At a time when her understanding of contemporary art was still limited, Chen was unexpectedly invited to partake in Parabola, a satellite show of the First Chengdu Biennale (2001). On this occasion she created Ellisis (. . . . . .), a performance piece that she documented in film and photographs. The work is based on a Chinese expression that roughly translates as “sweet harm” and refers to all the enticing things that modern society throws at young women. In Ellisis, Chen sits in front of a vanity table placed outdoors among the rubble of an undeveloped site with new buildings, a coal power plant, and factories on the horizon. She is wearing a pretty dress and is admiring herself in the mirror, oblivious to a man throwing pieces of a soft, creamy cake at her until her hair, face, and dress are coated. Her absorption in herself and indifference to her surroundings are a metaphor for the situation that many young Chinese women find themselves in. Unlike older women, Chen’s generation has not lived through revolutions or hard times. Rather, they are seduced by the sweetness of a prosperous society while ignoring the potential emotional harm hidden within.
Sichuan Province experienced the worst earthquake in its history in May 2008. Only three months before the Beijing Olympics were scheduled to open, with China the focus of world attention, hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives, their loved ones, their homes. The severe sense of loss reverberated with Chen, whose most recent body of work reflects on life in Sichuan after the disaster. Peach Blossom (Tao Hua, 2009), on view for the first time in the United States at the Hammer Museum, was created in the same spirit as the earlier Wanxian video works—with an archival instinct and a lens on the personal, social, and environmental changes shaping people’s lives. In Chen’s words: “We cannot avoid natural disasters—life goes on. I made videos and performed in the areas hit by the earthquake as a commemoration and hope that more people will see how people are living in these areas and help them.”
source: excerpt from text by France Pepper. Continue reading