Void Space¡ª¡ªGrowth of Cui Xuwen¡¯s Art[Yu Ke, 2010 Vol.10 "Art Value"]

Today, nothing can play a more important role in life than material benefits. The art that used to spark imagination has gone. Most artists return to their own material reality instead of surpassing spiritual spectrum, after the cultural transformation in Chinese contemporary art. Passions and storming are becoming less valuable in present culture, which gradually divorces from the art history we took pride in. The spiritual comfort that art brings to us is estranged as well. Now, too many art activities, more or less, reside morbidly in pop culture in..Collages, clips, and assembled visual images by artists have flooded in art museums, galleries, and related art space. This generates misreadings (of art) one after another, which splits art from human's serious life, and fails people's inner obscurely longings they expect to experience in art.

Upon this, a new topic in artistic creation of sensitive artists is to regain the cultural genes that used to act on our ideas, continue art to live in our ideal, and restore another reality outside of the reality that God gives us. As a matter of fact, a vivid dream has been haunting in the logic of the development of art history, and an exploration into artistic abstract has ever been magically shaping the artist's image expression, such as Rafael, Gaudi devoted to ¡°holy family cathedral¡± all his life, Chirico engaged in supernatural dream¡­ during the Renaissance. In the spiritual pursuit peculiar to them, they integrated creation, religion, sub-consciousness, metaphysical thinking with self meditation, and thus created an ideal kingdom in the human life in a supernatural way. This reminds me of artists in the field of the Chinese contemporary art who attach importance to metaphysical thinking. There seem to be not many artists pursuing along this path, but artists like Cui Xiuwen is exploring the inner need peculiar to our times.

In the space set by Cheng Xindong-----a highly critical realism gallery, it was the first time I saw Cui Xiuwen¡¯s videos that aroused attention in a controversial manner. Within a few years, this female artist of critical consciousness made a name as a result of numerous exhibitions and the spread of media. She is an artist independent in mind and action. Especially in 2005, Cui Xiuwen, as a Chinese, joined ¡°Big Bang¡± exhibition,in the Georges Pompidou Center located in Beaubourg area of Paris in the north of Latin Quarter and on the right bank of Seine. As it was a bit similar to a summative exhibition of the twentieth century avant-garde art, this exhibition attracted maximum attention from all sides from the very beginning. Each artist who has participated in this exhibition is a key figure who has major influence in art history. Among them, we have Duchamp, Powys, Bacon, Hearst... I also wonder how we face Westerners¡¯ recognition and choice of Chinese art when Cui Xiuwen¡¯s Lady's (2000) and the well-known ¡°Urinal¡± are put in the same space. The product Lady's should possibly have much further discussion: either the video itself, or the artist's gender and identity, or even the amplified ¡°Chinese experience¡¯ and the different context of eastern and western cultures. Yet, I have no intention to reiterate the discussions about this video here.

The reason why I mention the video again is that Cui Xiuwen seems has recently turned away from her previous way of expression and observation angle and fell into an unreal dream ---- if Lady's is a direct record of the real situation of the Chinese society, and reflects the circumstance of the current culture and survival from the dimension of reality; Then Cui Xiuwen¡¯s recent photography series Existential Emptiness(2009) and video work Spiritual Realm(2010) depart from her normal material dimension, instead get into some kind of abstract, inner and spiritual exploration.

If Cui Xiuwen adjusted her artistic thinking, as seen from Lady's and Spiritual Realm with a span of ten years between, from material society to spiritual world, how does she give appropriate expression in her art to ¡°spirit¡±---- a philosophical concept difficult to describe exactly in language and schema? This not only brings a new view of  planning the exhibition different from the past, but also makes me wondering the motive behind her transfer in terms of artistic thinking and creation-----perhaps Cui Xiuwen derived an initial inspiration from an occasional experience in her life: once  she experienced such great sufferings that she almost shut herself entirely up at home. She drew spiritual strength and religion inclination from this solitary period..When talking about Spiritual Realm, she casually states that the original intention due to an airline transfer. boiled down to the smoke curling up within In a smoking room at the airport, the rising up smoke is analogous to astral projection experience in the legend. But she does not know whether it is the unconsciousness that triggered her sensitive feeling typical to women, or her further experience of art ontology that gradually changed her ideas of artistic creation. What is amusing is that the original meaning of ¡°spirit¡±----a word stemming from the Latin word spiritus, means thin air, a trickle and breath. But Spiritual Realm deviates from the scene that aroused the original excitation and is irrelevant to ¡°smoke¡±. Perhaps it is simply a coincidence, but Cui Xiuwen, from the perspective of artistic thinking, reconsiders about how to convert her creation into dreams and constitute a poetic starting point of spirit so that she can develop a new process in which ideas can have a real role to play, and that spirit can return to (or be in advance of) the real life. 

