Women artists have often been subject to stereotypes imposed by a contemporary art world too often dominated by the need to create, spread, and consume types and fixed models rather than appreciating and promoting the talents of individuals who stay true to themselves. When it comes to women artists of the younger generation, this conviction, instead of limiting their artistic practices, has had the opposite effect: it pushes them towards unexpected paths that are unaligned with any expectations other than their own and are not necessarily to be viewed merely through the lens of gender. Therefore, it is no chance occurrence that many women artists born after 1970 have developed an artistic vocabulary that, apart from shedding new light on femininity in a subtler yet equally significant and intense way, has been able to respond to universal needs and facilitate the comprehension of issues also cherished by their male peers.
The Capsule Shanghai 2016 Winter Show “Fleeting Memories and Written Notes” brings together the artistic practices of two of the most talented and original figures in China today: Qin Jin (b. 1976 in Guangzhou, currently lives and works in Guangzhou) and Chen Dandizi (b. 1990 in Hezhou, currently lives and works in Guangzhou). Despite sharing a strong bond as teacher and student, these two artists have both chosen highly independent and uncompromising personal and artistic routes that have allowed them to navigate the realms of the real and the imagined, the dreamy dimension of memories, and the mysteries hidden in daily life with the same intensity of interest.
On this occasion, Qin Jin will present videos, installations, pencil and watercolor drawings, as well as a spatial intervention specifically conceived for the gallery space, which develop her personal reflections on the incessant passage of time and the notion of the artwork as a personal process of growth rather than a mere visual result to share with others. Memories and what they inspire are incorporated into her art in direct and indirect ways, making these works unique for both their delicacy and potency.
In her intimate video Twenty-nine Years Plus Eight Months and Nine Days, 2006-2009, the artist portrays herself in the act of ironing various articles of clothing, a process that took over three years (beginning in 2006). She runs the hot iron over garments that, exposed to pressure and heat, are literally flattened and reduced to a shadow of themselves; the video is presented along with the result of a compulsive and exhaustive process: a pair of garments, ethereal yet physical reminders of an artwork in which art and life overlap: Twenty-nine Years Plus Eight Months and Nine Days-11 (Little plaid skirt), 2006-2009 and Twenty-nine Years Plus Eight Months and Nine Days-04 (Suit), 2006-2009. The ideal yet paradoxical counterpart to this modest video is When I Am Dead, 2014, a piece filled with sorrowful and evocative scenes of two overlapping lives: a little daughter growing old and her young mother reflecting on the past outside of time and space. The “plot” is based on non-actions that both move the heart and captivate the eye. Suspended between a dreamy atmosphere and an awareness of the transience of human life, the video is accompanied by poignant video stills from the same plot that highlight some of its most dramatic moments. The artist’s delicate touch is also present in her paper works, extreme close-ups of people that, like already-faded or fading Polaroids, try to crystallize a moment in time by capturing a movement, a mood, or a gesture of the hand that, as a metonymy, speaks for the whole of a human as an impenetrable abyss (Person Ironing-1, 2015). Delicacy is just one aspect of Qin Jin’s work: Rocking Chair, 2011 lies a few steps away from the entrance of the gallery; its menacing appearance turns an object of comfort (a rocking chair) into one of discomfort.
Despite her youth, Chen Dandizi shows video, installation, and photography works that combine an intimate, microscopic dimension with perceptions and misconceptions, and factual and fictional aspects of a feminine world at large. Her black and white video pieces reveal the artist’s fascination with the cinematic language, incorporating stills of films by French master Jean-Luc Godard and an original script written by the artist herself. What appears to be a detached, almost cold recording of a scene from daily life (as in the video 3’17’’, 2014) turns out to be a visual dichotomy in which nothing is what it seems. An eye and a pot apparently caught in simple non-action are on the verge of being inundated, of submitting to an unknown, external pressure that fills this short video with pulsing intensity, creating a sense of visual derailment and disturbance, an invitation to look into the reality beyond quiet appearances. Gender Analysis: Opinion Polls (2016) draws from Godard’s stylistic approach and almost scientifically reveals the gap between expectation and reality, the nature of a narrative, and the inner cores of things. In this swing between personal and universal, intimate and distant, Chen Dandizi also showcases a series of photos and objects (“The South”, 2016) inspired by Spanish filmmaker Victor Erice’s drama film El Sur, 1983 and Jorge Luis Borges’s short novel The South, 1944, a homage to and a reflection of human bonds and their consequences.
Besides the need to confront their memories and their inner selves, one of the features common to these artists is the written word. The written word holds a great fascination for both artists, not simply because it is the most direct and natural way to record one’s feelings - words can make up an intimate diary - but they can also be a tool for the creation, perpetuation, and deepening of knowledge. Qin Jin’s site-specific work Old Tales Retold, 2016 on the gallery wall was inspired by the slogans that she used to write and the tales she used to read when she was in school in the years immediately after the Cultural Revolution; she finds their visual qualities fascinating. Chen Dandizi’s installation of blazing neon lights Tick Away radiate, almost as if shouting aloud, extremely intimate reflections that nevertheless can only be properly seen if the viewer is forced to.
Art and life mingle in works that, for their intimacy, act as personal diaries for these spatial story-tellers and disclose their approaches to both the process of introspection and the discovery of their place in the world, giving up the monolithic idea of the Self and therefore accepting one’s vulnerabilities, weaknesses, and failures in the past, present, and future.
Text by Manuela Lietti