Controversial Chinese Artist Gives Speech

Qiu Zhijie, a controversial experimental artist from the Fujian Province in China, emphasized the importance of transcending nationality and genre in a speech at the Harvard-Yenching Institute last night.

A self-proclaimed traditionalist, Qiu-whose work is currently on display at Ethan Cohen Fine Arts in New York City through May 19-says he draws much of his inspiration from traditional Chinese culture, particularly calligraphy.

He noted with a tone of regret that with the advent of technology and with the transition from traditional writing brushes to western pens, the traditional art of Chinese calligraphy is disappearing.

"Calligraphy is at the end of its history. I'm a little bit hopeless-I don't want it to happen," Qiu said. "Calligraphy is one kind of culture, one kind of culture that is passing. I try to take something from traditional calligraphy and bring it to the modern world. That's an important part of my work."

To illustrate this point, Qiu set the mood for his lecture-entitled "Invisibility: Mixed-media Art" and delivered in Mandarin-by playing a silent video of himself painting calligraphy, with a twist. Instead of watching Qiu write the characters, the viewer instead watched as his hand methodically erased each character from a sheet covered with calligraphy.

Combining media such as video and painting is typical for Qiu. In reference to his unique approaches, many of his critics have called him "Crazy Qiu," but the artist respectfully disagrees with this appellation.

"I do lots of different things. For some people, that's hard to understand," he said.

At the lecture, Qiu showed and discussed videos he made of his works as well as pictures that emphasize the process involved in the creation of his videos. Many of these pieces are mini-plays that include both music and acting.

In one video, Qiu has erected a paper screen in front of which is a crowd of people is gathered. As they throw rocks at the screen, the viewer sees a shadow of Qiu, who is behind the screen, trying to avoid the impact of the stones as they fly in his direction.

Qiu's combination of traditional and modern, Eastern and Western has made him quite a controversial figure both within the art world and within China.

Qiu's risqué, multimedia works have come under criticism from the Chinese government.

"[The Chinese government] still regards art in the old way, as political, not as personal," Qiu said. "They think experimental art is so dangerous, so they start doing stupid things like canceling exhibits. It's just experimental art. It's not helping the United States, it's not helping Taiwan. It's just experimental art."

-Qiu's quotes were translated by the author from their original Chinese