; Fairy Tales Forever - An homage to H.C. Andersen, ARoS Aarhus Kunstmuseum, Århus, Denmark; La Cina, Spazio Oberdan, Milano, Italy; A Strange Heaven – Contemporary Chinese Photography, Tennis Palace. City Art Museum, Helsinki, Finland; The Venice Biennale – Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video From China, Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy; Contemporary Art from Greater China, Goedhuis Contemporary, New York, USA; Monuments for the USA, Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art/California College of Arts, San Francisco, USA; Trading Place: Contemporary Art Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Taipei, Taiwan; Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video from China, Seattle Art Museum, Seattle/Washington, USA; Living in Interesting Times – A Decade of New Chinese Photography, The Open Museum of Photography at Tel Hai, Tel-Hai, Israel; On the Edge: Contemporary Chinese Artists Encounter the West, Cantor Arts Center/Stanford University, Stanford, USA; Text Me - An Exploration of Body Language, Sherman Galleries, Sydney, Australia; 2004 Img.: Ma Liuming. Great Wall 1998, Photography, 200 x 127 cm, The Box, Singapore
Solo Exhibitions (Selected)
Exhibition / Installation
2009 Archeology of Memory, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art UCCA, 798 Art District, Beijing, China; 2007 Long March Space, Dashanzi Art District, Beijing, China, Lunar Seasons, Chambers Fine Art, New York City, USA; UNESCO´s One Minute Videos For HIV Awareness, Timezone 8 Editions,
Factory 798, Beijing, China; 2006; Let There Be Light, Grace Li Gallery, Zurich, Switzerland; Reinventing Books in Chinese Contemporary Art, China Institute Gallery, New York; 2005 Qiu Zhijie (Guangzhou Photo Biennial 2005), Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou, China; 2005 Light and Words, HanArt TZ Gallery, Hong Kong; Melancholy Man, Gallery Loft, Paris; Black and White Zoo, Gallery of Dartington Art Academy, UK; 2004 Social Portrait, Courtyard Gallery, Beijing, China; Asian Parallel Times, Shenzhen Art Institute, Shenzhen; Asian Parallel Times, Hong Kong Art Museum, Hong Kong, China; Asian Parallel Times, Casa Asia, Barcelona, Spain; 2003 UFO:Qiu Zhijie Photography/Calligraphy, Gallery Loft, Paris, France; 2001 Invisibility: Qiu Zhijie, Ethan Cohen Fine Arts, New York, USA; 2000 Daily Touch, Orient Foundation, Macao, China; 1999 Innate Forces-mixed Media Works, Art Beatus Gallery, Vancouver, Canada; 1998 Calendar 1998, Gallery of central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, China