AAH-194 Visual Culture in Communist China

A Union College Art History Course, Spring 2023

Author: Jupiter Justice

Composing Chen Qiulin (Exhibition Theme)


What does a Chinese theater look like? You can look it up and find grand buildings, breathing in drama. The theater you find will have bright


spotlights, golden ceilings and red draped across the room. This regal image of China is painting into our minds. We get to see China who is western and finished. We don’t see the realities of China. The hidden villages filled with authentic theaters, piled streets and old swaying buildings. Composing Chen shows that hidden part of China, the young girl who grew up there and the woman that it created.

Composing Chen shines light on the non-westernized China. Chen is a courageous but private artist who has a wide array of talents from photography, sculpture to filming and printmaking. Understanding her life will lead us to understanding small towns the full impact governments have on China’s communities. Through her, we directly see the impact of mass displacement, erasure of ancient Chinese history and the sentimental history of families in China. 

The exhibition’s main focus is Chen and the time period she grew up in. Who she is as a person will be highlighted so its vital all the pieces chosen include her image in it.  This is due to her intentionality in her work, including herself as a part of the piece speaks volumes on the topic she is trying to communicate. She explained in an interview at SAM that constructing a piece “is like telling a story or composing a piece of music. There are different parts in music. For instance, a picture represents a part, the installation represents another and the video is a part as well. … They are all telling one story” (Chen Qiulin at Shepperton Art Museum, 2016, 1:30-2:35).

Each of the pieces in the exhibition will seem like completely different scenes however they are all in the same town. Whether it’s on the bridge of her hometown, in the rubble of the collapsing building or standing at the edge of a river that has swallowed her forgotten home. All of the pieces speak on her experience with the Three Gorges Dam and her feelings of losing her home.

The piece above represents her home town drowning. She is surrounded by rubble and when she is able to wake up, she throws up all the water she drowned in. She represents herself as her hometown, being swallowed under the water and rubble. Her hometown is forever lost but a piece of it lives on in her. That’s why she is able to wake up and spit out the water.



Chen, Quilin. 2013. Review of CHEN QIULIN 陈秋林 Interview by Monica Merlin. Tate.org. https://www.tate.org.uk/research/research-centres/tate-research-centre-asia/women-artists-contemporary-china/chen-qiulin.

Ganzenberg, Christian, Sunny Sun, and Zeng Ziluo. 2019. Chen Qiulin. Peppermint. Berlin: Distanz Verlag.

Shepperton Art Museum. Chen Qiulin at SAM. July 11, 2016. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Geqc1D7P868.

Chen Qiulin Interesting Link


This is Chen Qiulin’s gallery page by 1000 plateaus gallery. The gallery is run by her partner and they decided to work together because the gallery as a whole recognizes her talent and allows her to work at her own pace. This gives her a comfortable space to fully express her creative abilities (Qiulin 2013). Sadly it does not hold all her art but it holds a majority of it, especially the more recent pieces. It also includes the most information about each piece compared to other websites that have a collection of her work. In my opinion, the best way to view her work is through “Peppermint” (her book). It includes her own words describing her thought processes and the goal of the piece. This book can be pricey but is available in Shaffer library. Being able to see large high definition photos of her work is vital in understanding the meaning behind the work.



Chen, Qiulin. 2013. Review of CHEN QIULIN 陈秋林 Interview by Monica Merlin. Tate.org. https://www.tate.org.uk/research/research-centres/tate-research-centre-asia/women-artists-contemporary-china/chen-qiulin.

陈秋林 Old Archway – Visual Analysis

Chen, Qiulin. 2009. 陈秋林 Old Archway. Photography. 1000 plateaus gallery.

Chen Qiulin was born in Sichuan, China in the 1970’s. She is significantly younger than some of the artists we are researching. This is key in understanding what she is trying to express in her artwork, as the focus of her work is focused closer to modern day China. This piece along with several others are focused on her feelings around the Three Gorges Dam. The Three Gorges Dam is the largest dam in the world and supplies the largest hydroelectric plant in the world (“Three Gorges Dam, China.” 2009). The Three Gorges Dam also assisted in preventing severe flooding in the villages and cities below it. 

