From the "Lady's" to "Underground"¡ª¡ª The DV Narrative of Cui Xiuwen [Wang Jiaxin, 2003.Vol.10 "Mountain Flowers"]


People were once interested in the DV work Lady¡¯s of Cui which shot the female toilet of the KTV in a five-star hotel of Beijing. It was recommended to participate in many domestic and foreign art shows. People talked about it with a sense of nameless excitement. But this time, most of them kept silent after glancing at Cui¡¯s new DV work Underground.

I was also amazed by Underground primarily.

A secular woman in the consumers¡¯ era was tearing her dry wrinkled lip idly but intently during the intervals of taking the subway. She sometimes forgot everything only to focus on tearing as if this act meant all her life (similar to the tramp in Waiting for Godot laboriously putting off the boots which would never be removed). The audience were tempted to guess at her identity and life experience and to observe the relationship between her and the surrounding environment - such as the two men in black standing in front of her. Sometimes we felt that the author might be engaged in a social, cultural and realistic case study. But her video narrative ran calmly. Thus, on the one side, she forced people, who had been accustomed to watching any scene of bustle, to learn to take a closer look into the details of this era. On the other side, she refused to provide a clear connotation. However, her amazing video language or what was endlessly deduced from her lip-tearing movements and facial expressions persistently tantalized people to guess and ponder. 

"Only the narrative thing can be understood by us", so the background music of Underground also included a narrative factor. This was another "amazing" stroke of it. In a quiet world as if artificially made mute (like a submarine world), everything was surprisingly silent. The only "telling" was the sound of the running subway which was meticulously played in a several-time slow motion. It sounded so stunning ¨C like the fatigued begging from the animal world, the  anxious raving in one¡¯s sleep, the estrous groaning or angry threatening of mammals, the far-reaching resonance from the deep sea of human sub consciousness ... ... In the video, the image was tempting while the soundtrack was repressed, absurd and mocking. A narrative tension was constructed between the picture and the music. Therefore, such a descriptive music also formed a potential context for the thematic narration of the DV. It became a sonic "dark matter". 

This was Cui¡¯s Underground, a deep-sea fishing brought and guided by the author.

Thanks to this new work of more artistic personality and depth, the connotation of Cui¡¯s initial video work Lady¡¯s became clearer. Lady¡¯s as a starting point deserved our reconsideration. Although many people looked at this work from a non-artistic perspective (it was said someone even accused Guangzhou Art Museum of exhibiting Lady¡¯s), but that was not the artist's fault but a "misreading" any artist would inevitably encounter. In this work, Cui¡¯s feminine sensitivity and artistic intuition was first displayed in her selection of such a perspective as the Lady¡¯s. It was "secret", and of course, more striking. However, this was not only a showcase of ladies¡¯ "private space" but also an (imaginary) social perspective from the inside out. "I am really excited that I began from a feminist perspective only to find I had deconstructed both men and women and even subverted my feminism." In her self-narrative, Cui adopted too much "-ism", "deconstruction", "subversion" and other such terms, but in fact it was the artistic observation and thinking that had overcome the initial curiosity, and exerted a profound "correcting" influence on the artist herself.

The original tape of Lady¡¯s was more than two hours long. After the editing, there was only left a six minutes¡¯ clip. What was deleted? First was those extra stimulations. Although the subject was enough stimulating, that was not what art should pursue. Her "feminism" did not allow her to shoot something only for the purpose of catering the "voyeurism" of a patriarchal society on the one hand; on the other hand, she did not let her feminism to replace an artistic survey. It was said that during the secret shooting the scene of a lady¡¯s calling her child was deleted. However, the author still didn¡¯t want this kind of "sympathy" to interfere with her observation. She aimed to shoot a more cruel and thought-provoking reality. Thus, the Lady¡¯s gave us the impression of a "trench" (so called by the audience). And the ladies rushed into and out of the toilet as if during a cease-fire either to hurriedly arrange the messed-up underwear or to do some supplementary make-up, or snatch a little leisure from their busy work to pick up the phones of their "customers", or to try their charm for a re-appearance by twisting their bodies. Here was a space pervaded by an intensely competitive atmosphere. Despite their different stories of bitterness or helplessness, these ladies were highly qualified at work and well taught by a vulgar society how to relentless take advantage of people¡¯s desires. They did not know of feminism but had the unparalleled insight into the "ins and outs" of this society and humanity. The last scene of the Lady¡¯s ended in the money-counting sound of a lady in front of the mirror (just like the daily concluding thing of any market place), which manifested Cui¡¯s intent to orient the people towards a serious thinking of the social "secrets" and an in-depth perspective on a social spectacle of the so-called "developing country".

It was a "spectacle" because of another main role existing in the same Lady¡¯s: one middle-aged woman dressed in alien uniform ¨C the female toilet cleaner. Her duty was not only to scrub what the ladies soiled, but also to hold some kind of posture of "coming out of the dirty sludge but being not infected" all the time. With no expression on her face, she was trying to maintain the inner equilibrium. Cui made this image appear more than once in the work, not only setting a strong contrast but also bringing a satire. This meaningful antithesis revealed some sort of dramatic structure in society and culture.
Of course, another issue worthy of pondering was the large mirror of the toilet opposite the hidden shooting lens. It seemed to have been waiting there for the ladies to lean upon, see themselves in and finally disappear from. It made the Lady¡¯s to become a real and illusory space. All were staged up in the yard of this mirror as if in a fleeting moment. It also happened to be reminiscent of a Buddhist philosophy: nothing. 

This was Cui¡¯s three hours and six minutes. From the careful clipping of the Lady¡¯s to the unlimited slowdown of Underground, both reflected an artist's exploration into narrative strategies and visual language. Instead of directly telling on her behalf, she tried to fully use and perform the function of the video medium and its related means so as to restore the deteriorating mind and vision of the audience. Cui understood it of course. From Lady¡¯s to Underground, she armed with that kind of "privacy" particularly unique to female artists, continued to break through the superficial level of life, get inside the reality, and show her covert observation of society, humanity and culture on the strength of her special personality and courage. She has been progressing on the correct path.