Stuff of Our Dreams [Michel Nuridsany, 2010.Vol.10 "Art Value"]

We are such stuff

As dreams are made on
Shakespeare"The Tempest"
Among all the artists who appeared at the end of the 90's at Shanghai and Beijing, in the extraordinary excitement which made us able to discover Xu Zhen, Yang Fudong, Feng Mengbo, who, ten years later, still remain creative, Cui Xiu Wen is today one of the most singular.
Which is actually positive when so many others are attracted by blind conformity and money.
It’s her sense of humour, her pleasant casualness and mostly her noticeable freedom which make her différent.
Try to shut up Cui Xiu Wen in a category and you will see : as soon as you label her work she will work to the opposite.
Cui Xiu Wen is like that.
Her itinerary —— Atypical.
Her practice ——Moving.
Distinguishing mark : turns from  painting to video and photography without warning.
That’s it.
Having said that, when someone has, like her, produced many pieces since a few years, you can distinguish some constant features among the swerves which make them seem more dissimilar than they really are. What you then discover is simply a style.
I would say that Cui Xiu Wen’s one seems to work two lines which cross each other and cover each other : one is observation – a fascinated or even staggered one – the other creation, or revival of what has fascinated her.

Her last videos, the ones we see in the current exhibition, are realized with elision as a rule. Here the artist gathers a group of men, there a group of women on the film set. All are naked. She puts some music on and the two groups move following the beat.
Editing each video, she takes the music off and we only see men and women moving arms, moving legs, slightly going forward on remaining still. Without music, what we see seems beyond understanding, without any link,
Incomprehensible, for sure, but not shut up. Incomprehensible in a way which intrigues and makes us wonder and try to understand what is going on. If we find or not the answer does actually not matter. The main point is in this back and forth which works between the piece of art and the viewer who, then, takes part in the art creation. Becomes an active spectator.
Georges Braque said : "Art is made to disturb" Not many Chinese artists , young or less young, have understood this as well as Cui Xiu Wen does.

This unique artist, this artist with a very specific itinerary even when she produces works which are more immediately comprehensible and appealing, always places her project in a dreamlike world, but a revealing world, even for the coarsest performances. Another constant.

So, when, in 2000, she makes "Ladies", shooting in risky, if not dangerous, conditions, prostitutes in the ladies rooms of a night club who come there to redo their make up, to get back their fake tits, to wash their teeth, to count their pennies, or to call a client on the sly while another one is waiting for them in the night club. Women among themselves - like with Antonioni - or more precisely, women withdrawing into themselves, escaping for a moment the sordid reality.

The interest or the miracle of this work comes from the feeling  of a suspended moment which seems out of the world and where, relaxed, ignoring that she is watched, every woman goes back to herself like being backstage of a theatre where they have been performing, where they will go back.
The woman that Cui Xiu Wen shows in the underground ("Underground 2", 2002) is similarly lost in her thoughts, in her dreams, not caring to anything around her, just concerned by an obsessive action.

With a camera on her knees, Cui Xiu Wen, fascinated, shots the woman framed by two overcoats which won't nearly move during the entire shooting. The woman sticks her  forefinger in her mouth, scratches her inside cheek and rubs what she has taken out  against  her thumb. That's all.  It could be boring or irrelevant but it’s fascinating. By the insistence, by how she cares about people, their dreams, their madness, their reality.
Even when the camera doesn’t move – or because it doesn’t move – this passionate attention is obvious, always unstable, close to break.
Cui Xiu Wen wonders at this withdrawn woman, who moves only with some light automatic gestures, with an incredulous astonishment.
Is this reality ?

In 2005, the artist astounded everybody, with a video-installation of 13 screens, inspired by “The last supper” by Leonardo da Vinci. 13 video monitors. One by apostle plus one for Christ. Each of the apostles – even the Christ – is performed by the same little girl, a very smart one, wearing a little skirt with a white shirt and a red scarf.

The little girl faces the camera, standing up very straight. She slowly strikes the pose, as an actress would, with a great intensity, an impressive truth.

And when she looks precisely as the model, she straights up on a sudden, bursts out laughing, and goes back to the little girl she was.
In art there are no forms, no objects. There are only events – outbreaks - apparitions   André Masson said.
Photographies Cui Xiu Wen shows us today are exactly this kind: apparitions.
This little girl built on the same pattern as the one of   The last supper   or of many other paintings since then, seems to be the same in a twin process, playing for us a  pas de deux   but a strange  pas de deux   which, when we don’t take care, slightly moves in a side step.
As if reality could with a flick move into horror. As if what keeps reality steady was just an agreement, an absurd mechanism that a grain of sand can jam.
 Cui Xiu Wen’s research is once more about rifts and openings she manages in everything she touches and stages.
As she created these pictures when she came back from Japan, where she discovered the fascination of the teenagers for fetish toys and how puppets, at the same time, are used in art, my thoughts went to Bunraku.
In that high level puppet theater, a puppeteer dressed in black, who is himself on stage, moves a puppet as tall as him, behind which he hides. The amazing point is the back and forth between the puppeteer and the puppet which sometimes seems to have its proper life, when at other moments the man in black appears in the foreground as the one around whom everything seems to be organized.
The whole show, its strength, its subtleties, works around constant swings which alternate mise en abyme (a theme within a theme) and revelations, for our greatest pleasure. There is a lot of that in the device Cui Xiu Wen builts, unsettling  and enlightening us back and forth. Braque said   Art is made to disturb  . At the heart of art, Cui Xiu Wen stirs up trouble and appearances.
Michel Nuridsany
* I discovered Cui Xiu Wen’s work at the Shanghai Art Fair in 2.000 or in 2001, at Chen Xing Dong’s place. I showed her videos in France at Le Fresnoy (Ladies), at the CAPC in Bordeaux (Sanjie) at La Maison européenne de la Photographie in Paris (Sanjie) and at Centre Pompidou   for Alors la Chine of which I was the curator of the video part.
 Mise en Abyme is a french but used in english. If you don’t know this word, use the words incidentally (a theme within a theme) which is an explanation but not exactly the good word