While this is an incredible accomplishment, it came at the cost of 1,300 villages being displaced and all nearby towns ending up under water. She explores her dilemma of feeling proud of a modern China while also feeling extreme remorse for her lost village. In this piece a female figure is dressed in a western style wedding dress standing in a forgotten, run down village. 

The archway above her is meticulously carved with drawings of people and Chinese characters. An ancient piece of China’s history is surrounded by trash. This is shining a light on forgetting tradition and the effects that it can have. The effect being the female standing in a western style dress, she stands out like a sore thumb in her own country. Chen Quilin frequently plays with the idea of things left behind and uses forgotten material in her sculptures. It is clear this town is forgotten, although at first glance it is not obvious the bride is forgotten as well. 

She is standing at the entryway of an old town, standing still, looking out. As if she is watching something, or someone. Her dress is still clean and brand new, suggesting her wedding just ended or never finished. There is no evidence in the picture as to why she is there, she could just be a symbol, the more likely option is she is a character standing in an old China representing some kind of departure. It could be between the old and the new or, a more simple answer, that she is watching her lover run from her. 

Chen’s pieces are not supposed to make complete sense to the viewer, since her pieces are all “related to [her] memories” (Chen Qiulin. 2013). The most important thing to understand about this piece is the disconnect between the new China and the old China.



Chen, Qiulin. 2009. 陈秋林 Old Archway. Photography. 1000 plateaus gallery. https://www.1000plateaus.org/artists/30-chen-qiulin/works/1561-chen-qiulin-old-archway-2009/.

Chen, Quilin. 2013. Review of CHEN QIULIN 陈秋林 Interview by Monica Merlin. Tate.org. https://www.tate.org.uk/research/research-centres/tate-research-centre-asia/women-artists-contemporary-china/chen-qiulin.

Hung, Wu, Jason McGrath, and Stephanie Smith. 2008. Displacement : The Three Gorges Dam and Contemporary Chinese Art. Chicago, Il: Smart Museum Of Art, University Of Chicago. 56-81.

“Three Gorges Dam, China.” 2009. Earthobservatory.nasa.gov. June 8, 2009. https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/38879/three-gorges-dam-china#:~:text=The%20Three%20Gorges%20Dam%20on.

Chen Qiulin


Chen Qiulin is a master in a range of art mediums including: video, performance, photography and installation. Chen graduated from Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in 2000 with a focus in printmaking. She has had exhibitions across eastern China and in Europe and America. She was born in Sichuan, China in 1975.  Her works (especially the one posted) addresses the rapid urbanization of her home. While a lot of our class showcases the history, Chen addresses the tragedy’s happening in Sichuan like demolitions of cities for new modern projects and the erasure of Chinas past. During the Sichuan earth quake in 2008, Chen Qiulin was apart of the rescue teams and would collect material for her sculptures. She is very passionate about using the space, materials and themes of Sichuan. In China, she works with A Thousand Plateaus Art Space. This is where a majority of her new pieces and information about her can be found. Due to the era of the period we are learning about now (1940s-1970s) her parents had to work very hard which left her at home, alone, a lot of the time. Her hair was shaved until grade two because her mother believed it was “too much of a hassle”.



Merlin, Monica. “CHEN QIULIN 陈秋林.” tate.org, 25 Nov. 2013,  www.tate.org.uk/research/research-centres/tate-research-centre-asia/women-artists-contemporary-china/chen-qiulin.

Pepper, France. “Hammer Projects: Chen Qiulin.” Hammer.UCLA.edu, HAMMER MUSEUM, https://hammer.ucla.edu/exhibitions/2009/hammer-projects-chen-qiulin, Accessed 6 Apr. 2023.

Picture sited:

Chen, Qiulin. 艺术微喷. www.1000plateaus.org, www.1000plateaus.org/artists/30-chen-qiulin/works/1564-chen-qiulin-solidified-scenery-2009/.

Jupiter Justice

My name is Jupiter Justice (right side) and I am an interdepartmental major in Computer science and fine arts. I have loved Chinese art since I was a child, the innovation and uniqueness of art styles from across the eras has inspired so many other types of art forms. I have been doing art since my freshman year of high school. While computer science is a newer interest of mine, I hope to combine computer science and the arts in as many ways as possible. In my free time I love to play video games, write, read and watch TV shows. (Right now im watching the walking dead and im reading American gods by Neil Gaiman)

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