The Ullens Collection - The Nascence of Avant Garde China


Qiu Zhijie

Signed in Pinyin and Chinese, titled in English and numbered 8/10 on the reverse
Executed in 1994

chromogenic print mounted on aluminium board

170 by 146 cm.; 66 7/8 by 57 1/2 in.
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Galerie Loft, Paris and Hong Kong


USA, Chicago, The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago; Eugene, University of Oregon Museum of Art; Hanover, Hood Museum of Art at Dartmouth College, Transience - Chinese Experiemental Art at the End of the Twentieth Century, 1999, p.169 and back cover
France, Paris, Espace Cardin, Paris-Pékin, 2002, p.157
Brazil, São Paulo, Museu de Arte de Brasília, China- Contemporary Art, 2002, p.177
France, Beziers, Espace Culturel Paul Riquet, Et Moi, Et Moi Et Moi...Portraits Chinois, 11 Jun - 18 July, 2004, pp. 3, 4, 38
China, Beijing, Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, Our Future, 2008, p. 107




Chang Tsong-Zung, Michel Nuridsany, Made by Chinese, Galerie Enrico Navarra, Paris, France, 2001, p.113
Paris-Pékin Exposition, Beaux Arts, France, 2002, p. 24
Britta Erickson, On The Edge: Contemporary Chinese Artists Encounter The West, Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University, Stanford, USA, 2003, p. 78
Anne Lemonnier ed., Alors, la Chine?, Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris, France 2003, p. 290
Christine Buci-Glucksmann ed., Modernités Chinoises, Skira, France, 2003, cover and p. 31
Boers Waling ed., Touching The Stones- China Art Today, Jahresring 53 Koenig, Köln, Germany, 2006, p. 151
Gao Song Yin, Qiu Zhijie, Sichuan Fine Arts Publishing House, China, 2007, p. 64
China Art Book: The 80 Most Renowned Chinese Artists, Dumont Buchverlag, Koln, Germany, 2007, p. 312 



Qiu Zhijie straddles the distinction between humanist artistic practice focused on the aesthetic legacies of Chinese tradition and more critical dialogues with the political and theoretical themes common to the art of the late modern era, contributing independently to both discourses and doing much to bridge their value systems. Working primarily in lens based media on the one hand and calligraphic brushwork on the other, the notion of technique becomes an explicitly and inherently referential framing device that serves to focus in on and dissect the much broader movements of implicit cultural systems of ideology. At stake here is the relationship between individual agency and the forces of the universe, the latter interpreted through a nuanced political view of culture writ large and the former motivated by the transience of choice and behavior. Exhibited in major public exhibitions including the Chinese national pavilion of the "Venice Biennale" (2009), the "Guangzhou Triennial" (2008, 2002), and the "São Paulo Biennial" (2002), Qiu first emerged in the seminal exhibition "China's New Art, Post-1989" (1993) and has also served as a writer, historian, and curator, most notably of the "Post-Sense Sensibility Series of Exhibitions" (1999-2003). Generally speaking, his practice sets out from the post-humanist rejection of utopian ideology that characterized the early 1990s and extends into a research based re-evaluation of historical meaning through transformative aesthetics of media.

The photograph Writing the "Orchid Pavilion Preface" One Thousand Times (Lot 851) documents an extensive performative action during which Qiu Zhijie wrote out in brush and ink a short piece of improvisational literature describing a gathering of the literati commonly ascribed to Wang Xizhi (AD 303-361), preserved in later generations as an outstanding calligraphic exemplar. Over the course of several years Qiu copied the 324 characters of the script some 1000 times in black ink on a single sheet of white paper, making everything following the first 50 iterations—approximately speaking—all but illegible. In the first of the five images contained in this work a single iteration sits on clean paper while the final component appears as a layer of pure black pigment; the three intervening pieces mark various states of this transition, also visible in a video used to record the process and in the body of the resulting object soaked through with ink. The artist's gesture is a poetic one positioned at a major turning point in his practice, growing out of his earlier interest in physical endurance and repetition, but also signals a turn toward his ensuing work with the place of the aesthetics of classical Chinese culture within the contemporary mode. In this reading the illegible paper implies that dedication to the literary tradition is always, eventually, a destructive proposition, but also links the body of the artist to this very heritage in a troubling and obscure way. Artistic practice is transformed into a trivial and repetitive use of time and materials, essentially bracketing off the existence of the artist and calling to the foreground of perception his materials and tools; here it is the camera and brush that conspire to produce this highly representative vision of culture made immanent.

Tattoo II (Lot 852) could be categorized into Qiu Zhijie's earlier body of work, which focuses on the social constriction of the body and the contemporary urban environment. Here the artist composes a self-portrait from the waist up, his torso bare and his vacant gaze directed just to one side of the camera. The character bu for "no" is applied in thick red paint across his chest, neck, and mouth, continuing over his arms and onto the white wall behind such that the typographic element almost appears to be a distinct layer superimposed over the image of the artist. Qiu is here primarily interested in the way the subject can be formed by its social situation through the mechanisms of embodiment, making particular note of the ability of the semiotic or signifying system to exert influence over the human body, the latter functioning largely as a vehicle for its transmission. The photograph framed here, intensely iconic and unforgettable, serves to erase or otherwise obscure the boundary between man and his cultural environment while retaining visible signs of this ellipsis, demonstrating that the body itself is little more than an image that cannot but lose its independence within any surrounding context. Alongside these broader theoretical interests the symbolic choices of the work betray another facet of its production: the character is written in a style, color, and size most typically found in public propaganda murals, while the defiant body language of the artist stands firmly opposed to this intrusion into the personal realm. Notably, this latter symbolic reading is most present in the early images of the Tattoo series but fades in later contributions more concerned with optical effect and subject production.

The Ullens Collection - The Nascence of Avant Garde China