However, in any case, that moment or such a state that touched her in the smoking room has been freeze-framed in Cui Xiuwen¡¯s mind to stimulate and adjust her creative thinking. At first, she set up an emulated smoking room. In such a similar large space, ten men and ten women were required to restore themselves to a free state in the process of smoke curling in the air. But later, the artist denied it, for she hoped to enter the inner and spiritual world for her presentation with a more original understanding, and restores two necessarily spaces for people in the society. Consequently, she had to abandon preset physical background, sound that interfered with visual effect, participants¡¯ clothes, which suggested their living conditions. She wanted no trace of ornaments as well as indication of social classes. She hoped to restore from a religious perspective under naked and face-to-face conditions the spiritual essence that exists in humans but has been long-buried in desires. In an interactive way, each participant takes the initiative to realize self transcendence and banish distracting thoughts from their mind so that they can share spiritual imagination in art with Cui Xiuwen, and return to the source of thinking lively in mind unconsciously. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult and challenging for the artist to express her own ideal dreams artistically. Cui Ciuwen aims to convey abstract and dreamland information to the audience by means of innermost inspiration and aerial images by videos. If the purpose of art is to assume space for the recipients to roam among them and get a real experience different from real life, which is the artist's privilege. Cui Xiuwen uses the methods of stripping the reality to imply people's inside needs. In a sense, she integrates religion, dreams as well as fantasy space people needed to imply some strength of divine divinity.

From Existential Emptiness to the completion of Spiritual Realm, a kind of change in Cui Xiuwen is self-evident----- either religious passion, or philosophical thinking, emotional transcendence, or subconscious experience. The artist seems to appeal to this motif: Do we have our living space when we have divorced from our spiritual course? During such an inquiry, it is not difficult to see that Cui Xiuwen have begun to go beyond her understanding of reality, undergoing a substantial change compared to the past. In Existential Emptiness, she, in pursuit of a kind of pureness in language, began to use a clean and concise screen layout to avoid her usual symbolic emphasis, and erase redundant colors and narratives in the formal structure. In the analogous to literati landscapes and the black-white polarization, Cui Xiuwen presents the inner state and spiritual connections between the girl and the doll. For whether being or non-being, the doll implies a more common, more real, and more eternal human coat against a vast background, while the girl symbolically implies another source that bears life. And such a philosophical space, simple hues and a vast background lead our eyes to an endless void space.

¡°Void Space¡± may lead us to a different conclusion if we read it from the perspective of classical Chinese literature or western philosophy. But, I don't want to arbitrarily impose theoretical ideas upon the artist's works by citing the classics. In my perspective, the Void Space in Cui Xiuwen¡¯s works contains dual meanings -----on the one hand, the scene in her artworks, either pictures or videos, emulate a void space, unreal and nonphysical; on the other hand, underneath the surface, her works also demonstrate a metaphor for the lacking of inner world and spiritual space in real contemporary social. In the meantime, the artist also hints us all the time: beyond reality and materials, there must be some state we do not pay much attention,, an endless, invisible, impalpable and misty space, where departs from practice and function, but exerts an effect on our dignity as humans. Lady's (a true representation) and Existential Emptiness and Existential Emptiness(detached from material properties), either in terms of changes in content and ideas, or the transfer of the artist¡¯s concerns, partly confirm an artist¡¯s position and thinking in her life journey, and also reflect Cui Xiuwen¡¯s course of growth concerning life and art.

Yu Ke