In May 2008, just months before the Beijing Olympics, a devastating earthquake struck Sichuan Province, killing hundreds of thousands of people. Chen’s Floating series responds directly to that catastrophe, adding a distinctly personal tenor to an event many only learned about through the media. These floating human figures, sculpted in papier-mâché made primarily with paper scavenged from the detritus of the disaster, have the rough surfaces of industrial materials. At first glance, their texture, heft, and mass resemble that of concrete structures—a reference to the recent industrialization of the artist’s homeland. Yet as the forms sway gently in space, suspended by nearly invisible pieces of fishing line, their apparent heaviness gives way to an essential weightlessness. The sculptures’ movements likewise suggest multiple possible readings, alternately evoking the graceful postures of dance and traumatic visions of bodies falling in space. Personal history drives Chen’s practice, but in creating such plays between opposites, she asks viewers to bring their own histories to their encounters with her work.
Chen Qiulin: Selected Works is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and curated by Michael Rush, Founding Director.