artnet Asks: Cui Xiuwen
The artist discusses spirituality and the dangers of "groupy" thinking.
Avant-garde Chinese artist Cui Xiuwen creates conceptual works inspired by societal roles, sexual identities, and consciousness of life. Throughout her career, she has experimented with many media, including photography, painting, and video, and has exhibited at the National Museum of China, MoMA PS1, the Tate Modern, the Centre Pompidou, and many other museums. Her artistic objectives are deeply rooted in her own spiritual enlightenment and relation to the universe; regardless of the medium or subject matter, Cui Xiuwen’s art explores the body and mind’s place in the world. Currently, the artist has a solo exhibition at Klein Sun Gallery entitled “Awakening of the Flesh,” which conveys ideas of meditation and prompts personal contemplation.
When did you know you wanted to be an artist?
Becoming an artist for me was a process of self-awakening. Peoples’ aspirations are always different though. In the beginning, I dreamed of becoming a war correspondent or a geological surveyor. Literature was also a way that I thought I could express myself, but various things and coincidences stopped my creative pursuit of literature. Ultimately, I found myself experimenting with all kinds of possibilities and chose to pursue my expression through art. My artistic expression probably began in primary school, but I was not aware that this was art. Essentially, I’m just naturally an artist.
Professionally, what is your goal?
Currently, I have no professional goal, but direction and consciousness of life continuously inspire my awakening and self-transcendence. This is my goal.
What personal narratives are related to your work?
My personal story is relevant to all of my artwork. But it has been transformed structurally and thoughtfully. I use my visual language or performance to present it.
What has been the greatest challenge you’ve faced so far?
Not being able to think, confronting a bottleneck while creating, and lacking artistic inspiration.
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?
My greatest strength is thinking. My greatest weakness is self-expression through language.
What do you dislike about the art world? What do you love the most?
I dislike “groupy thought.” [Translator: In Chinese this eludes to when artists gather together and build a supposedly secret group to compete for power in the art world.] People should stop this kind of “groupy thinking” and the whole “groupy situation.” If we had less of these “political groupies,” we would be unhindered and could move beyond groupy thinking and creating. Someone could reach a level so high they could be called a master of the avant-garde. Lao Tsu doesn’t belong to any group but left 5,000 characters that no one can exceed.
If you could own any artwork, what would it be and why?
Bill Viola’s video work. Bill successfully uses visual language to talk about thoughts passing through various spaces and dimensions.
If you could have dinner with anyone—living or dead, real or fictional—who would it be and why?
Marcel Duchamp, because he directly inspired and guided conceptual art, and had a strong independent mode of thinking that wanted to put art back in the service of the mind. He had a strong energy that no one can exceed.
What superpower would you have and why?
After awakening the physical body, humans can have real superpowers. I am on the path to practice this awareness and consciousness.
If you were stranded on a deserted island, what three (non-survival) things would you bring and why?
A healthy body and mind, wisdom, and active energy. With these three things, I can have a wonderful life wherever I am.
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